How to develop and organize paragraphs is a problem that plagues many beginning college writers. How do you start a paragraph? How can you help your reader understand the main idea? How do you know when you’ve included enough details? How do you conclude? You might also wonder when you need to break a paragraph and start a new one or how help your reader transition from one idea to the next. (For more on methods of development, see “Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development,” later in this “Drafting” section of this text.).
What Is a Paragraph?
Let’s begin by defining this concept of the paragraph. A paragraph is a group of sentences that present, develop, and support a single idea. That’s it. There’s no prescribed length or number of sentences. Paragraphs rarely stand alone, so most often the main topic of the paragraph serves the main concept or purpose of a larger whole; for example, the main idea of a paragraph in an essay should serve to develop and support the thesis of the essay. (For more on thesis statements, see “Finding the Thesis” earlier in this “Drafting” section of this text.)
Similarly, the main idea of a paragraph in a letter serves the overall purpose of the letter, whether that purpose is to thank your Aunt Martha for the thoughtful birthday sweater, or whether the purpose is to inform a local business that you’re dissatisfied with the quality of a product or service that you purchased.
The job of the topic sentence is to control the development and flow of the information contained in the paragraph. The topic sentence takes control of the more general topic of the paragraph and shapes it in the way that you choose to present it to your readers. It provides a way through a topic that is likely much broader than what you could ever cover in a paragraph, or even in an essay. This more focused idea, your topic sentence, helps you determine the parts of the topic that you want to illuminate for your readers—whether that’s a college essay or a thank you letter to your Aunt Martha. The following diagram illustrates how a topic sentence can provide more focus to the general topic at hand.
Think about some places where you might commonly find general topics presented with more focus, perhaps in news stories, textbooks, or speeches. The topic of a news story might be a deadly forest fire that’s burning out of control, while the focus of the topic might be about careless humans. The topic of a chapter from a medical text might be phlebotomy (the practice of drawing blood from a patient), while the focus of a section of that chapter might be about safe disposal of used needles. Maybe the topic of a persuasive speech is organic produce, while the focus of the speech is about the importance of supporting local organic farms.
Most topics are expansive, so they require more focus—whether in a thesis statement or a topic sentence—to provide a narrower view of the broader subject. This narrower and more focused view also often seeks to persuade the reader to see things from the writer’s perspective.
Side note. While we’re on the subject of speech class, let’s talk about how the presentation of topics in an academic essay differs from the presentation of topics in a speech. Beginning speech writers often use obvious verbal signposts to announce main ideas, transitional moments, or concluding thoughts.
For example, it would not be uncommon for a student in a college speech class, while delivering a speech, to say, “First, I will explain . . .” or “The first topic I will cover . . .” or “Next, I will tell you about . . .” or “In conclusion, as I have demonstrated . . . .” And while these methods for announcing a topic may be common and accepted practices in some college speech classes, they do not suit the expectations of your audience for an academic essay. With an oral presentation, the audience can’t see how the speech will unfold, but with written text, readers can see the size and shape of the document that they’re reading, so they don’t need as much help navigating.
So how can you correct this common problem? It’s quite simple actually. Just remove the verbal signpost that announces your position, remove the first person “I,” point of view and simply state the position or topic (see the “Point of View” section in the “Writing about Texts” portion of this support text). Here’s an example:
Speech-like announcement of a topic: First, I will explain that while it’s a common belief that use of cell phones causes lower levels of concentration and focus, cell phone use does have a place in the classroom and smart phones should be considered a valuable educational tool.
Improved presentation of a topic: While it’s a common belief that the use of cell phones causes lower levels of concentration and focus, cell phone use does have a place in the classroom, and smart phones should be considered a valuable educational tool.
Placement of Topic Sentences
What if I told you that the topic sentence doesn’t necessarily need to be at the beginning? This might be contrary to what you’ve learned in previous English or writing classes, and that’s okay. Certainly, placing topic sentences at or near the beginning of paragraphs is a fine strategy, especially for beginning writers. If you announce a topic clearly and early on in a paragraph, your readers are likely to grasp your idea and to make the connections that you want them to make.
Now that you’re writing for a more sophisticated academic audience though—that is an audience of college-educated readers—you can use more sophisticated organizational strategies to build and reveal ideas in your writing. One way to think about a topic sentence, is that it presents the broadest view of what you want your readers to understand. This is to say that you’re providing a broad statement that either announces or brings into focus the purpose or the meaning for the details of the paragraph. And if you think of the topic sentence as the broadest view, then you can think about how every supporting detail brings a narrower—or more specific—view of the same topic.
