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Transitions

Using transitions will make your writing easier to understand by providing connections between
paragraphs or between sentences within a paragraph. Transitions can be a word, phrase or
sentencein longer works, a transition can even be a whole paragraph. The goal of a transition
is to clarify to your readers exactly how your ideas are connected.
Transitions refer to both the preceding and ensuing sentence, paragraph or section of a written
work. They remind your readers of what they just read, and tell them what will come next. By
doing so, transitions help your writing feel like a unified whole.
Transitions Between Paragraphs
Transitions between paragraphs highlight the relationship between two paragraphs. For
example, imagine you have three paragraphs with three different topics:
1.

The sun is powered by nuclear fusion.

2.

Nuclear fusion here on Earth could meet all of our energy demands.

3.

There are significant technological problems that make harnessing nuclear


fusion power difficult.
The three topics need to be connected somehow. The first and the second ideas could be
connected like this:
-- Since nuclear fusion produces enough energy to power the sun, we could use the same
process here on Earth to produce all the power we would ever need.
This transition references the topic of the first paragraph (the sun is powered by fusion) and the
topic of the second paragraph (fusion could meet all of our energy needs). The word "since"
acts as a logical connector ("since...then...") that demonstrates how the two apparently separate
ideas are actually connected.
We could connect the second and third paragraphs in a similar way:
-- Although nuclear fusion could provide ample energy, there are several technological problems
that make harnessing nuclear fusion power difficult.
Again, notice how this transition links the topic of the second paragraph (fusion could meet all
our energy needs) with the topic of the third paragraph (there are some difficulties with fusion).
Transitions Within Paragraphs
Transitions within a paragraph help readers to anticipate what is coming before they read it.
Within paragraphs, transitions tend to be single words or short phrases. Words like "however,"
"nevertheless," "but" and "similarly," as well as phrases like "on the other hand" and "for
example" can serve as transitions between sentences. See the "List of Common Transitional
Devices" below for more examples.

Transition Paragraphs
In longer works, you might need an entire paragraph to connect the ideas presented in two
separate sections. The purpose of a transitional paragraph is to summarize the information in
the previous paragraph, and to tell your reader how this information is related to the information
in the next paragraph. Transition paragraphs are good places to review for your reader where
you have been and how it relates to the next step of your argument.
Before using a particular transitional word or phrase, be sure you understand its meaning and
usage completely and that it is the right match for the logic in your paper. With that said, here
are a few transitonal devices:
Transitional words and phrases that indicate addition:
and, again, and then, besides, equally important, finally, further, furthermore, nor, too, next,
lastly, what's more, moreover, in addition, still, first (second, etc.)
Transitional words and phrases that indicate comparison:
whereas, but, yet, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, by comparison,
where, compared to, up against, balanced against, although, conversely, in contrast, although
this may be true, likewise
Transitional words and phrases that indicate a logical connection:
because, for, since, for the same reason, obviously, evidently, furthermore, moreover, besides,
indeed, in fact, in addition, in any case, that is
Transitional words and phrases that show exception:
yet, still, however, nevertheless, in spite of, despite, of course, once in a while, sometimes
Transitional words and phrases that show time:
immediately, thereafter, soon, after a few hours, finally, then, later, previously, formerly, first
(second, etc.), next, and then
Transitional words and phrases that indicate repetition or summarize:
in brief, as I have said, as I have noted, as has been noted
Transitional words and phrases that indicate emphasis:
definitely, extremely, obviously, in fact, indeed, in any case, absolutely, positively, naturally,
surprisingly
Transitional words and phrases that indicate sequence:
first, second, third, and so forth, next, then, following this, at this time, now, at this point, after,
afterward, subsequently, finally, consequently, previously, before this, simultaneously,
concurrently
Transitional words and phrases that indicate an example:

for example, for instance, in this case, in another case, on this occasion, in this situation, take
the case of, to demonstrate, to illustrate

