Transitioning Into Better Writing
Thursday, January 20, 2011 Expert Advice
By Sarah Prince, Writing Tutor
For most of us, our lives are filled with transitions, both epic and mundane. In the span of our lifetimes, we transition from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to experience, and from immaturity to maturity. Daily, we transition from breakfast to dinner, from work-mode to couch-potato-mode, and from enthusiasm to exhaustion. Ultimately, these transitions become the ways we bring structure to our days and organization to our lives. Here, I highlight transitions’ abilities to create order in our lives, not to offer up my services as a life coach, but to suggest that this same transition logic can be applied to create structure and cohesion in scholarly writing.
Using transitional words, phrases, and sentences in our writing can be used to emphasize, repeat, conclude, summarize, synthesize, compare, and concede. Transitions can show time and place, develop examples, and build evidence. Most importantly, however, transitions can be used to create a logically ordered and cohesive paper, which increases our writing’s natural flow and momentum! Now that we are all onboard the transition train, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites:
1. Building Evidence: When writing a scholarly essay, building on evidence or examples makes a paper both convincing and well-founded. To draw logical connections among examples, I like to use transitional words and phrases like in addition, furthermore, moreover, and also. For example: “Writing with transitions increases the overall flow of your paper. Moreover, transitional words and phrases can make connections between sentences and paragraphs clearer.”
2. Developing Examples: Often in scholarly writing, we explain an abstract concept and then use a specific example to make our meaning more clear. When connecting these specific examples to abstract concepts, I like to employ transitional terms such as for example, for instance, specifically, and in particular. To highlight: “For instance, do you notice my use of a developing example transition in the Building Evidence section of this blog post?”
3. Showing Time: Frequently, as APA writers, we have to shift between the past tense, which describes researchers’ findings, and the present, which highlights our contemporary experiences. When you are making these kinds of shifts in your writing, an unexplained verb tense change is NOT the way to go. Instead, try out a transition that shows time: currently, previously, formerly, and before are some of my personal favorites! For example: “Previously, I had no clue how to use transitions. Currently, however, I have really started to understand their value in scholarly writing.”
4. Comparing and Contrasting: In literature reviews and analytical essays, we often need to compare information or present conflicting research. To highlight this shift in our thinking, transitional words such as similarly, like, just as, in contrast, and however offer readers cues as to what new direction our thoughts are headed. For example: “In contrast to disjointed papers that lack cohesion, scholarly writing that uses transitions is logical and easy to read.”
5. Synthesizing and Concluding: In most scholarly writing, we are asked to synthesize information and draw knowledgeable conclusions. As you might have guessed by now, I think a great way to introduce these synthesizing and concluding statements is through a transitional word or phrase! Using words and phrases like consequently, as a result, therefore, and in sum are great ways to begin these sentences. For example:
In sum, transitions can be excellent ways to create order, cohesion, and flow in your scholarly writing. Moreover, they provide helpful clues for your reader, and they draw logical connections between your sentences. To learn more about how and when to appropriately use transitions and to review a list of commonly used transitional words and phrases, make sure to check out the Writing Center's helpful Transitions page.