Effective paragraph transitions signal to readers how two consecutive paragraphs relate to each other. The transition signals the relationship between the “new information” and the “old information.”
For example, the new paragraph might
- elaborate on the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- introduce a related idea
- continue a chronological narrative
- describe a problem with the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- describe an exception to the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
- describe a consequence or implication of the idea presented in the preceding paragraph
Let’s consider a few examples (drawn from published books and articles of paragraph transitions that work. The examples below reproduce paragraph endings and openings. Pay attention to how each paragraph opening signals to readers how the paragraph relates to the one they have just finished reading. Observe the loss in clarity when transitional signals are removed.
|Paragraph ending||[ … ]Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency.|
|Paragraph Opening with transitional cues||Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. [ … ]|
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues||Taylor’s system is the ethic of present-day industrial manufacturing. [ … ]|
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will seek to demonstrate that the phenomenon described in the preceding paragraph (Taylorism) is ongoing: it is “still” with us and “remains” the dominant workplace ethic.Compare this sentence with the one directly beneath it (“paragraph opening without transitional cues”). With this version, readers are left on their own to infer the connection.
|Paragraph ending||[ … ]“I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?|
|Paragraph opening with transitional cues||Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. [ … ]|
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues||Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits.[ … ]|
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will provide another example of the phenomenon (changed mental habits) described in the preceding paragraph. In this example, the word “also” serves an important function. Notice that without this transitional cue the relationship between the two paragraphs becomes less clear.
|Paragraph Ending||[ … ] The camera-as-narrator is the usual viewpoint in film. It can be used continuously, appearing to reflect reality, and making few mental demands on the viewer. The passive camera seems to be a trustworthy witness, and so the viewer relies upon its apparent omniscience.|
|Paragraph opening with transitional cues||But the illusion of objectivity is a rhetorical device exploited by the filmmaker. […]|
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues||The illusion of objectivity is a rhetorical device exploited by the filmmaker. [ … ]|
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will challenge the assumption described in the preceding paragraph. The single transitional term “but” signals this relationship. Notice the drop-off in clarity when the transitional term is omitted.
|Paragraph Ending||[ … ] If the story concerns social crisis or disorder, more frequently than not this response will come from sources of official authority: the police quell the rioting, labor and management leaders reach an agreement, the State Department approves or condemns the latest coup d’état in South America. The press in this way establishes a subtle relation between narrative order and the perception or representation of political order.|
|Paragraph opening with transitional cues||Todd Gitlin makes a similar point in commenting on the “orderliness” of television news. [ … ]|
|Paragraph opening without transitional cues||Todd Gitlin comments on the “orderliness” of television news. [ … ]|
The transitional sentence signals that the new paragraph will further explore the idea expressed in the preceding paragraph. The phrase “makes a similar point” signals this relationship. Without this transitional phrase, the connection between the two paragraphs can still be inferred, but it is now much less clear.
As the above examples illustrate, effective paragraph transitions signal relationships between paragraphs.
Below are some terms that are often helpful for signaling relationships among ideas.
|Chronology||before, next, earlier, later, during, after, meanwhile, while, until, then, first, second|
|Comparison||also, similarly, likewise, in the same way, in the same manner|
|Contrast||however, but, in contrast, still, yet, nevertheless, even though, although|
|Clarity||for example, for instance, in other words|
|Continuation||and, also, moreover, additionally, furthermore, another, too|
|Consequence||as a result, therefore, for this reason, thus, consequently|
|Conclusion||in conclusion, in summary, to sum up|
* The examples of transitional sentences are from:
- Parker, Ian. “Absolute Powerpoint.” New Yorker. 28 May 2001: 76-87.
- Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic Monthly. Jul/Aug2008: 56-63.
- Harrington, John. The Rhetoric of Film. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973.
- Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1993.