Smooth: writing paragraph transitions


Hi, I’m Mr. Sato. Let’s talk about
paragraph transitions. Listen to this and see if it makes sense to
you. “The couple served not cake, but pie at their wedding. We should elect a Jedi to
be President.” That’s what young people like to call
“totally random.” The two sentences don’t seem to be
related in any way. But there is a connection. I just didn’t
show it to you with a transition. Here it is with the transition: “The couple
served not cake, but pie at their wedding. It was unconventional, but a great idea. Why
not? Here’s another unconventional idea: we should elect a Jedi to be President.” Now it makes sense. That’s what transitions
are for. They help your reader follow your reasoning by showing the connections between statements. And one place where writers must learn
to put transitions is between paragraphs. So, let’s look at 2 kinds of
paragraph transitions. 1) standard transitional devices 2) paragraph links The easiest kind of transition is the standard
transitional device. Here’s a list. These are easy, and perfectly acceptable,
but remember that you use different transitions in different situations. Pay attention to what they mean. You’d
use “Furthermore” or “Moreover” if you’ve already made a point,
and are about to give another supporting example. You’d use, “On the other hand,” when you’re going to give a contrasting example or make a point that disagrees with your
previous one. You’d use “Nobody denies” when
you’re going to concede a point contrary to your thesis. Easiest of all, you may also use standard
devices that show a sequence: First, Firstly, Second, Secondly, Third, Thirdly, To begin
with, Next, and Finally. (Note: never use the slangy “First off…” in an academic essay.) Also, try to avoid “in conclusion”
because it’s overused; the simple “so” does the same thing (as I
will show you in my next sentence). So, these easy transitional devices are
perfectly OK. Just make sure that the transition you choose is appropriate to the content of the two paragraphs
you’re connecting. And if a simple transition is all you need, you can
stop watching here. But, honestly, these kinds of paragraph transitions are pretty simple and mechanical and aren’t going to impress anybody. If you’re ready for a more
sophisticated kind of transition try what I’ll call a link. In an old textbook
from the 1970s, Lucile Vaughn Payne calls these “paragraph hooks” but I already call
something else in an essay a hook, so to avoid confusion, I call this a paragraph link. And
we’ll talk about two different kinds: the word-link and the idea-link. Paragraph links are less obvious and more
graceful than the devices I just showed you. Before I explain what it is, here’s an example
of a word link. …the Jedi robe is elegant, formal, and would
look great at State dinners. The robe is impressive, but not half as
impressive as a light saber. Many dignitaries and kings in the past have worn beautiful ceremonial
swords, so why not a president with a light saber? See how the word “robe” is used twice? This
writer has taken the word from the first paragraph and repeated it in the first sentence of the next paragraph.
That word links the two separate paragraphs. Another kind of paragraph link is the idea-link. Here, rather than using a word, you refer to an idea from the previous
paragraph, like this: …the Jedi robe is elegant, formal, and would
look great at State dinners. That would probably impress visiting heads
of state, but not as much as a light saber hanging from the president’s belt. The words, “this” or “that,” or the phrases
“that concept” and “such an idea,” can be used to refer to an idea or image in the previous paragraph. An idea link connects an idea you’ve just described to whatever you’re about to say next. I like these and
recommend them. If you want to show off a little, you could
do two at the same time. You might connect those two paragraphs with an idea-link and
a word-link. …the Jedi robe is elegant, formal, and would
look great at State dinners. While this draped garment would impress at
a State dinner, imagine the impression he or she would make stepping out of the Presidential Landspeeder with a light saber hanging from his or her belt? Using the word “this” is an idea link. Quoting
the phrase “State dinner” is a word link. Or here’s one more; let’s say you wanted to
use the word “elegant” as a paragraph-link. You could use a standard transitional device
as well. Mix and match. …the Jedi robe is elegant, formal, and would
look great at State dinners. In the same way, the light saber is, as Obi-wan
said, “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.” The phrase, “in the same way” is a
standard transitional device and “elegant” is a word link. Using both makes your transition
even stronger. Some teachers might tell
you to put your transition at the end of the first paragraph instead of the beginning of the second one. I don’t
really care for this myself, but it’s fine. Here’s what it looks like. …the Jedi robe is elegant, formal, and would
look great at State dinners. So would a light saber. Obi-wan called it “an elegant weapon for a
more civilized age.” It’s still impressively dangerous, but dangerous in the
service of civilization. Do you see how the last line in the first
paragraph mentions the light saber right before the paragraph that’s actually about light sabers?
That’s another way to do it. Paragraph transitions help guide your
reader through your writing, so they don’t get confused. They show your reader your line of
reasoning, so your sentences don’t come off as “totally random.” They show that your paragraphs are
a well-organized chain of ideas working together to support your thesis, whatever that might be.
Good luck with your essay, and may the Force be with you.

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