THE MOST CONVINCING IDEAS IN THE WORLD, expressed in the most beautiful

sentences, will move no one unless those ideas are properly connected. Unless readers
can move easily from one thought to another, they will surely find something else to
read or turn on the television.
Providing transitions between ideas is largely a matter of attitude. You must
never assume that your readers know what you know. In fact, it's a good idea to
assume not only that your readers need all the information that you have and need to
know how you arrived at the point you're at, but also that they are not quite as quick
as you are. You might be able to leap from one side of the stream to the other; believe
that your readers need some stepping stones and be sure to place them in readily
accessible and visible spots.
There are four basic mechanical considerations in providing transitions between
ideas: using transitional expressions, repeating key words and phrases, using pronoun
reference, and using parallel form.

USING TRANSITIONAL TAGS


Transitional tags run the gamut from the most simple the little conjunctions: and, but,
nor, for, yet, or, (and sometimes) so to more complex signals that ideas are somehow
connected the conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions such as however, moreover,
nevertheless, on the other hand.
For additional information on conjunctions,
click HERE.

The use of the little conjunctions especially and and but comes naturally for most
writers. However, the question whether one can begin a sentence with a small conjunction often
arises. Isn't the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence a sign that the sentence should have
been connected to the prior sentence? Well, sometimes, yes. But often the initial conjunction
calls attention to the sentence in an effective way, and that's just what you want. Over-used,
beginning a sentence with a conjunction can be distracting, but the device can add a refreshing
dash to a sentence and speed the narrative flow of your text. Restrictions against beginning a
sentence with and or but are based on shaky grammatical foundations; some of the most
influential writers in the language have been happily ignoring such restrictions for centuries.*
Here is a chart of the transitional devices (also called conjunctive adverbs or adverbial
conjunctions) accompanied with a simplified definition of function (note that some devices
appear with more than one definition):

addition

again, also, and, and then, besides, equally important,


finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in the
first place, last, moreover, next, second, still, too

comparison

also, in the same way, likewise, similarly

concession

granted, naturally, of course

contrast

although, and yet, at the same time, but at the same


time, despite that, even so, even though, for all that,
however, in contrast, in spite of, instead, nevertheless,
notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand,
otherwise, regardless, still, though, yet

emphasis

certainly, indeed, in fact, of course

example or
illustration

after all, as an illustration, even, for example, for


instance, in conclusion, indeed, in fact, in other
words, in short, it is true, of course, namely,
specifically, that is, to illustrate, thus, truly

summary

all in all, altogether, as has been said, finally, in brief,


in conclusion, in other words, in particular, in short, in
simpler terms, in summary, on the whole, that is,
therefore, to put it differently, to summarize

time sequence

after a while, afterward, again, also, and then, as long


as, at last, at length, at that time, before, besides,
earlier, eventually, finally, formerly, further,

furthermore, in addition, in the first place, in the past,


last, lately, meanwhile, moreover, next, now,
presently, second, shortly, simultaneously, since, so
far, soon, still, subsequently, then, thereafter, too,
until, until now, when

A word of caution: Do not interlard your text with transitional expressions merely
because you know these devices connect ideas. They must appear, naturally, where they belong,
or they'll stick like a fishbone in your reader's craw. (For that same reason, there is no point in
trying to memorize this vast list.) On the other hand, if you can read your entire essay and
discover none of these transitional devices, then you must wonder what, if anything, is holding
your ideas together. Practice by inserting a tentative however, nevertheless, consequently. Reread
the essay later to see if these words provide the glue you needed at those points.

Repetition of Key Words and Phrases


The ability to connect ideas by means of repetition of key words and phrases
sometimes meets a natural resistance based on the fear of being repetitive. We've been
trained to loathe redundancy. Now we must learn that catching a word or phrase that's
important to a reader's comprehension of a piece and replaying that word or phrase creates a
musical motif in that reader's head. Unless it is overworked and obtrusive, repetition lends itself
to a sense of coherence (or at least to the illusion of coherence). Remember Lincoln's advice:
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you
cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

In fact, you can't forget Lincoln's advice, because it has become part of the music of our
language.
Remember to use this device to link paragraphs as well as sentences.