With this in mind, take some time to contemplate the diagrams in the figure below. The widest point of each diagram (the bases of the triangles) represents the topic sentence of the paragraph. As details are presented, the topic becomes narrower and more focused. The topic can precede the details, it can follow them, it can both precede and follow them, or the details can surround the topic. There are surely more alternatives than those that are presented here, but this gives you an idea of some of the possible paragraph structures and possible placements for the topic sentence of a paragraph.
Consider some of the following examples of different topic sentence placements in a paragraph from a review essay of the beloved children’s book, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. Paragraph structures are labeled according to the diagrams presented above, and topic sentences are identified by red text.
Topic Sentence-Details-Topic Sentence
A good children’s book requires an exciting plot and a problem with which children can sympathize. In The Cat in the Hat there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. There is also tension to be resolved. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval. The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes this book an enduring childhood favorite.
The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat an enduring childhood favorite. In The Cat in the Hat there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. There is also tension to be resolved. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval.
Note: you can relocate the topic sentence to the end here, and you’ll have an example of the Details-Topic Sentence method of organizing the paragraph.
In The Cat in the Hat, there is plenty of action, depicted in the wild antics of the cat, and later in the amazing but dangerous and messy tricks of Thing 1 and Thing 2. All this excitement and action naturally draws children into the story and keeps the plot moving forward at a pace that maintains their interest. The careful balance of action, tension, and relatability is what makes Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat an enduring childhood favorite. There is definitely tension to be resolved here. The fish senses danger and constantly warns the children not to participate in the cat’s perilous stunts. And later, as the mother’s return becomes more imminent, the children begin to heed the fish’s warning and finally wish to contain the chaos and clean up the mess, but how? While this plot is fantastic enough to fuel any child’s imagination, it also contains a problem with which any child can relate: a mess and the threat of a parent’s disapproval.
Implied Topic Sentences
Now that you’re getting used to the idea that the topic sentence doesn’t necessarily need to be placed at the beginning of the paragraph, what if I told you that, sometimes, the topic sentence doesn’t need to be stated at all? It’s true! Eliminating the topic sentence isn’t always the best strategy for beginning writers, but it can be effective, and it’s a pretty common strategy among professional writers. It’s also worthwhile to note that many instructors will prefer an explicit topic sentence over an implied one, just as many will prefer an explicit thesis over an implied one. When in doubt, ask your instructors about their preferences in areas such as these.
One area where you’re likely to find implied topic sentences is in narrative essays. In narratives, as in novels or other works of creative writing, readers often prefer to glean the meaning from the text rather than to have it thrust upon them. Writers also often prefer to imply themes and ideas rather than spelling it out for their readers. There are also times when your main idea will be obvious enough without having to come out and state your topic sentence. If you’re not sure about whether or not an implied topic is working in a paragraph, write an explicit topic sentence for the paragraph. Read the paragraph with and without your new explicit topic. Does addition of the explicit topic improve the clarity of the paragraph or essay? Share the essay with a couple of friends or classmates and get some second opinions.
Consider the following paragraph from an essay titled “The Bothersome Beauty of Pigeons,” by author and Boise State writing professor, Bruce Ballenger. It’s important to note that this is a personal narrative essay rather than a more traditional academic essay, but it the paragraph provides a good example of an implied topic. In this essay Ballenger takes the time to consider the beauty of pigeons, a bird that’s usually thought of as nothing more than a nuisance. Just prior to this paragraph, Ballenger talks about how he used a fake owl to scare away pigeons on his property. He goes on to explain
My pigeons moved next door where an elderly couple feed them bird seed and have the time and willingness to clean up after their new charges; so it seems, in this case, things have worked out for everyone. But the large flocks still haunt the piazzas in Florence and Venice, the squares in London, and similar places in nearly every city across the globe. Despite their ability to distinguish between a Van Gogh and a Chagall, pigeons still deposit droppings that deface the great marble statues and facades–the works of art and architecture that are part of our human heritage–and yet people still buy bags of seed for about a dollar and pose for photographs, drenched in doves. Meanwhile, officials in these cities continue, sometimes quietly, to wage war against the birds (“Introduction”).
Here, Ballenger seems to be saying that in spite of the attempts of so many to rid themselves of the pigeons, others are still drawn to them and will feed them and encourage them to come back. His main idea seems to be that the battle against pigeons is a losing proposition, but he doesn’t come out and say so. His message in this paragraph is implied. Do you think this paragraph would be improved with an explicit topic sentence? As you write and revise your own paragraphs, these will be important questions for you to consider about your own writing.
