When you are talking to your best friends about your date on Tuesday, it’s ok to jump from what you wore to what you ate to how you really just want to go to the mall and shop and how you really hated what was served in TDR today. However, in an essay, even an informal essay in the first person, you must transition from paragraph to paragraph and from sentence to sentence. Your friends might follow your disjointed conversation but your reader most likely will not. Transitioning between ideas on paper takes practice but it helps the reader understand how your varying ideas all connect. Transitioning can actually start on the sentence level.
What are transitions? How do transitions work sentence by sentence?
Transitions are defined as the process or period of changing from one state to another. The word transition refers to a number of different processes, but for the purposes of writing, this process occurs in two places. Writers must transition from sentence to sentence and they also must transition from paragraph to paragraph. The move between sentences is nuanced and slight but crucial for clarity and cohesion in your paper. Although each paragraph you write should typically contain one central idea, your sentences supporting that idea may cover a few aspects of it. When you are moving from one sentence to another, it is important to make sure that the turns or changes you make from one aspect of the subject to the others all connect. Sometimes what you think is an implicit follow up thought could confuse your reader. By logically bridging the gaps between your thoughts, your reader will know what to expect and understand why you put the two thoughts together. An example might help illustrate this.
Let’s go back to the conversation I mentioned at the beginning. If you were writing an essay (HYPOTHETICALLY) about your experience on a date, you might transition from what you wore to what you ate by explaining how you dressed in a really nice white shirt and then proceeded to spill wine on it. Even though the spill felt catastrophic, the wine was delicious and complimented the quinoa and asparagus dish you ordered. Connecting the clothing to the wine that was spilled to what you ate transitions a little smoother than saying, “I wore a white t-shirt on my date. Also, we ate a meal of quinoa and asparagus.” This example is completely hypothetical, but if you jump from idea one to the other too rapidly, your reader might not understand why you talk about clothes then food. Connecting them makes for a more interesting story and one that your reader can follow. Transitions start at the sentence level but the bigger transitions you will make in a paper are from paragraph to paragraph.
When moving from one paragraph to the next, you could be talking about the date but your next thought may go beyond the actual night of the date. When ideas go beyond the central topic of your paragraph, it is time to move on to the next paragraph. Moving from one paragraph to the next successfully relies on two key moves: the transition in the preceding paragraph and the topic sentence in the following. Let’s focus on the transition. If you were writing about the date and then wanted to write about whether or not you plan on a second date, it might be time to switch paragraphs. To do this, you would simply say something to the effect of, “ The date last night was really fun. I enjoyed the food and felt good about our conversations. We were even able to laugh off the wine spill. However, I am really not sure about a second date. It is my senior year and I have a lot of choices to make and so many new things ahead of me.” Paragraph two would proceed with this thought by talking about graduating and perhaps the cons of going on a second date. This transitional sentence connects what was said in the date night paragraph to what you plan to write in the new paragraph because it summarizes what you wrote and makes an explicit correlation between the two ideas. By using transitions, you simply connect your thoughts in a deliberate way between sentences and paragraphs.
Transitions work differently on each level. The sentence level is a smaller jump, whereas the new paragraph transition must give a slight re-cap of the previous paragraph and join those ideas to the next paragraph. Transitions are easy to forget, but if you struggle with spotting places where you need a transition or if you just are not sure if your movements from topic to topic are clear, ask a friend to read over your writing or bring your paper to the Writing Center. A second pair of eyes can help show where your thoughts connect clearly and where you may need to add in a smoother transition.