Have you ever traveled on a major highway late at night with few other cars to light the way? If so, you know how lost and isolated you can feel at times as you cruise through vast stretches of darkness at 65 miles per hour. Fortunately, most major highways provide you with numerous signs to let you know where you’re headed and how soon you might get there. As a writer, you, too, need to provide your readers with proper signage in the form of transitions.
Transitions are the words and phrases that help move readers through your essay. Yes, you could rely exclusively on paragraph breaks to let your readers know you’re moving from one idea to the next, but appropriate transitions make the trip more pleasant and less stressful. Naturally, the selection of those transitions will depend on the type of essay you’re writing.
Transitions of Time. For example, if you’re telling a story in chronological order, or if you want to teach someone to perform a multi-step process, you may want to use words like “first, second, third” or words such as “initially, next, later, and subsequently.” These time transitions are like mile markers on the highway that let readers know a small portion of the journey is complete, but the remainder is still to come.
Transitions of Place. Similarly, if you’re giving driving directions or describing a particular place, you’ll want your transitions to be as precise as possible to give the reader a vivid picture of what’s ahead and what’s important. These place transitions are like the service signs on the highway for restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. These transitions include the following: “to the left (or right), above or below, alongside, nearby, and in the distance” among others.
Transitions of Similarity, Example, and Addition. Another situation that calls for transitions occurs when you’re pointing out a similarity or providing an example. For a similarity, you may want to use a transition such as “also, likewise, moreover, furthermore, and in the same way.” For an example, you may want to use transitions such as (obviously) “for example, for instance, and as an illustration.” At times, too, you may want to provide more than one similarity or example to strengthen your point or to make it more persuasive. These additional similarities or examples are like the numerous exit signs that occur near major cities where one exit is not sufficient, and the transitions that introduce these added similarities or examples are as follow: “again, another, besides, in addition, and equally important.”
Transitions of Contrast. While a comparison points out similarities, a contrast points out the differences in people, places, products, or ideas. The transitions of contrast are especially important because they change the direction of your essay, much like a U-turn on the highway. Thus, you should use transitions such as “however, conversely, otherwise, by contrast, and on the other hand.”
Transitions of Cause and Effect. Equally important are the words and phrases that demonstrate the causes and effects of life’s activities. These transitions include words and phrases such as “therefore, thus, hence, consequently, and as a result.” Like highway detours, these transitions show connections, and the words must be chosen carefully. For instance, a word like “subsequently” means one event merely followed another, but a word like “consequently” implies a much stronger connection and may mean that the first event actually caused the second event to occur.
Transitions of Conclusion. Finally, when you get close to the end of your essay, you’ll want transitions that let your reader know the trip is just about over. Thus, the most common transitions in this category include words or phrases such as “therefore, in conclusion, to summarize, to finalize, all in all, or as has been said.” Simply writing “the end” or “that’s all, folks” is much too blunt; a final transition is a kinder and gentler way of showing the highway exit sign and saying good-bye to your readers.
Therefore, before you turn in your next essay, review it carefully, especially in regard to your transitions. After all, if you don’t provide transitional words, your readers may be like those highway drivers who feel lost and in the dark. The right transitions in the right places, however, can help your readers see your ideas clearly and make your destination obvious.
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