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Transition Words and Phrases

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 10 years, 11 months ago

Transitioning: Beware of Velcro

 

     As the writer of an essay, imagine yourself crossing a river, guiding a troop of avid readers. You bring an armful of stones to lay down and step on as you go; each stone is a sentence or paragraph that speaks to and develops the essay's thesis, or central question. If you find yourself in the middle of the river with another mile to shore but only a few more stones, you can't finesse such a situation. You can't ask your readers to follow you and jump too broad a span. 

     In such a case, stop. Ask yourself if you need more stones—more sentences or paragraphs—or if perhaps you have already used ones that more properly belong ahead. On a second look, you may decide that the distance between stones is not that great, after all; perhaps your reader only needs a hand of assistance to get from one stone, or paragraph, to the next. In an essay, such assistance can be offered in the form of a "furthermore" or "in addition to" or "therefore." These are called transitional words and phrases. 

     Transitional words or phrases sometimes will be precisely what you need to underscore for your readers the intellectual relationship between sentences or paragraphs—to help them navigate your essay. Very often, such transitions 

  • address an essential similarity or dissimilarity (likewise, in the same way, on the other hand, despite, in contrast);
  • suggest a meaningful ordering, often temporal (first, second, at the same time, later, finally) or causal (thus, therefore, accordingly, because);
  • in a longer paper, remind the reader of what has earlier been argued (in short, as has been said, on the whole). 

     Keep in mind that although transitional words and phrases can be useful, even gracious, they never should be applied to force a vagrant paragraph into a place where it does not, structurally, belong. No reader will be fooled by such shoddy craft, which is designed to help the writer finesse the essay's flaws, rather than to illuminate for the reader the connections among the essay's ideas and textual evidence. A strip of Velcro on a cracked wall will not fool us into thinking we are standing somewhere safe; neither will a Velcro transition persuade an essay's readers that they are in the hands of a serious writer with something serious to say. In the absence of genuine intellectual connection, such efforts at transition all sound manufactured. The human voice has been drained off, and what's left is hollow language.

     Velcro transitions insult and bore the reader by pointing out the obvious, generally in a canned and pompous way. Here are some examples:

 

It is also important to note that ... Thus, it can be said that ... Another important aspect to realize is that ... Also, this shows that ...
 
     This is not to say that such phrases never can be used in an essay. Of course they can, mostly for summary. Just don't use them indiscriminately. Be careful, and be honest. Don't talk down to the reader. If you tell a reader that something "is important to note," make sure there's a very good chance the reader would not have realized this if you hadn't pointed it out. And never overdo such phrases; after all*, everything in your essay ought to be important to note. In other words, be aware that, in a well-crafted essay, every sentence is a transitional sentence. 

     This shouldn't be as intimidating as it might at first sound. Rather, this is another way of saying that transitions are important not simply between paragraphs. Instead, the necessity to transition occurs among the sentences within a paragraph, and from paragraph to paragraph. A paragraph ought to follow logically from the one preceding, and move the argument towards the paragraph that follows. Again, this is no cause for alarm on the part of the writer. It's simply another way of saying that, just as the sentence itself has internal logic and coherence, so does the paragraph; and so does the essay as a whole.

 

Tips for Transitioning

 

     Quite often, if you are having a terrible time figuring out how to get from one paragraph to the next, it may be because you shouldn't be getting from one paragraph to the next quite yet, or even ever; there may be something crucial missing between this paragraph and its neighbors—most likely an idea or a piece of evidence or both. Maybe the paragraph is misplaced, and logically belongs elsewhere. The reason you can't come up with a gracious connective sentence is that there's simply too large an intellectual span to cross, or that you've gone off in the wrong direction.

     Before you can go on, some causality needs first to be explicated, some other piece of evidence offered. You have to guide the reader safely to the next idea by making certain that everything that should have been discussed by this point has in fact been thoroughly discussed. While it is true that an essay is a conversation between a writer and a reader, in which the reader's questions and concerns are internalized and addressed by the writer at the appropriate times, it is also true that even the most committed reader cannot read your mind. You have to guide your reader.

     As has been discussed above, it is also useful to note that** transitions between paragraphs that really do belong where they are in the essay can be strengthened by the repetition or paraphrasing of one paragraph's key words into the next. Such repetition or paraphrasing of key words, however, can be little more than Velcro** if the writer really has nothing more to say, as is now the case.

 

  •  *Underlined words and phrases function as transitions. Try reading without them; you'll see that the ideas remain in logical order. Such words and phrases, however, make life easier for the reader. They never substitute for intellectual coherence.
  •  **Ick! Velcro—beware!

 

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Paragraph Hooks / Transitions

     Coherence in writing means that the ideas of the paragraphs flow from one to the next without awkward breaks or gaps in logical organization.  Just as each sentence in a paragraph should follow logically from the one that precedes it, so in a coherent composition, each paragraph should follow logically from the one before.     