Pronoun Reference
Pronouns quite naturally connect ideas because pronouns almost always refer the reader to
something earlier in the text. I cannot say "This is true because . . ." without causing the reader to
consider what "this" could mean. Thus, the pronoun causes the reader to sum up, quickly and

subconsciously, what was said before (what this is) before going on to the because part of my
reasoning.
We should hardly need to add, however, that it must always be perfectly clear what a
pronoun refers to. If my reader cannot instantly know what this is, then my sentence is
ambiguous and misleading. Also, do not rely on unclear pronoun references to avoid
responsibility: "They say that . . ."

Parallelism
Music in prose is often the result of parallelism, the deliberate repetition of larger
structures of phrases, even clauses and whole sentences. We urge you to read the
Guide's section onParallelism and take the accompanying quiz on recognizing
parallel form (and repairing sentences that ought to use parallel form but don't). Pay
special attention to the guided tour through the parallel intricacies within Abraham
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Coherence Devices in Action


In our section on writing the Argumentative Essay, we have a complete
student essay ("Cry, Wolf" at the bottom of that document) which we
have analyzed in terms of argumentative development and in which we
have paid special attention to the connective devices holding ideas together.

Look at the following paragraph:


The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of
them. Mummies several thousand years old have been discovered nearly intact. The skin, hair,
teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial features of the mummies were evident. It is possible to
diagnose the disease they suffered in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional
deficiencies. The process was remarkably effective. Sometimes apparent were the fatal
afflictions of the dead people: a middle-aged king died from a blow on the head, and polio killed
a child king. Mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural
preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages.

Though weak, this paragraph is not a total washout. It starts with a topic
sentence, and the sentences that follow are clearly related to the topic sentence. In the

language of writing, the paragraph is unified (i.e., it contains no irrelevant details).


However, the paragraph is not coherent. The sentences are disconnected from each
other, making it difficult for the reader to follow the writer's train of thought.
Below is the same paragraph revised for coherence. Italics indicates pronouns
and repeated/restated key words, bold indicates transitional tag-words,
and underlining indicates parallel structures.
The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of
them. In short, mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural
preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages. And the
process was remarkably effective. Indeed, mummies several thousand years old have been
discovered nearly intact. Their skin, hair, teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial
features are still evident. Their diseases in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional
deficiencies, are still diagnosable. Even their fatal afflictions are still apparent: a middle-aged
king died from a blow on the head; a child king died from polio.

The paragraph is now much more coherent. The organization of the information
and the links between sentences help readers move easily from one sentence to the
next. Notice how this writer uses a variety of coherence devices, sometimes in
combination, to achieve overall paragraph coherence.

Examples of Topic
Sentences
A topic sentence is the most important sentence in a paragraph.
Sometimes referred to as a focus sentence, the topic sentence helps
organize the paragraph by summarizing the information in the
paragraph. In formal writing, the topic sentence is usually the first
sentence in a paragraph (although it doesn't always have to be).

Purpose of the Topic Sentence


A topic sentence essentially tells what the rest of the paragraph is
about. All sentences after it have to give more information about the
sentence, prove it by offering facts about it, or describe it. For
example, if the topic sentence concerns the types of endangered
species that live in the ocean, then every sentence after that needs to
expound on that subject.
Topic sentences also need to relate back to the thesis of the essay. The
thesis statement is like a road map that will tell the reader or listener
where you are going with this information or how you are treating it.

Topic Sentences and Controlling Ideas

Every topic sentence will have a topic and a controlling idea. The
controlling idea shows the direction the paragraph will take.
Here are some examples:

Topic Sentence: There are many reasons why pollution in ABC


Town is the worst in the world.

The topic is pollution in ABC Town is the worst in the world and
the controlling idea is many reasons.

Topic Sentence: To be an effective CEO requires certain


characteristics.

The topic is To be an effective CEO and the controlling idea is


certain characteristics.

Topic Sentence: There are many possible contributing factors to


global warming.

