Using transitions help establish clear connections between different paragraphs and subtopics in any piece of writing. However, not all transitions are equal. Some will work to make your essays and articles a lot easier to understand, while others could end up making it confusing.
What Transitions Aren’t
Transitions aren’t a verbal decoration that makes your paper prettier. It’s not a fancy embellishment that makes it read or sound better. Instead, they’re necessary elements that give the reader direction about how your separate ideas come together as one logical argument.
Without transitions, it’s very likely your paper will be choppy, jumpy and abrupt in parts. Since relationships between different paragraphs aren’t clearly established, it will be very hard to follow your train of thought as the reader goes from one paragraph to another. Ever read a piece of writing that felt like it was five different ideas being presented randomly? That’s exactly how your work, sans transitions, will end up.
How Transitions Work
Transitions aren’t the primary tool for facilitating order in your paper. That falls, primarily, on how you organize your ideas. The relationship between those ideas, though, is what transitions establish. While transitions cannot make up for poor organization, it can help overcome a lot of obstacles, especially if you can establish strong and clear relationships among the different items on your paper.
Many people (especially students on their papers), when transitioning between two paragraphs, use the last sentence of the first paragraph to preview the contents of the second. While this is something that has been taught in schools and books as far as I can remember, it’s rarely the “one size fits all” solution that people seem to think it is.
In many cases, doing this type of transition ends up sounding awkward. Why? Because the last sentence of your paragraph is completely off-topic to what the rest of the paragraph is about.
Instead of doing that, a more appropriate transition is to start the new paragraph with a brief reference to the last one. That is, you take a specific angle from the last paragraph and relate it to the topic of your new paragraph. Doing so allows you a smooth transition without burdening any paragraph with an off-topic sentence.
Think of the Essay as a Whole
One way to come up with good transitions is to think about the essay as a whole. That is, to keep the big picture in mind. What is the piece of writing trying to accomplish? Are you trying to persuade the reader to support a specific political campaign? Do you want the reader to start thinking more about a particular issue? Are you trying to raise doubts about an accepted behavior?
When you have the central goal of the piece of writing in mind, then think how the topic of each new paragraph relates to that goal. You can then build your transition with that in mind. As in, how do I go from the previous topic to this new one in a way that establishes the relationship in support of my goal?
Keep Transitions Short
Transitions should be no more than one or two sentences, save for very few instances. Many times, in fact, you can get away with using just a phrase or a few words as a transition. They’re only meant to establish relationships between the ideas in two separate paragraphs, after all, not present a new idea on its own. Unless an elaboration is absolutely necessary, keep it short and tight.
Try to use synonyms when referring to nouns and objects in the succeeding paragraph. This helps establish continuity between the two chunks, as synonyms indicate an implicit reference that immediately alert the reader of an existing relationship.
Sometimes, repeating ideas is the most appropriate way to make a transition in your writing. It works well, especially when the previous paragraph is particularly long. Only do this when the repetition allows you to segue right into the new idea, though — if it doesn’t, the whole thing will just sound redundant.
Vary Your Transitions
Don’t rely on the same transitional expressions every time. While they will still help make your ideas cohesive, it’s just dragging to read the exact same thing every paragraph. Instead, change it up. Use similarities in one paragraph, go chronological in another, use emphasis when appropriate, and so on. This will help make your writing a heck of a lot more readable and easier to process.
Types of Transitional Expressions
This type of transition points out a similarity from the previous paragraph to the next. Examples: likewise, similarly, in the same way, just like.
This transition contrasts an element of the idea in the second paragraph from the first. Examples: however, on the other hand, nevertheless, on the contrary.
You use this when showing the sequence of ideas. Examples: first, second, next, initially, finally.
This transition establishes chronology. Examples: after, afterwards, currently, at the same time, recently.
5. Additional Support
You use this type of expression when following the previous idea with additional supporting ideas along the same line. Examples: additionally, furthermore, also, moreover.
6. Cause and Effect
When the succeeding paragraph is a direct result of the previous paragraph, an expression showing causation is your best recourse. Examples: consequently, as a result, hence, thus.
This transition establishes place and position, whether physically or in a conceptual form of organization. Examples: behind, adjacent, on top of it.
When you want to emphasize the main point in a previous paragraph in the succeeding one, you use these transitional expressions. Examples: in fact, of course, indeed.
The example isn’t a transition you frequently use for paragraphs. Most of the time, you’ll use it for sentence, rather than paragraph, transitions. Examples: for instance, to illustrate, as an example.
Typically, this is used to transition into your conclusion. Examples: as a while, to conclude, to sum up, in the end.