Rethinking Transitions

By Josh Wharton

Most of us have a myriad of transition words and phrases that we customarily resort to: also, in addition to, furthermore, consequently. Such expressions are very useful, but resorting to those words and phrases can get fairly repetitive once we start writing longer papers. In addition, it’s often tempting to use a transition word or phrase at the beginning of a paragraph instead of a topic sentence that functions as a transition. Sometimes, this is appropriate. At other times, it might be more beneficial to the organization of your papers to introduce the topic of the current paragraph in a way that connects with the previous one. Rethinking the way we make transitions can not only help us write better transitioning paragraphs, but also aid us in writing more organized papers.

The first step in this process involves understanding the differences in meaning that transition words have. Ryan Patrick Welch of Waterloo University has written an excellent blog post on this topic. If transition words are to help our readers make connections in and move through our papers, nothing can be worse than including a transition that confuses our readers. Knowing the right transition word to use can help us write documents that are more intelligible to our readers.


However, some situations in our writing call for more than just a word. It isn’t always appropriate to begin a paragraph with the word “However” or the phrase “In addition.” In other situations, it might be appropriate, but not ideal. Either way, we can significantly improve the organization of our papers if we plot them out in a way that naturally transitions. If we do this, all that is left is to draw out that natural transition through your paragraphs’ topic sentences. In deciding both organization and transitions, there are a few key questions that help us: Am I comparing or contrasting? Am I extending an idea? Am I moving forward or back in time?

Many paragraphs can be paired in the camps of comparison or contrast. In the case of contrast, you might write something like this:

In contrast, dogs tend to be more social.

Or, you could write:

While lions seem to be the only group-oriented felines, most canine species tend to be social, whether they are domestic or wild.

The first sentence, while implicitly contrasting with something else, presumably said in the previous paragraph, the second sentence tells us exactly what the contrast is. The second sentence carries the previous paragraph into the following one, both in implicit meaning and explicit text.

In essence, words and phrases alone are usually enough to transition between sentences within a paragraph. However, when moving from one paragraph to another, we need entire sentences to connect with whatever phrase we choose in order to compose a paper that is tightly organized. If you keep this in mind as you write and outline your papers, you should find yourself having less trouble moving from paragraph to paragraph. If you try it out and still have trouble, come to the University Writing Center! We’d love to help you with your transitions.