One key to effective writing is making the prose flow from one part to the next. The reader should never feel like a new discussion or sentence just drops on her out of nowhere. This practice of creating flow is called transition.
Opening Note: As you read this article on transitions between paragraphs, please note that I am underlining my own uses of this technique within this article. Wherever you see an underline, I am pointing out a place where I have made a paragraph-to-paragraph transition.
One important place to create transition is when moving from one paragraph to the next. Whenever you present a new paragraph, frame it as stemming from or acknowledging your discussion in the previous paragraph. This does not mean you should restate the content of the previous paragraph, but it does mean you should at least include some kind of transitional word, phrase, clause, or sentence as you open each new paragraph discussion. The length and depth of your transition depend on how strong of a connection you want to make.
How do we create that connection? Here are three standard ways to accomplish transition between any two paragraphs:
1. Refer back to the previous paragraph. Have the first sentence of the second paragraph refer back to the last sentence of the first paragraph.
2. Project forward to the next paragraph. Have the last sentence of the first paragraph hint at what is to come in the second paragraph. The word hint is emphasized because subtlety works best when applying this approach. This particular approach creates suspense in readers, making them wonder what the writer is going to say next.
3. Both 1 and 2 to create a very strong, fully realized connection. Just be careful not to overstate the connection. (After all, while we do want to be helpful to our readers, we don’t want to insult their intelligence. Balance is the key.)
Written below is at an example of a paragraph break without a transition. Imagine that a student is writing a persuasive essay arguing for the benefits of stem cell research. In the student’s first attempt, the paragraph break is present, but there is no transition bridging the two ideas:
. . . Having looked at the arguments against stem cell research, we see that they are erroneous because the opponents of stem cell research assume that embryonic stem cells can come only from fetuses, which is not true.
Many opponents of stem cell research try to base their arguments solely on religious texts. However, such opponents should consider additional arguments, since many Americans do not believe in those same sacred texts and since religious Americans hold varying interpretations of those texts.
Notice how that second paragraph just jumps out at the reader. While the writer may have seen it coming (because the writer is already familiar with the connections), the reader does not necessarily see those connections. So, with that point in mind, the writer should make a transition for the reader. This transition will be a dependent clause, which is attached to the opening of the second paragraph (the first type of transition listed above):
. . . Having looked at the arguments against stem cell research, we see that they are erroneous because the opponents of stem cell research assume that embryonic stem cells come only from fetuses, which is not true.
While such opponents ignore scientific facts to oppose embryonic stem cell research, many of those same opponents try to base their arguments solely on religious texts. However, such opponents should consider additional arguments, since many Americans do not believe in those same sacred texts and since religious Americans hold varying interpretations of those texts.
See how that works? Now the first paragraph gives rise to the second paragraph, and the reader has a smooth ride from one paragraph to the next. The ideas now relate, showing unity—but, even more important, the writer has facilitated the reading experience by emphasizing precisely how those paragraphs relate.
Here are some simple words, phrases, and sentences that create transition:
Now that we have looked at X, we should look at Y.
After having considered X, let’s also consider Y.
Related to this concept of X is Y.
At this point, readers may think Y, so we should consider that point further.
As we have seen, X. This leads us to the next point, Y.
On the other hand, . . .
Now let’s consider a very different example.
etc. . . . There are many more ways to create transition.
No matter which of the listed (or unlisted) techniques you decide to use, always aim to create seamless flow in your writing. Sometimes a single word like also will do fine, but at other times writers will include an entire sentence (or two) to make a transition. No matter what kind of transition you choose to make, always think about your choice, and make a point of being creative.
Finally, when considering how to create transitions, remember that a transition creates one crucial desired effect for the reader: a seamless reading experience, from the first page to the last. This flow keeps our readers doing just what we want them to be doing: reading.
Next Up: Transitions between Sentences
This article has shared some ways to create transition from one paragraph to the next. But equally important to creating flow between paragraphs is maintaining that same level of flow within paragraphs by creating sentence-to-sentence transitions. With that goal in mind, the next Tricks of the Trade article shares a range of techniques for creating constant transition between every sentence you write.
- Creating Transitions between Sentences (I will have this article posted soon.)
Christopher Altman is passionate about bringing the art of effective writing to everyday Americans. In addition to writing this blog, Mr. Altman produces and hosts The Writer’s Toolbox Podcast, and he is currently developing a number of book projects that examine the role of language in popular media and everyday life. His book, Myths We Learned in Grade School English, explores how adult writers can overcome the false writing rules learned in childhood. When he is not writing or teaching, Mr. Altman enjoys grilling out and savoring the mild summers of Central New York, where he is a professor of English at Onondaga Community College (Syracuse, NY).