Characteristics of a Good Topic Sentence
If a reader or teacher comments that your paragraph lacks unity, you probably need a better topic sentence (or maybe you don’t have one yet). So, how can you spot a good topic sentence when you’ve written one? A good topic sentence might meet the following criteria:
- Signals the topic and also the more focused ideas of the paragraph
- Presents an idea or ideas that are clear and easy to understand
- Provides unity to the paragraph (so it’s clear how all supporting ideas relate)
- Omits supporting details
- Engages the reader
There’s no right order in the writing process for identifying or writing the topic sentence of a paragraph. Some writers begin drafting a paragraph with a main idea already in mind and then decide how to support it. Others begin writing about details, examples, or quotations from sources that they feel somehow relate to what they want to say, writing for a while before deciding what the main idea is. Most writers rely on a variety of strategies that they have developed through trial and error. So don’t let the lack of a main idea hold you back from getting out what you want to say. Write for a while, and a main idea will surely emerge.
Here are some exercises to help you practice identifying and developing topics and topic sentences.
Identify the Topic and Focus
Choose a piece of writing, perhaps an essay or some news articles provided by your instructor, and for each paragraph identify (1) the topic and (2) the more focused idea. Remember, the topic sentence applies more focus to the broader topic to help narrow the scope of the paragraph. For example, the topic of a paragraph might be school lunches. The more focused idea of that same paragraph might be the idea of having students plant school gardens as a way to help incorporate more fresh produce in the menu.
Ask Readers to Find the Topic Sentences
Ask someone to read your essay and for each supporting paragraph, ask your reader to underline the most likely topic sentence. If your reader can’t find a topic sentence, ask him or her to write a topic sentence for that paragraph.
Ask a Readers to Share Their Expectations
Provide a reader with a list of your topic sentences, without the paragraphs that they belong to. Ask the reader what he or she thinks each paragraph is about and what kind of supporting details or discussion he or she would expect to see in the paragraph.
Strong essays are built with solid, coherent, and unified paragraphs. They should be digestible units of thought that have similar structure to the essay itself: a topic sentence, a body of support, and a concluding or transitional statement to help the reader move through the essay with clarity. Body paragraphs should also be arranged according to your primary pattern of development and focused on supporting your big idea(s).
A body paragraph is an expansion of a single thought that is laid out according to a specific, logical structure:
- A strong, clear topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph (which will likely be a sub-point helping to explore your thesis).
- Several (two-four) sentences of development and support for your topic sentence: including quotes, summaries, and paraphrases of relevant sources and your substantive responses to the source material.
- A closing sentence of summary and/or a transition into the next paragraph.
BEST: When the writer uses paragraphs to present unified, coherent, organized, and well-developed thoughts in support of their overall thesis.
- Consult this link from the Purdue OWL site on how to construct coherent, engaging, and unified paragraphs.
- Here is another valuable source for shaping coherent paragraphs: Purdue
- Here is yet another link from the Purdue OWL site that addresses paragraph length and consistency.
- Watch this YouTube video on writing strong body paragraphs.
- Watch this YouTube video on effective paragraph structure.
- Here is another YouTube video on writing strong transitions.
- Here is a companion link from the Purdue OWL site for writing smooth transitions.
Whether the drafting of a paragraph begins with a main idea or whether that idea surfaces in the revision process, once you have that main idea, you’ll want to make sure that the idea has enough support. The job of the paragraph body is to develop and support the topic. Here’s one way that you might think about it:
- Topic sentence: what is the main claim of your paragraph; what is the most important idea that you want your readers to take away from this paragraph?
- Support in the form of evidence: how can you prove that your claim or idea is true (or important, or noteworthy, or relevant)?
- Support in the form of analysis or evaluation: what discussion can you provide that helps your readers see the connection between the evidence and your claim?
- Transition: how can you help your readers move from the idea you’re currently discussing to the next idea presented? (For more specific discussion about transitions, see the following section on “Developing Relationships between Ideas”).
For more on methods of development that can help you to develop and organize your ideas within paragraphs, see “Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development” later in this section of this text.
Types of support might include:
Now that we have a good idea what it means to develop support for the main ideas of your paragraphs, let’s talk about how to make sure that those supporting details are solid and convincing.
Good vs. Weak Support
What questions will your readers have? What will they need to know? What makes for good supporting details? Why might readers consider some evidence to be weak?
If you’re already developing paragraphs, it’s likely that you already have a plan for your essay, at least at the most basic level. You know what your topic is, you might have a working thesis, and you probably have at least a couple of supporting ideas in mind that will further develop and support your thesis.
