Transitions are words and phrases that help explain relationships between sentences; they help make a paragraph coherent. While transitions can help clarify the relationships between ideas, they cannot create those relationships. In other words, the logic of the paragraph must already exist in order for transitions to do their job.
There are different ways of making an effective transition:
1) Place a strong sentence at the end of the preceding paragraph.
The last sentence of some paragraphs in a critical essay or paper may act as a mini-conclusion to the paragraph. It may wrap up the thought or tie the information presented to your thesis. It may also act as a bridge to your next paragraph. Consider this example, from a paper in which a writer compares Americans' reactions to traveling to other parts of the country:
Many Westerners don't like rivers in the East. They are alarmed by the muddy water, the overhanging trees, and the snakes. Some Easterners aren't too thrilled about Western rivers, either.
Western rivers can seem shallow, freezing cold, too exposed to the sun, rocky, and uninviting to someone used to the gentle and fertile rivers of the East. Instead of a gentle float in a canoe, a Western "river run" can be a terrifying experience for the novice Easterner. . .
Note how the writer begins the transition at the end of the first paragraph and then continues the transition with a strong topic sentence in the next paragraph.
2) Make an allusion to the topic of the preceding paragraph.
You might refer to the main topic of your last paragraph. Read your topic sentence or gloss the paragraph to make sure you know its main thrust (see the Writer's Web handout on glossing).
Note, in the preceding example, how the second paragraph's topic sentence sets the reader up for the new topic (Western rivers) and also refers back to Eastern rivers. It is also possible to begin a transition in the second paragraph, like this:
Many Westerners don't like rivers in the East. They are alarmed by the muddy water, the overhanging trees, and the snakes. Westerners often won't stick their big toes in rivers that look like the James.
To Easterners, on the other hand, Western rivers can seem shallow, freezing cold, too exposed to the sun, rocky, and uninviting. . .
In this example, the final sentence of the first paragraph serves as that "mini- conclusion" discussed above.
Note: Whatever type of transition you use, you should clearly present the topic of the paragraph that follows. For more information, see Writing Paragraphs.
One way to check your transitions is to read through your paper while paying close attention to the last and first sentences in every paragraph. Do these sentences provide a basic outline of the information you cover in your paper?
Back to 'Using Transitions' or 'Focusing/Connecting Ideas'