     The most effective approach to achieving flow in a paper is the use of transitions.  Transition devices link paragraphs together, allowing the reader to follow easily the progression of thought.  Four ways to link ideas or types of “hooks”  are:

 

1. Thesis hook -- predicts the organization of the ensuing paragraphs through the thesis statement.  

Thesis statement: “Certainly, the vehicle of story, as used in Fools Crow,  assumes importance as a means of teaching values, establishing a continuity in daily life, and providing a basis for communal decision making.”

     First Body Paragraph keys on “teaching values” -- how the Pikunis use the telling of stories to teach their value system to the young and promote proper behavior and changes in behavior among older members of the community.

     Second Body Paragraph keys on “continuity” -- how conversation and storytelling give Pikunis a means of maintaining a collective consciousness, keeping track of happenings in other tribes, and simply moving through the repetitive cycle of a year of living as Plains Indians.

     Third Body Paragraph keys on “basis for decision making” -- how Pikunis organize the delivery of information, the rituals involved in communicating that information, and the power of the story to influence the decisions made that impact the whole community.

 

2. Idea Hook – the writer repeats a key idea, a synonym, or a near synonym from the last sentence of the previous paragraph. 

  Last sentence in paragraph:  ”... For the reader who leans toward the idea that a name should reflect true character, Fools Crow’s example makes him wary.”

      Idea (“name/naming”) hook and (“wary/suspicion”) hook in next paragraph:

               “The naming of Fools Crow’s son approaches this idea from a different angle and again raises suspicion.”

 

3.  Word Hook -- similar to idea hook, but this time the writer repeats a key word or phrase

  Last sentence in paragraph: “...Whereas the two previous examples are seen as significant only to the reader, the presence of the eclipse becomes significant to both the characters and the reader.”  

       Word (“characters”) hook in next paragraph:  “For the characters, it is an ominous sign.

 

4.  Topic Hook -- when you repeat in the first clause of your sentence part or all of the previous paragraph’s topic and then introduce the new idea for the present paragraph.

        Topic Example:  “Not only does the Fools Crow/Fast Horse comparison set up the central dilemma of the book, namely how the Pikunis are to deal with the Napikwans, but also the comparison allows for Welch to voice his answer to the dilemma.”

 

Don’t leave the hooks and transitions to chance or to the rhythm of the developing paper.  Have an idea ahead of time how you are going to logically progress the understanding of your reader through the use of hooks and transitions.  This knowledge is just one more way that you can be in control of your writing.

 

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Transitions

In this crazy, mixed-up, topsy-turvy world of ours, transitions glue our ideas and our essays together. This handout enlists you in the cause.

 

The function and importance of transitions

In both academic writing and professional writing, your goal is to convey information clearly and concisely, if not to convert the reader to your way of thinking. Transitions help you to achieve these goals by establishing logical connections between sentences, paragraphs, and sections of your papers. In other words, transitions tell readers what to do with the information you present them. Whether single words, quick phrases or full sentences, they function as signs for readers that tell them how to think about, organize, and react to old and new ideas as they read through what you have written.

Transitions signal relationships between ideas such as: "Another example coming up—stay alert!" or "Here's an exception to my previous statement" or "Although this idea appears to be true, here's the real story." Basically, transitions provide the reader with directions for how to piece together your ideas into a logically coherent argument. Transitions are not just "window dressing" that embellish your paper by making it sound or read better. They are words with particular meanings that tell the reader to think and react in a particular way to your ideas. In providing the reader with these important cues, transitions help readers understand the logic of how your ideas fit together.

 

Signs that you might need to work on your transitions

How can you tell whether you need to work on your transitions? Here are some possible clues:

    * Your instructor has written comments like "choppy," "jumpy," "abrupt," "flow," "need signposts," or "how is this related?" on your papers.

    * Your readers (instructors, friends, or classmates) tell you that they had trouble following your organization or train of thought.

    * You tend to write the way you think—and your brain often jumps from one idea to another pretty quickly.

    * You wrote your paper in several discrete "chunks" and then pasted them together.

    * You are working on a group paper; the draft you are working on was created by pasting pieces of several

people's writing together.

 

Organization

Since the clarity and effectiveness of your transitions will depend greatly on how well you have organized your paper, you may want to evaluate your paper's organization before you work on transitions. In the margins of your draft, summarize in a word or short phrase what each paragraph is about or how it fits into your analysis as a whole. This exercise should help you to see the order of and connection between your ideas more clearly.

If after doing this exercise you find that you still have difficulty linking your ideas together in a coherent fashion, your problem may not be with transitions but with organization. For help in this area (and a more thorough explanation of the "reverse outlining" technique described in the previous paragraph), please see the Writing Center's handout on organization.

