Transitions

 

Transitions Keep the Flow Going

Within the paper it is important to keep the argument flowing smoothly. Remember, your absentminded reader might well get lost. Do not turn your back on her, or as you ascend you will find she has been left far behind contemplating some bush by the side of the path. Hold her hand by gently reminding her where you are and where you are heading. Do this by repeating key words or phrases that will keep both her and you on track. Knowing how to do this without overdoing it or becoming patronizing is part of the art of good writing. If, in a paper on racism, you are forced to spend several paragraphs outlining Marx's theory of surplus capital or Freud's analysis of infantile repression, be sure to remind your reader occasionally why this side trip is necessary so she will not think you have simply lost your way. Reassure your poor befuddled reader that you still have the map you started with in mind.

Be sure to use transitions between paragraphs. It may be perfectly clear to you why you are now suddenly talking about what may seem to be a different subject. But it may not be at all clear to your reader. If your next paragraph is offering additional supporting material, write "Furthermore" or some other phrase that suggests this. If you are offering an opposing bit of evidence, write "But" or "Nevertheless" or some other clue to help your reader know what you are up to. It is often a good idea to include a key word from the previous paragraph at the beginning of your new paragraph. Such transition words are important bridges and make the passage between paragraphs much smoother. Do not expect your readers to have the patience to wait and see how it all eventually comes together. We have all watched too much television and expect instant gratification. Do not keep us readers too long in suspense, or you are in danger of losing us to a different website or another channel.

Some writers prefer to place their topic sentence at the end of the paragraph on the grounds that the ends of sentences and paragraphs leave the strongest impression. Joan Didion is a master of this style. But she has been working on her writing for many decades. Most college students would do better to get to the point ASAP. More often than not, the topic sentence will be rewritten after the first draft is done and you have a better idea of what you are saying. So don't be like my friend in graduate school who wasted thousands of sheets of paper struggling to create the perfect opening line only to give his doctoral thesis up in despair and quit. If he had begun with an inferior sentence and the resolve to go back and improve it later, he might not be selling Disney cable subscriptions door-to-door today.

 
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