Paragraph Coherence And Transitions For Essays

Paragraph Transitions: Making Connections

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When you are writing an essay or paper, your paragraphs do not function in a vacuum, and because of this, making paragraph transitions is essential for creating coherent thought throughout an entire written piece. Think of your body paragraphs as intricate puzzle pieces you must fit together to give your reader the whole picture.

These paragraph transitions let your readers know when you are moving on to a new topic or connecting two ideas. They also create continuity throughout an essay that shows the connection of paragraphs to the overall focus or topic. To create effective paragraph transitions, follow the three steps below throughout the process of writing.

Identifying the relationship for paragraph transitions

The first step to creating smooth paragraph transitions is identifying how the paragraphs are connected—the relationship between them. To identify the relationship, you might ask the following questions about the transition to the next paragraph:

Does the next paragraph…

  • Make a similar point?
  • Make a new point?
  • Elaborate on the previous point or idea?
  • Continue an argument?
  • Contradict an argument?
  • Qualify the preceding information?
  • Show cause(s) of the previous information?
  • Show effect(s) of the preceding information?
  • Make a generalization with the preceding point or idea?
  • Show an exception?
  • Provide emphasis?
  • Give a new direction to the preceding point or idea?

While this list is not exhaustive, it does give you a good starting point for determining the relationship between two paragraphs so that you can write effective paragraph transitions.

Choosing words, phrases or concepts to make paragraph transitions

Once you have identified the relationship between two paragraphs, you can decide how you want to do the paragraph transitions. Variety adds life to any paper or essay, so mixing it up between different types of transitions is always your best bet.

There are two main ways you can make paragraph transitions to create a clear, logical connection: with words/phrases or with implied or conceptual transitions.

Transitional phrases:
Transitional phrases are often a group of words or a phrase that includes a conjunctive adverb. With these phrases, keep in mind that many different words or phrases can show the same relationship, so if you are showing similar types of connections between multiple paragraphs, vary your selection of words in your paragraph transitions. Consulting a [URL]transitional phrases resource[/writing-resources/mechanics/transitional-phrases/] that gives examples of phrases and the type of connection each makes using transitional phrases easier. Consider the below example:

Ending sentence of paragraph:
These relationships show that the establishment of traditional gender roles is influenced by the type of toys children play with when they are younger.

Start of next paragraph:
In addition, children’s peer groups and social experiences also influence whether they associate with traditional gender roles.

“In addition” is the transitional phrase, and it creates a logical paragraph transition while also keeping both ideas connected to the overall topic.

Implied/conceptual paragraph transitions:
Paragraph transitions that make a logical connection through implied or conceptual transitions do not require transitional words or phrases. Instead, they use something common between the two paragraphs. This is established in several ways. You can use a [URL]demonstrative pronoun[/writing-resources/grammar/demonstrative-pronouns/] or a common word to make paragraph transitions, or you can use a concept that connects the two ideas. Consider the below example:

Ending sentence of paragraph:
When the men in my family joined the military, they did not think about how they would feel about their decision years later.

Start of new paragraph:
Those who served during times of war have experienced lasting effects of engaging in combat.

“Those” is a demonstrative pronoun that modifies the subject of the first sentence in the new paragraph by referring to the noun in the previous sentence, creating a connection.

OR
The men in my family have witnessed how fighting in wars creates lasting effects by the experiences of our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins and grandparents, even if they have not experienced combat firsthand.

“The men in my family” are words that are present in both the preceding sentence and the new paragraph. The connection is made through the use of a common term.

OR
Because the enlisted men in my family have often fought during times of war, they have first-hand knowledge of the long-term effects of war.

“Because the enlisted men in my family have often fought during times of war,” contains the topic or idea in the preceding paragraph. By using this statement and following it with the idea from the upcoming paragraph, you create a smooth paragraph transitions.

Checking for coherent thought and paragraph transitions

While choosing the words that create paragraph transitions is something you should do as you write your essay or paper, you need to read through your completed paper for smooth transitions that maintain the flow of your writing and topic. During the overall editing process, look closely at how each paragraph ends and how the next paragraph connects to it.

If you find one paragraph that does not connect well to the previous one, work on building better paragraph transitions. In some cases, you may find that a reorganization of paragraphs is necessary to maintain the flow of the content. If you cannot connect two paragraphs, it is best to move the paragraph to a location where you can logically create a connection. The ability to create smooth paragraph transitions helps you write a more cohesive paper that allows readers to easily follow your train of thought.

USING TRANSITIONAL TAGS

Transitional tags run the gamut from the most simple — the little conjunctions: and, but, nor, for, yet, or, (and sometimes) so — to more complex signals that ideas are somehow connected — the conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions such as however, moreover, nevertheless, on the other hand.

For additional information on conjunctions, click HERE.

The use of the little conjunctions — especially and and but — comes naturally for most writers. However, the question whether one can begin a sentence with a small conjunction often arises. Isn't the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence a sign that the sentence should have been connected to the prior sentence? Well, sometimes, yes. But often the initial conjunction calls attention to the sentence in an effective way, and that's just what you want. Over-used, beginning a sentence with a conjunction can be distracting, but the device can add a refreshing dash to a sentence and speed the narrative flow of your text. Restrictions against beginning a sentence with and or but are based on shaky grammatical foundations; some of the most influential writers in the language have been happily ignoring such restrictions for centuries.*

Here is a chart of the transitional devices (also called conjunctive adverbs or adverbial conjunctions) accompanied with a simplified definition of function (note that some devices appear with more than one definition):

additionagain, also, and, and then, besides, equally important, finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, last, moreover, next, second, still, too
comparisonalso, in the same way, likewise, similarly
concessiongranted, naturally, of course
contrastalthough, and yet, at the same time, but at the same time, despite that, even so, even though, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of, instead, nevertheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, otherwise, regardless, still, though, yet
emphasiscertainly, indeed, in fact, of course
example or
illustration
after all, as an illustration, even, for example, for instance, in conclusion, indeed, in fact, in other words, in short, it is true, of course, namely, specifically, that is, to illustrate, thus, truly
summaryall in all, altogether, as has been said, finally, in brief, in conclusion, in other words, in particular, in short, in simpler terms, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to put it differently, to summarize
time sequenceafter a while, afterward, again, also, and then, as long as, at last, at length, at that time, before, besides, earlier, eventually, finally, formerly, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, in the past, last, lately, meanwhile, moreover, next, now, presently, second, shortly, simultaneously, since, so far, soon, still, subsequently, then, thereafter, too, until, until now, when

A word of caution: Do not interlard your text with transitional expressions merely because you know these devices connect ideas. They must appear, naturally, where they belong, or they'll stick like a fishbone in your reader's craw. (For that same reason, there is no point in trying to memorize this vast list.) On the other hand, if you can read your entire essay and discover none of these transitional devices, then you must wonder what, if anything, is holding your ideas together. Practice by inserting a tentative however, nevertheless, consequently. Reread the essay later to see if these words provide the glue you needed at those points.

Repetition of Key Words and Phrases

The ability to connect ideas by means of repetition of key words and phrases sometimes meets a natural resistance based on the fear of being repetitive. We've been trained to loathe redundancy. Now we must learn that catching a word or phrase that's important to a reader's comprehension of a piece and replaying that word or phrase creates a musical motif in that reader's head. Unless it is overworked and obtrusive, repetition lends itself to a sense of coherence (or at least to the illusion of coherence). Remember Lincoln's advice:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

In fact, you can't forget Lincoln's advice, because it has become part of the music of our language.

Remember to use this device to link paragraphs as well as sentences.

Pronoun Reference

Pronouns quite naturally connect ideas because pronouns almost always refer the reader to something earlier in the text. I cannot say "This is true because . . ." without causing the reader to consider what "this" could mean. Thus, the pronoun causes the reader to sum up, quickly and subconsciously, what was said before (what this is) before going on to the because part of my reasoning.

We should hardly need to add, however, that it must always be perfectly clear what a pronoun refers to. If my reader cannot instantly know what this is, then my sentence is ambiguous and misleading. Also, do not rely on unclear pronoun references to avoid responsibility: "They say that . . ."

Parallelism

Music in prose is often the result of parallelism, the deliberate repetition of larger structures of phrases, even clauses and whole sentences. We urge you to read the Guide's section on Parallelism and take the accompanying quiz on recognizing parallel form (and repairing sentences that ought to use parallel form but don't). Pay special attention to the guided tour through the parallel intricacies within Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Coherence Devices in Action

In our section on writing the Argumentative Essay, we have a complete student essay ("Cry, Wolf" — at the bottom of that document) which we have analyzed in terms of argumentative development and in which we have paid special attention to the connective devices holding ideas together.

Look at the following paragraph:

The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of them. Mummies several thousand years old have been discovered nearly intact. The skin, hair, teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial features of the mummies were evident. It is possible to diagnose the disease they suffered in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies. The process was remarkably effective. Sometimes apparent were the fatal afflictions of the dead people: a middle-aged king died from a blow on the head, and polio killed a child king. Mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages.

Though weak, this paragraph is not a total washout. It starts with a topic sentence, and the sentences that follow are clearly related to the topic sentence. In the language of writing, the paragraph is unified (i.e., it contains no irrelevant details). However, the paragraph is not coherent. The sentences are disconnected from each other, making it difficult for the reader to follow the writer's train of thought.

Below is the same paragraph revised for coherence. Italics indicates pronouns and repeated/restated key words, bold indicates transitional tag-words, and underlining indicates parallel structures.

The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of them. In short, mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages. Andthe process was remarkably effective. Indeed, mummies several thousand years old have been discovered nearly intact. Their skin, hair, teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial features are still evident.Their diseases in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies, are still diagnosable. Eventheir fatal afflictions are still apparent: a middle-aged king died from a blow on the head; a child king died from polio.

The paragraph is now much more coherent. The organization of the information and the links between sentences help readers move easily from one sentence to the next. Notice how this writer uses a variety of coherence devices, sometimes in combination, to achieve overall paragraph coherence.

 

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