January 2011 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Transitioning Into Better Writing

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Sarah Prince
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.

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From the Writing Trenches

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By Amber Cook, Senior Writing Specialist

For those of us in the writing world, November means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). During this month, aspiring novelists commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days, with the goal of completing a novel in raw form. Several of us in the Writing Center decided to give it a try this past year, myself included.

Let me first say that I am NOT a fiction writer. My only long-term writing project was a master’s thesis for a musicology degree. I hadn’t written fiction since the fourth grade, when I wrote and illustrated Betsy and the Magic Fish (a little stapled-together book for which myself and my mother were the only readers). So when I decided to start NaNoWriMo, I felt like a fraud immediately. Writing in third person felt odd. Developing characters, settings, and plots was totally new to me. To keep up with the word count demand, I also had to fight the natural editor’s urge to slow down and refine every little nuance as I went. Everything about NaNoWriMo was uncomfortable at first, like trying to brush your teeth with your nondominant hand.

The experience has helped to give me more sympathy for so many of the adult learners I work with at Walden. Many students returning to academic life will report similar fish-out-of-water feelings when faced with scholarly writing assignments. Fiction for me, and academic writing for many of you, has a foreign set of conventions and assumptions that can be awkward at first. The next time I’m talking with a student about making the transition to a new style of writing, I will remember staring at my first blank page, wondering why I ever thought I could write a novel, and immediately understand.

I learned a few things about writing during this experience that I thought I’d share.

1. Peer pressure is very powerful. NaNoWriMo sets up a “buddy” page where you can load your page output each day and compare it to those of your friends who are also participating. That was the only thing that kept me going some nights. See if you can find a peer in your program who could do the same for you.

2. It helps to end each writing session by writing a sentence or two about what comes next. That way, when you return to your paper, you’ll have a little help getting started.

3. Output accountability helps keep you honest. If you’re the kind of person who thinks you’ll get to it later, you might benefit from an online reminder system that tracks your progress and lets you know how much writing you need to do each day to meet deadlines. NaNoWriMo had a great tool like this, but there are others, such as Write or Die and the dissertation calculator.

4. It’s important to be gentle with yourself without letting yourself off the hook. It’s OK to have a few unproductive days, but it’s easy to slide off the writing wagon quickly if too many days go by. Beating yourself up doesn’t help; just get back to the computer and forge ahead.

Now that 2011 is here, you might want to consider January your personal writing month. Make some goals, find a buddy, challenge each other, and write on!

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