The topic is "contributing factors to global warming" and the


controlling factor is "many reasons."

Topic Sentence: Fortune hunters encounter many difficulties when


exploring a shipwreck.

The topic is exploring a shipwreck and the controlling idea is


many difficulties.

Topic Sentence: Dogs make wonderful pets because they help


you to live longer.

The topic is "dogs make wonderful pets" and the controlling idea
is "because they help you to live longer."

Topic Sentence: Crime in poverty-stricken areas occurs as a result


of a systemic discrimination.

The topic is "crime in poverty stricken areas" and the controlling


idea is "systemic discrimination."

Topic Sentence: Teen pregnancy may be prevented by improved


education.

The topic is "teen pregnancy may be prevented" and the


controlling idea is "improving education."

Topic Sentence: Cooking requires a number of different skills.


The topic is "cooking" and the controlling idea is "many different
skills."

Topic Sentence: It is important to be ready before buying a house.


The topic is "before buying a house" and the controlling idea is
the importance of being ready.

Topic Sentence: Graduating from high school is important for


many different reasons.

The topic is "graduating from high school" and the controlling


idea is "many different reasons."

Topic Sentence: Having a first child is difficult because of the


significant adjustments in your life.

The topic is "having a first child" and the controlling idea is


"significant adjustments in your life."

Topic Sentence: Remodeling a kitchen successfully requires


research and a good eye.

The topic is "remodeling a kitchen" and the controlling idea is


"requires research and a good eye."
As you can see, the topic sentence provides a focus for the reader or
listener. It tells what the paragraph is about. The controlling idea helps
the audience understand what you are saying.
Topic sentences can be about almost anything, as long as they set the
tone for the paragraph and relate back to the thesis or the main idea of
the paper.

Paragraphs and Topic Sentences


A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single
topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized
into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay
begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.
Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of
brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or
process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into
categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all
paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.
TOPIC SENTENCES
A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a
sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates
or supports an essays thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of
the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will
discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject
and perspective of the paragraph. Thats why its often best to put the topic sentence at the very
beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, its more effective to place another sentence
before the topic sentencefor example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous
one, or one providing background information.
Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a
paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence
in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you
introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a
paragraph clearly referperhaps indirectlyto a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs,
however, should have a topic sentence.

PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structureintroduction, body, and conclusion. You
can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting,
or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your
meaning to your reader.
Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other
sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis,
examples, and other information.
Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in
the body of the paragraph and the paragraphs controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence
and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraphs main point in
mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS.
In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in
diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small
pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as
2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among mans most dangerous
enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted
electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny
crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far
away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force
light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting
or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X
rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST
EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO
EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.
George Harrison, Faith and the Scientist
COHERENCE
In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but
there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into
the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old
information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.
Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraphs coherence may also be related to its length.
If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example,
you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph
wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two

sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it
with another paragraph.
A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described
below.
Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an
important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind
the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.
Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or
sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating
parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a
pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas.
In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the
paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have
been emphasized) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a
general statement.
Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense,
and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you"
to the impersonal one, from past to present tense, or from a man to they, for example, you make
your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your
argument more difficult to follow.
Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional
expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of
thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following
paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from
the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.
I dont wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little
brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect
more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small
animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all
mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from
mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body
size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of
brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE
we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives,
we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF
we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large
animals, dinosaurs in particular.
Stephen Jay Gould, Were Dinosaurs Dumb?

SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS


(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writers Reference)

To show addition:
again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second,
etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place,
moreover, next, too
To give examples:
for example, for instance, in fact, specifically, that is, to
illustrate
To compare:
also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly
To contrast:
although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though,
however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary,
on the other hand, still, though, yet
To summarize or conclude:
all in all, in conclusion, in other words, in short, in summary, on
the whole, that is, therefore, to sum up
To show time:
after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before,
during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile,
next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when,
while
To show place or direction:
above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, farther on, here,
nearby, opposite, to the left (north, etc.)
To indicate logical relationship:

accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason,


hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus