Applicants often ignore transitions to their own detriment. A good essay must use transitions within paragraphs and especially between paragraphs to preserve the logical flow of the essay. An essay without good transitions is like a series of isolated islands; the reader will struggle to get from one point to the next. Use transitions as bridges between your ideas. As you move from one paragraph to the next, you should not have to explain your story in addition to telling it. If the transitions between paragraphs require explanation, your essay is either too large in scope or the flow is not logical. A good transition statement will straddle the line between the two paragraphs.
You should not have to think too much about how to construct transition sentences. If the concepts in your outline follow and build on one another naturally, transitions will write themselves. To make sure that you are not forcing your transitions, try to refrain from using words such as, “however,” “nevertheless,” and “furthermore.” If you are having trouble transitioning between paragraphs or are trying to force a transition onto a paragraph that has already been written, then this may indicate a problem with your overall structure. If you suspect this to be the case, go back to your original outline and make sure that you have assigned only one point to each paragraph, and that each point naturally follows the preceding one and leads to a logical conclusion. The transition into the final paragraph is especially critical. If it is not clear how you arrived at this final idea, you have either shoe-horned a conclusion into the outline, or your outline lacks focus.
If you are confident in your structure, but find yourself stuck on what might make a good transition, try repeating key words from the previous paragraph and progressing the idea. If that doesn’t work, try this list of common transitions as your last resort:
If you are adding additional facts or information:
as well, and, additionally, furthermore, also, too, in addition, another, besides, moreover
If you are trying to indicate the order of a sequence of events:
first of all, meanwhile, followed by, then, next, before, after, last, finally, one month later, one year later, etc.
If you are trying to list things in order of importance:
first, second etc., next, last, finally, more importantly, more significantly, above all, primarily
If you are trying to connect one idea to a fact or illustration:
for example, for instance, to illustrate, this can be seen
To indicate an effect or result:
as a result, thus, consequently, eventually, therefore,
To indicate that one idea is the opposite of another:
nonetheless, however, yet, but, though, on the other hand, although, even though, in contrast, unlike, differing from, on the contrary, instead, whereas, nevertheless, despite, regardless of
When comparing one thing to another:
In a different sense, similarly, likewise, similar to, like, just as, conversely.
Connect the following sentences using an effective transition, when needed. (In some cases, the two sentences will be able to stand without a transition.)
1) However; 2) Similarly; 3) The shock of this revelation at such a tender age; 4) That was three seasons ago. 5) In addition; 6) To cope with his passing; 7) Despite the burdens she faced; 8) From her experiences during college; 9) My mother did not only want me to have a broad knowledge of languages.
Continue to Essay Clichés
Effective paragraph transitions signal to readers how two consecutive paragraphs relate to each other. The transition signals the relationship between the “new information” and the “old information.”
For example, the new paragraph might
- elaborate on the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- introduce a related idea
- continue a chronological narrative
- describe a problem with the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- describe an exception to the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- describe a consequence or implication of the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
Let's consider a few examples (drawn from published books and articles of paragraph transitions that work. The examples below reproduce paragraph endings and openings. Pay attention to how each paragraph opening signals to readers how the paragraph relates to the one they have just finished reading. Observe the loss in clarity when transitional signals are removed.
|Paragraph ending||[ … ]Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency.|
|Paragraph Opening with transitional cues||Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. [ … ]|
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues||Taylor’s system is the ethic of present-day industrial manufacturing. [ … ]|
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will seek to demonstrate that the phenomenon described in the preceding paragraph (Taylorism) is ongoing: it is “still” with us and “remains” the dominant workplace ethic.Compare this sentence with the one directly beneath it (“paragraph opening without transitional cues”). With this version, readers are left on their own to infer the connection.
[ … ]“I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?
|Paragraph opening with transitional cues|
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. [ … ]
Paragraph opening without transitional cues
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits.[ … ]
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will provide another example of the phenomenon (changed mental habits) described in the preceding paragraph. In this example, the word “also” serves an important function. Notice that without this transitional cue the relationship between the two paragraphs becomes less clear.
[ … ] The camera-as-narrator is the usual viewpoint in film. It can be used continuously, appearing to reflect reality, and making few mental demands on the viewer. The passive camera seems to be a trustworthy witness, and so the viewer relies upon its apparent omniscience.
Paragraph opening with transitional cues
But the illusion of objectivity is a rhetorical device exploited by the filmmaker. […]
Paragraph opening without transitional cues
The illusion of objectivity is a rhetorical device exploited by the filmmaker. [ … ]
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will challenge the assumption described in the preceding paragraph. The single transitional term “but” signals this relationship. Notice the drop-off in clarity when the transitional term is omitted.
[ … ] If the story concerns social crisis or disorder, more frequently than not this response will come from sources of official authority: the police quell the rioting, labor and management leaders reach an agreement, the State Department approves or condemns the latest coup d’état in South America. The press in this way establishes a subtle relation between narrative order and the perception or representation of political order.
|Paragraph opening with transitional cues|
Todd Gitlin makes a similar point in commenting on the “orderliness” of television news. [ … ]
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues|
Todd Gitlin comments on the “orderliness” of television news. [ … ]
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will further explore the idea expressed in the preceding paragraph. The phrase “makes a similar point” signals this relationship. Without this transitional phrase, the connection between the two paragraphs can still be inferred, but it is now much less clear.
As the above examples illustrate, effective paragraph transitions signal relationships between paragraphs.
Below are some terms that are often helpful for signaling relationships among ideas.
before, next, earlier, later, during, after, meanwhile, while, until, then, first, second
|also, similarly, likewise, in the same way, in the same manner|
|however, but, in contrast, still, yet, nevertheless, even though, although|
|for example, for instance, in other words|
|and, also, moreover, additionally, furthermore, another, too|
|as a result, therefore, for this reason, thus, consequently|
|in conclusion, in summary, to sum up|
* The examples of transitional sentences are from:
- Parker, Ian. "Absolute Powerpoint." New Yorker. 28 May 2001: 76-87.
- Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic Monthly. Jul/Aug2008: 56-63.
- Harrington, John. The Rhetoric of Film. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.
- Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1993.