5 Flow Part 3: Transition With Words, Sentences, and Paragraphs -->

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5 Flow Part 3: Transition With Words, Sentences, and Paragraphs

When Beth wrote about using transitions in your writing to enhance flow, she used a lovely metaphor to describe what transitions do for readers. These important academic writing techniques, she argued, are like bridges spanning a body of water. On one side: where you’ve been. On the other: where you’re going. Imagine a person out on a gorgeous summer day. Without a bridge, a pedestrian will at best get soggy socks that distract her and make her less likely to focus on what’s important about her walk (the sky, the trees, the person she’s hiking with). At worst, a path without a bridge will force the hiker to veer of the trail, becoming lost and helpless to follow the nuances and curves of the trail. Thus, just as we need the bridges to cross bodies of water and connect otherwise disconnected pieces of land, readers need transitions to cross through the path of the paper and connect otherwise disconnected ideas. 

Transitions are words, sentences, and paragraphs that allow your reader to see the connections between various elements in writing. When we provide a sturdy foundation for our readers to follow, it allows them to devote their attention to what’s important: the contributions we’re making to the scholarly conversation with our ideas.  When you add a sturdy footpath between ideas for your reader, that’s when flow happens.

With that, let’s take a look at three different types of transitions that you can employ in your writing to enhance flow: words, sentences, and paragraphs.

Words that Transition:
As you are constructing scholarly paragraphs, there are times when you will write sentences that flow in different directions. To ensure that your reader follows your ideas within your paragraphs, use transitional words to indicate the relationship that exists between each idea. 

Let’s say you’re writing a paragraph and you would like to you present an additional example to support your claim. To show your reader you are adding to your previous example, words like additionally, as well as, and furthermore are extremely helpful to a reader moving through your prose. 

Or maybe you’re looking to show a counterexample to the one you just provided. If you add words like conversely, on the other hand, and otherwise to your sentences, your reader will know how interpret the relationship between those two sentences. It’s not imperative to use a transitional word to every sentence, but the more you can create connective tissue, the more likely your reader will be to follow easily along.

Sentences that Transition:
Sometimes it is necessary to dedicate an entire sentence to help your reader transition between your ideas. The most common location in your writing that will call for a sentence-long transition is when you’re moving from one paragraph to another. 

But wait, you might be asking yourself, my Writing Instructor taught me that a topic sentence belongs at the beginning of my paragraph, not a transition. Yes, but you can use the hook back strategy to launch you from your previous point into the next. The hook back strategy allows you to mention what came before (the topic of the previous paragraph), establish the connection between that previous idea and the next one, and then provide a clear statement of what is forthcoming in the current paragraph (the topic sentence). 

So perhaps you are writing about the benefits of a new Electronic Health Records system in your hospital. You have just finished your paragraph about how EHR saves time, and now you’d like to move into a paragraph about how medication errors are less-likely. You can create the bridge by describing how these two paragraphs are connected. It might look like this, “In addition to saving time, implementing EHR in my hospital has reduced medication errors in our patients.” The clause at the beginning, before the comma, is the hook back. Not only does your reader know how these two paragraphs are connected, but she also has a clear understanding about what’s coming next in your argument.

Paragraphs that Transition:  
As you progress through your academic program at Walden, you will inevitably be asked to write papers that contain multiple sections. Writing at this level requires high levels of complexity, which demands that you are even more explicit and helpful with your transitions. Therefore, it might be necessary to provide an entire paragraph that transitions from one major section of your paper to the next. When you’re writing large sections, you might consider approaching these sections as mini-papers.  Each section should have a short introduction paragraph with context and a clear purpose statement, which introduces the section and get the reader situated for the new information.

The next time you're writing an Integrated Literature Review, for example, slow down at the beginning of each new section and give your reader plenty of information. Say you're writing your ILR on ethical business practices, and you're moving from the paper's introduction into your first main section on corporate culture. You can lay the groundwork that will allow your reader to follow along by writing an introductory transition. You will want to make a connection in your first sentence like this "One of the most important themes in the literature regarding business ethics is creating a culture..." But now you can ease your reader into the forthcoming section by providing information about what will come next. How will the section be organized? What conclusions will you draw in this section? The more information your reader receives in the transition, the easier it will be for her to stay focused on your ideas.  

So the next time you’d like to enhance the flow in your writing, try these three transitional strategies. Even though the size of the bridge changes in each instance, the function remains the same: helping the reader to focus on what’s important by providing a sturdy footing.

This is the third part in five-part series on flow in academic writing. Tune in next week on Monday as we take a look at a fourth strategy: using clear, concise wording.

Max Philbrook
 is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Social Media Resources at the Walden Writing Center. He enjoys the outdoors and even doesn't mind when his socks get soggy from hiking paths with no bridges. When he's not exploring or working with the amazing international scholars at Walden, he is completing his PhD in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Missouri. 

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  1. Ahh....who doesn't love a good metaphor! Water and bridges! I like the focus of this post pulling together transition words, sentences, and paragraphs. While important for course assignments, it becomes really important in the dissertation phase when working with such a large body of work.

    I'd like to add that all three types of transitions you discuss also help the readers to skim for what they are looking for. (Besides dissertation committees and editors, few people read a dissertation word for word.) These transitions allow readers to focus in on what they are hoping to gain and learn from the writing. Well placed transitions help in this process as well as improving its readability.

    Thanks Max!

    Dr. Harland

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dr. Harlan! You make a really important point--good transitions serve as "road signs" that let readers know where the writer is taking them.