 

How transitions work

The organization of your written work includes two elements: (1)the order in which you have chosen to present the different parts of your discussion or argument, and (2) the relationships you construct between these parts. Transitions cannot substitute for good organization, but they can make your organization clearer and easier to follow. Take a look at the following example:

El Pais, a Latin American country, has a new democratic government after having been a dictatorship for many years. Assume that you want to argue that El Pais is not as democratic as the conventional view would have us believe. One way to effectively organize your argument would be to present the conventional view and then to provide the reader with your critical response to this view. So, in Paragraph A you would enumerate all the reasons that someone might consider El Pais highly democratic, while in Paragraph B you would refute these points. The transition that would establish the logical connection between these two key elements of your argument would indicate to the reader that the information in paragraph B contradicts the information in paragraph A. As a result, you might organize your argument, including the transition that links paragraph A with paragraph B, in the following manner:

 

      Paragraph A: points that support the view that El Pais's new government is very democratic.

 

      Transition: Despite the previous arguments, there are many reasons to think that El Pais's new government is not as democratic as typically believed.

 

      Paragraph B: points that contradict the view that El Pais's new government is very democratic.

 

In this case, the transition words "Despite the previous arguments," suggest that the reader should not believe paragraph A and instead should consider the writer's reasons for viewing El Pais's democracy as suspect.

 

As the example suggests, transitions can help reinforce the underlying logic of your paper's organization by providing the reader with essential information regarding the relationship between your ideas. In this way, transitions act as the glue that binds the components of your argument or discussion into a unified, coherent, and persuasive whole.

 

Types of transitions

Now that you have a general idea of how to go about developing effective transitions in your writing, let us briefly discuss the types of transitions your writing will use.

The types of transitions available to you are as diverse as the circumstances in which you need to use them. A transition can be a single word, a phrase, a sentence, or an entire paragraph. In each case, it functions the same way: first, the transition either directly summarizes the content of a preceding sentence, paragraph, or section, or it implies that summary. Then it helps the reader anticipate or comprehend the new information that you wish to present.

   1. Transitions between sections—Particularly in longer works, it may be necessary to include transitional paragraphs that summarize for the reader the information just covered and specify the relevance of this information to the discussion in the following section.

   2. Transitions between paragraphs—If you have done a good job of arranging paragraphs so that the content of one leads logically to the next, the transition will highlight a relationship that already exists by summarizing the previous paragraph and suggesting something of the content of the paragraph that follows. A transition between paragraphs can be a word or two (however, for example, similarly), a phrase, or a sentence. Transitions can be at the end of the first paragraph, at the beginning of the second paragraph, or in both places.

   3. Transitions within paragraphs—As with transitions between sections and paragraphs, transitions within paragraphs act as cues by helping readers to anticipate what is coming before they read it. Within paragraphs, transitions tend to be single words or short phrases.

 

Transitional expressions

Effectively constructing each transition often depends upon your ability to identify words or phrases that will indicate for the reader the kind of logical relationships you want to convey. The table below should make it easier for you to find these words or phrases. Whenever you have trouble finding a word, phrase, or sentence to serve as an effective transition, refer to the information in the table for assistance. Look in the left column of the table for the kind of logical relationship you are trying to express. Then look in the right column of the table for examples of words or phrases that express this logical relationship.

Keep in mind that each of these words or phrases may have a slightly different meaning. Consult a dictionary or writer's handbook if you are unsure of the exact meaning of a word or phrase.

 

LOGICAL RELATIONSHIP                       TRANSITIONAL EXPRESSION

 

          Similarity                                           also, in the same way, just as ... so too, likewise, similarly

 

          Exception/Contrast                           but, however, in spite of, on the one hand ... on the other hand, nevertheless,

                                                                     nonetheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on the contrary, still, yet

 

          Sequence/Order                                 first, second, third, ... next, then, finally

 

          Time                                                   after, afterward, at last, before, currently, during, earlier, immediately, later,                                                                       meanwhile, now, recently, simultaneously, subsequently, then

 

          Example                                             for example, for instance, namely, specifically, to illustrate

 

          Emphasis                                            even, indeed, in fact, of course, truly

 

          Place/Position                                    above, adjacent, below, beyond, here, in front, in back, nearby, there

 

          Cause and Effect                                 accordingly, consequently, hence, so, therefore, thus

 

          Additional Support or Evidence         additionally, again, also, and, as well, besides, equally important, further,                                                                       furthermore, in addition, moreover, then

 

          Conclusion/Summary                         finally, in a word, in brief, in conclusion, in the end, in the final analysis, on                                                                       the whole, thus, to conclude, to summarize, in sum, in summary

 

 

Sources

Additional Resources

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