Writing Effective Transitions
What this handout is
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
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.
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, please see the Writing Center's handout on organization and/or make an
appointment to see a tutor.
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
this organization clearer and easier to follow. The following example
should help to make this point clear.
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 want to enumerate all the reasons that someone
might consider El Pais highly democratic, while in Paragraph B
you would want to 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 in support of 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 in the upcoming paragraph.
As the previous 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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
||also, in the same way, just as ... so too, likewise,
||but, however, in spite of, on the one hand ... on the other
hand, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, in contrast, on
the contrary, still, yet|
||first, second, third, ... next, then,
||after, afterward, at last, before, currently, during,
earlier, immediately, later, meanwhile, now, recently,
simultaneously, subsequently, then|
||for example, for instance, namely, specifically, to
||even, indeed, in fact, of course, truly|
||above, adjacent, below, beyond, here, in front, in back,
||accordingly, consequently, hence, so, therefore,
|Additional Support or
||additionally, again, also, and, as well, besides, equally
important, further, furthermore, in addition, moreover,
||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