In comparison to the sentences of evidence, commentary, and analysis that make up the bulk of any academic essay, transition sentences make up a slim proportion. If an essay is five paragraphs long, then there may be as little as five transitory sentences overall. Because of their seemingly inconsequential role, these sentences are often regarded as unimportant and tend to be neglected throughout the writing process. Sometimes transition sentences aren’t included at all – what’s the point in including them if they don’t add any useful information to the essay, right?
While transition sentences are not more important than the thesis or the research or analysis, they do play a crucial role in strengthening an essay’s flow, cohesiveness, and organization. Although transitions can’t substitute for good organization, they can make the organization of an essay clearer and easier to follow. (http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/transitions/)
Transitions usually root in the first line of a new paragraph, but sometimes they’ll be in the last line. Whether at the start or the end, the most important thing to keep in mind when constructing a transition sentence between two paragraphs is to find a common denominator. If you have a common denominator (something that the two separate topics have in common) you can connect almost anything.
The trick to a successful transition is to shift gears smoothly by using both the topic or idea discussed in the previous paragraph and the future topic close together. A transition sentence must use part of the topic it left and part of the topic it is approaching. To put it another way, transition sentences are a bridge from one side of the river to the other. Sure, you can cross the river without a bridge, but that would not be as pleasant of an experience.
As the writer, you have control over the flow and pace of the essay. You also have control over the direction you want the essay to take and the direction you want your reader’s mind to take. Transitions are a powerful way to redirect your reader’s mind. By helping to establish logical connections between sentences, paragraphs, and sections of your essay, they tell readers what to do with the information you’ve presented to them. They provide the reader with directions for how to piece together your ideas into a logically coherent argument.
So, what exactly is a transition anyway?
It can be a single word, a phrase, a sentence, or an entire paragraph. Its basic function though, is the same: the transition either directly summarizes the content of a preceding sentence, paragraph, or section or implies such a summary. It then helps the reader anticipate or comprehend the new information that you want to present. Here’s a description of the three types of transitions and how they can be effective in an essay: (Referred to: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/transitions/)
- Transitions between sections (such as in a scientific research paper): specify the relevance of the information previously discussed to the discussion in the following section
- Transitions between paragraphs: highlight a relationship between the preceding and approaching paragraph by summarizing the previous paragraph and suggesting something of the content of the paragraph that follows.
- Transitions within paragraphs: act as cues by helping readers anticipate what is coming before they read it. Within paragraphs, transitions tend to be single words or short phrases.
Take a look at the following example:
No transition: In some cultures sympathy plays a role in moral decision-making.
Weaker transition: However, conflicts between principle and emotion more often occur when there is a conflict between the moral values of different cultures.
Stronger transition: While conflict between morality and sympathy can occur in the context of a single cultural code, it more often arises in cross-cultural conflicts.
Above all, remember that transitions aren’t simply meant to decorate your essay or to give it a sophisticated touch. They have a particular meaning and purpose in providing cues and signs that help guide the readers and ebb them along. So when using transition words and phrases, use them appropriately. If you don’t know the proper meaning or usage of a transition word/phrase, then don’t use it. Incorrectly including a transition word could end up hurting your essay, rather than helping it.
Examples of good transition words and phrases include: besides, in addition to, instead of, specifically, to sum up, although, beyond, close, for instance, again, moreover, accordingly, as a result, during, to illustrate, finally, on the contrary, to compare, consequently, subsequently, if, then, meanwhile, but, nevertheless, therefore, otherwise, so, formerly.
Here’s a link to more transition words and phrases.
Try using these words in your next assignment or exam and remember to keep in mind how you can use them to strengthen your essay. Though small in size, transitory words and phrases pack a powerful punch and can even take an essay from ordinary to exceptional by tying the disjointed pieces together.