Paragraphs represent the basic unit of composition: one idea, one paragraph. However, to present a clear, unified train of thought to your readers, you must make sure each paragraph follows the one before it and leads to the one after it through clear, logical transitions. Keep in mind that adequate transitions cannot simply be added to the essay without planning. Without a good reason for the sequence of your paragraphs, no transition will help you. Transitions can be made with particular words and phrases created for that purpose--conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases--or they can be implied through a conceptual link.
Conjunctive Adverbs and Transitional Phrases
Conjunctive adverbs modify entire sentences in order to relate them to preceding sentences or paragraphs; good academic writers use many of them, but not so many that they overload the page. Here is a list of some of them, courtesy of The Brief Holt Handbook:
Transitional phrases can perform the same function:
|in addition |
|of course |
as a result
in other words
as a result
Use them wisely and sparingly, and never use one without knowing its precise meaning.
Implied or Conceptual Transitions
Not every paragraph transition requires a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase; often, your logic will appear through a word or concept common to the last sentence of the preceding paragraph and the topic sentence of the following paragraph. For example, the end of a paragraph by Bruce Catton uses a demonstrative adjective, "these," to modify the subject of the topic sentence so that it will refer to a noun in the last sentence of the preceding paragraph:
When Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor of a modest house at Appomattox Court House, Virginia,...a great chapter in American life came to a close.In this transition by Kori Quintana in an article about radiation and health problems, the connection between the paragraphs resides in the common term of "my family":
These men were bringing the Civil War to its virtual finish.
What I did not know when I began researching the connection between radioactivity and genetic damage was that I would find the probably cause of my own family's battle with cancer and other health problems.The first paragraph outlines the origins of Quintana's research into the connection between radiation exposure and disease, and ends with the revelation that her own family had been affected by radiation. The next paragraph discusses her family's health history. Each has its own singular purpose and topic, yet the first paragraph leads to the topic of the second through a common term.
Hailing from Utah, the state known for its Mormon population's healthy lifestyle, my family has been plagued with a number of seemingly unrelated health problems.
Paragraph transitions can expand the range of discussion as well as narrow it with an example, as Quintana's transition does; this selection from an article by Deborah Cramer on the ecological impact of the fishing industry shows how a single instance of overfishing indicates a world-wide problem:
....The large yearly catches, peaking at 130 million pounds from the Gulf of Maine in 1942, wiped out the fishery. It has yet to recover.Here, the transition alludes to the entire preceding section about New England fishing. Although Cramer managed this transition in a single sentence, transitions between large sections of an essay sometimes require entire paragraphs to explain their logic.
The propensity to ravage the sea is by no means unique to New England. The northern cod fishery in Canada is closed indefinitely. In Newfoundland more than 20,000 fishermen and fish processors were abruptly put out of work in 1992 when the government shut down the Grand Banks...
Proofreading Paragraph Transitions
At some point in your editing process, look at the end of each paragraph and see how it connects to the first sentence of the paragraph following it. If the connection seems missing or strained, improve the transition by clarifying your logic or rearranging the paragraphs. Often, the best solution is cutting out a paragraph altogether, and replacing it with the right one.
Writing assignment series
The Five Paragraph Essay
The five paragraph essay measures a student's basic writing skills,
and is often a timed exercise.
Use this Guide to help you practice and succeed at this form of writing.
Getting started means getting organized:
Analyze the assignment; determine what is required.
With a highlighter, note important words that define the topic.
Then organize your plan
For example, you have been given this writing prompt:
You have a present that was really memorable. It could have been given for an important occasion or just for no reason at all. Tell us about the present and why it was memorable. Include the reason it was given, a description of it, and how you felt when you got it.
The objective is to write a narrative essay about this present you were given
The subject is a memorable present
The three main subtopics are:
- the reason it was given
- a description of it
- and how you felt when you got it
Outline your five paragraph essay; include these elements:Introductory Paragraph
General Topic Sentence: memorable present
- Subtopic One: the reason it was given
- Subtopic Two: a description of it
- Subtopic Three: how you felt when you got it
First Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic One
- Supporting Details or Examples
Second Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Two
- Supporting Details or Examples
Third Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Three
- Supporting Details or Examples
Closing or Summary Paragraph
- Synthesis and conclusion of the thesis
- Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.
Write the essay!
Think small; build the full essay gradually.
Divide your essay into sections and develop each piece separately and incrementally.
The Introductory Paragraph
- The opening paragraph sets the tone
It not only introduces the topic, but where you are going with it (the thesis). If you do a good job in the opening, you will draw your reader into your "experience." Put effort up front, and you will reap rewards.
- Write in the active voice
It is much more powerful. Do that for each sentence in the introductory essay. Unless you are writing a personal narrative, do not use the pronoun "I."
- Varying sentence structure
Review to avoid the same dull pattern of always starting with the subject of the sentence.
- Brainstorm to find the best supporting ideas
The best supporting ideas are the ones about which you have some knowledge. If you do not know about them, you cannot do a good job writing about them. Don't weaken the essay with ineffective argument.
- Practice writing introductory paragraphs on various topics
Even if you do not use them, they can be compared with the type of writing you are doing now. It is rewarding to see a pattern of progress.
- Write a transition to establish the sub-topic
Each paragraph has to flow, one to the next.
- Write the topic sentence
The transition can be included in the topic sentence.
- Supporting ideas, examples, details must be specific to the sub-topic
The tendency in supporting paragraphs is to put in just about anything.
Avoid this: the work you have made above with details and examples will help you keep focused.
- Vary sentence structure
Avoid repetitious pronouns and lists
Avoid beginning sentences the same way (subject + verb + direct object).
The Ending or Summary Paragraph
This is a difficult paragraph to write effectively.
You cannot assume that the reader sees your point
- Restate the introductory thesis/paragraph with originality
Do not simply copy the first paragraph
- Summarize your argument with some degree of authority
this paragraph should leave your reader with no doubt as to your position or conclusion of logic
- Be powerful as this is the last thought that you are leaving with the reader.
Edit and revise your essay
Check your spelling and grammar
Subjects and verbs agree, and verb tenses are consistent
Examine your whole essay for logic
Thought builds and flows?
Avoid gaps in logic, or too much detail.
Review individual sentences
- Use active verbs to be more descriptive
Avoid passive constructions and the verb "to be"
- Use transitional words and phrases
Avoid sentences beginning with pronouns, constructions as "There are....,"
Example: "There is a need to proofread all works" becomes "Proofreading is a must."
- Be concise
though vary the length and structure of sentences
Ask a knowledgeable friend to review and comment on your essay
and to repeat back what you are trying to say. You may be surprised.