So imagine you’re developing a paragraph on one of these supporting ideas and you need to make sure that the support that you develop for this idea is solid. Considering some of the points about understanding and appealing to your audience (from the Audience and Purpose and the Prewriting sections of this text) can also be helpful in determining what your readers will consider good support and what they’ll consider to be weak. Here are some tips on what to strive for and what to avoid when it comes to supporting details.
|| Weak Support
Breaking, Combining, or Beginning New Paragraphs
Like sentence length, paragraph length varies. There is no single ideal length for “the perfect paragraph.” There are some general guidelines, however. Some writing handbooks or resources suggest that a paragraph should be at least three or four sentences; others suggest that 100 to 200 words is a good target to shoot for. In academic writing, paragraphs tend to be longer, while in less formal or less complex writing, such as in a newspaper, paragraphs tend to be much shorter. Two-thirds to three-fourths of a page is usually a good target length for paragraphs at your current level of college writing. If your readers can’t see a paragraph break on the page, they might wonder if the paragraph is ever going to end or they might lose interest.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the amount of space needed to develop one idea will likely be different than the amount of space needed to develop another. So when is a paragraph complete? The answer is, when it’s fully developed. The guidelines above for providing good support should help.
Some signals that it’s time to end a paragraph and start a new one include that
- You’re ready to begin developing a new idea.
- You want to emphasize a point by setting it apart.
- You’re getting ready to continue discussing the same idea but in a different way (e.g. shifting from comparison to contrast).
- You notice that your current paragraph is getting too long (more than three-fourths of a page or so), and you think your writers will need a visual break.
Some signals that you may want to combine paragraphs include that
- You notice that some of your paragraphs appear to be short and choppy.
- You have multiple paragraphs on the same topic.
- You have undeveloped material that needs to be united under a clear topic.
Finally, paragraph number is a lot like paragraph length. You may have been asked in the past to write a five-paragraph essay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a five-paragraph essay, but just like sentence length and paragraph length, the number of paragraphs in an essay depends upon what’s needed to get the job done. There’s really no way to know that until you start writing. So try not to worry too much about the proper length and number of things. Just start writing and see where the essay and the paragraphs take you. There will be plenty of time to sort out the organization in the revision process. You’re not trying to fit pegs into holes here. You’re letting your ideas unfold. Give yourself—and them—the space to let that happen.
So you have a main idea, and you have supporting ideas, but how can you be sure that your readers will understand the relationships between them? How are the ideas tied to each other? One way to emphasize these relationships is through the use of clear transitions between ideas. Like every other part of your essay, transitions have a job to do. They form logical connections between the ideas presented in an essay or paragraph, and they give readers clues that reveal how you want them to think about (process, organize, or use) the topics presented.
Why are Transitions Important?
Transitions signal the order of ideas, highlight relationships, unify concepts, and let readers know what’s coming next or remind them about what’s already been covered. When instructors or peers comment that your writing is choppy, abrupt, or needs to “flow better,” those are some signals that you might need to work on building some better transitions into your writing. If a reader comments that she’s not sure how something relates to your thesis or main idea, a transition is probably the right tool for the job.
When Is the Right Time to Build in Transitions?
There’s no right answer to this question. Sometimes transitions occur spontaneously, but just as often (or maybe even more often) good transitions are developed in revision. While drafting, we often write what we think, sometimes without much reflection about how the ideas fit together or relate to one another. If your thought process jumps around a lot (and that’s okay), it’s more likely that you will need to pay careful attention to reorganization and to providing solid transitions as you revise.
When you’re working on building transitions into an essay, consider the essay’s overall organization. Consider using reverse outlining and other organizational strategies presented in this text to identify key ideas in your essay and to get a clearer look at how the ideas can be best organized. See the “Reverse Outlining” section in the “Revision” portion of this text, for a great strategy to help you assess what’s going on in your essay and to help you see what topics and organization are developing. This can help you determine where transitions are needed.
Let’s take some time to consider the importance of transitions at the sentence level and transitions between paragraphs.
Transitions between sentences often use “connecting words” to emphasize relationships between one sentence and another. A friend and coworker suggests the “something old something new” approach, meaning that the idea behind a transition is to introduce something new while connecting it to something old from an earlier point in the essay or paragraph. Here are some examples of ways that writers use connecting words (highlighted with red text and italicized) to show connections between ideas in adjacent sentences:
To Show Similarity
When I was growing up, my mother taught me to say “please” and “thank you” as one small way that I could show appreciation and respect for others. In the same way, I have tried to impress the importance of manners on my own children.
Other connecting words that show similarity include also, similarly, and likewise.
To Show Contrast
Some scientists take the existence of black holes for granted; however, in 2014, a physicist at the University of North Carolina claimed to have mathematically proven that they do not exist.
