Four Tips on Using Transitions for a Better Essay

Odds are, you’re already familiar with a typical essay structure: introduction, body, and conclusion. These are essential parts of an essay, but did you know that well-crafted transitions can make these sections flow well, and make your arguments even stronger?

When writing an academic essay, it is important to remember that your goal is to provide clear and concise information that supports your argument (thesis). With that in mind, you can easily use transitions throughout your essay to help you guide your reader through the logic of your argument.

Often, students run into trouble when they write transitions that merely introduce a new topic, rather than with an intention to lead a reader through their argument. For example, say you are writing about why cheddar cheese is the best to use in a grilled cheese sandwich and you want to transition from a paragraph discussing the flavor of cheddar cheese to a new paragraph discussing its gooey texture when it melts.

A poor transition would read:
Cheddar cheese is also gooey when it melts.
A good transition would read:
While cheddar cheese’s sharp flavor makes for delicious grilled-cheese sandwiches, it is also the best cheese choice because of its gooey texture.
While both sentences clearly state that cheddar cheese has a gooey texture, the first sentence simply announces this statement without showing how it connected to the previous paragraph, and without showing how it relates to her overall argument.

While it is important to make sure you write strong transitions, that doesn’t mean that writing them should be a source of stress in your writing process. In fact, by spending the time to write strong transitions, you will find it easier to write strong body paragraphs in your essay.

Here are Four Tips for writing better transitions in your essay, and overall better essays.

Tip #1: Understand what transitions are

Transitions are not merely words meant to signal a change in a thesis point or body paragraph—they are words and phrases meant to articulate the logical relationship between the information that came before the transition, and the information that will come after it. Whether you are writing the first sentence of a new paragraph, a new section, or tying an outside quote to your own writing, when you choose a transition word, try to think of what connects your ideas together and how you want to portray that relationship to your reader.

You can think of the logical relationships between points, and their corresponding transition phrases, as falling into these categories

Example: for example, for instance

Emphasis: in fact, of course, indeed

Sequence/Order: first, second, third, … next, then, finally

Time:   now, then, after, afterward, immediately, before, currently, during, earlier, later, meanwhile, recently, subsequently,

Similarity: also, similarly, likewise

Contrast: still, nevertheless, while, despite, however, but, in spite of, nonetheless, in contrast, on the contrary, yet

Additional Support or Evidence: furthermore, moreover, additionally, again, also, and, as well,

Cause and Effect: so, therefore, accordingly, thus, consequently, therefore

Tip #2 Think beyond just the transitional phrase

While it is important to know which words serve as transitions in a sentence, it is equally important to avoid just relying on the transition word itself to do the work for you. Because, chances are, just using a transitional word is not enough to properly link your ideas together with logical coherence.

In order to avoid this habit, try writing the new information you want to convey first without using a transition word. This could be a thesis statement for your new paragraph, or merely an idea that you want to convey. Once you have that on the page, play around with transitional words to link this sentence to what you discussed before it.

Let’s return to the student writing about grilled cheese sandwiches. Say she wants to transition from discussing cheddar cheese’s gooey texture, to how cheddar cheese is available at most grocery stores.

To link these two ideas, she first writes the idea she wants to guide her reader towards…
Cheddar cheese is one of the most accessible cheeses—most grocery stores stock at least one kind of cheddar cheese.
Then, she adds a link from that sentence to her previous point. Because she wants to indicate additional support, she chooses to say
Furthermore, cheddar cheese is the best cheese for making grilled cheese as it is one of the most accessible—most grocery stores stock at least one kind of cheddar cheese.

By using this process, you will ensure that you are focusing on the ideas you want to express, and avoid relying on the transition word itself to do the heavy-lifting in your essay.

Tip #3: Go Back Through Your Introduction and Thesis

Sometimes, it might not be obvious, even to you the writer, what logical connection links two paragraphs within an essay. And that’s okay! Your ideas tend to evolve as you develop them on the page, and sometimes you will find that once you have fully fleshed out one idea, you don’t know how to move towards a new idea. Just take a break from the actual writing and go back to read your thesis.

Ask yourself what do you want to argue in the whole of the essay. This will help you to focus on what you want to argue in this particular paragraph or section of your essay in order to support your overall argument. If you can clearly articulate your new idea, and how it supports your overall thesis, you will find it easier to say how it connects to your previous paragraph or idea.

Tip #4: Write an outline and move the pieces around

If you still find yourself staring at the page, struggling to connect the previous idea to the new idea you want to guide your readers through, take a step back. When in doubt, make an outline. Whether you like to use an outline template on your word processor, or write one out on paper, make an outline that includes your thesis statement and the main points you want to use to support it. Once you have the outline mapped out, move the pieces around. Sometimes, the order in which you started out writing your paper doesn’t flow logically once you have developed your ideas further. By moving things around, you might find you have an easier time transitioning between different paragraphs.

Although transitioning seamlessly from one paragraph to another in an essay may feel challenging, you can write clear and concise transitions by focusing on the thesis of your essay, and the logical connections that tie your ideas together. Once you have gone through these tips, writing transitions will come naturally to you.

Transitions are not the only thing you should pay attention to! BibMe Plus’s grammar check can help you check your paper for grammar and unintentional plagiarism before you turn it. Also, BibMe’s classic citation tools can help generate APA citations (or citations in other styles like MLA format) for your bibliography. Give a go today!