Other connecting words that show contrast include in spite of, on the other hand,in contrast, and yet.
The cost of college tuition is higher than ever, so students are becoming increasingly motivated to keep costs as low as possible. For example, a rising number of students are signing up to spend their first two years at a less costly community college before transferring to a more expensive four-year school to finish their degrees.
Other connecting words that show example include for instance, specifically, and to illustrate.
To Show Cause and Effect
Where previously painters had to grind and mix their own dry pigments with linseed oil inside their studios, in the 1840s, new innovations in pigments allowed paints to be premixed in tubes. Consequently, this new technology facilitated the practice of painting outdoors and was a crucial tool for impressionist painters, such as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Cassatt.
Other connecting words that show cause and effect include therefore, so, and thus.
To Show Additional Support
When choosing a good trail bike, experts recommend 120–140 millimeters of suspension travel; that’s the amount that the frame or fork is able to flex or compress. Additionally, they recommend a 67–69 degree head-tube angle, as a steeper head-tube angle allows for faster turning and climbing.
Other connecting words that show additional support include also, besides, equally important, and in addition.
A Word of Caution
Single-word or short-phrase transitions can be helpful to signal a shift in ideas within a paragraph, rather than between paragraphs (see the discussion below about transitions between paragraphs). But it’s also important to understand that these types of transitions shouldn’t be frequent within a paragraph. As with anything else that happens in your writing, they should be used when they feel natural and feel like the right choice. Here are some examples to help you see the difference between transitions that feel like they occur naturally and transitions that seem forced and make the paragraph awkward to read:
Too Many Transitions: The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, and for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. In spite of this fact, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible this movement in art to take place. Then, In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. To illustrate the importance of this invention, pigments previously had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. For example, the mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. In addition, when working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Thus, Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Subtle Transitions that Aid Reader Understanding: The Impressionist painters of the late 19th century are well known for their visible brush strokes, for their ability to convey a realistic sense of light, for their everyday subjects portrayed in outdoor settings. However, many casual admirers of their work are unaware of the scientific innovations that made it possible for this movement in art to take place. In 1841, an American painter named John Rand invented the collapsible paint tube. Before this invention, pigments had to be ground and mixed in a fairly complex process that made it difficult for artists to travel with them. The mixtures were commonly stored in pieces of pig bladder to keep the paint from drying out. When working with their palettes, painters had to puncture the bladder, squeeze out some paint, and then mend the bladder again to keep the rest of the paint mixture from drying out. Rand’s collapsible tube freed the painters from these cumbersome and messy processes, allowing artists to be more mobile and to paint in the open air.
Transitions between Paragraphs and Sections
It’s important to consider how to emphasize the relationships not just between sentences but also between paragraphs in your essay. Here are a few strategies to help you show your readers how the main ideas of your paragraphs relate to each other and also to your thesis.
Signposts are words or phrases that indicate where you are in the process of organizing an idea; for example, signposts might indicate that you are introducing a new concept, that you are summarizing an idea, or that you are concluding your thoughts. Some of the most common signposts include words and phrases like first, then, next, finally, in sum, and in conclusion. Be careful not to overuse these types of transitions in your writing. Your readers will quickly find them tiring or too obvious. Instead, think of more creative ways to let your readers know where they are situated within the ideas presented in your essay. You might say, “The first problem with this practice is…” Or you might say, “The next thing to consider is…” Or you might say, “Some final thoughts about this topic are….”
Use Forward-Looking Sentences at the End of Paragraphs
Sometimes, as you conclude a paragraph, you might want to give your readers a hint about what’s coming next. For example, imagine that you’re writing an essay about the benefits of trees to the environment and you’ve just wrapped up a paragraph about how trees absorb pollutants and provide oxygen. You might conclude with a forward-looking sentence like this: “Trees benefits to local air quality are important, but surely they have more to offer our communities than clean air.” This might conclude a paragraph (or series of paragraphs) and then prepare your readers for additional paragraphs to come that cover the topics of trees’ shade value and ability to slow water evaporation on hot summer days. This transitional strategy can be tricky to employ smoothly. Make sure that the conclusion of your paragraph doesn’t sound like you’re leaving your readers hanging with the introduction of a completely new or unrelated topic.
Use Backward-Looking Sentences at the Beginning of Paragraphs
Rather than concluding a paragraph by looking forward, you might instead begin a paragraph by looking back. Continuing with the example above of an essay about the value of trees, let’s think about how we might begin a new paragraph or section by first taking a moment to look back. Maybe you just concluded a paragraph on the topic of trees’ ability to decrease soil erosion and you’re getting ready to talk about how they provide habitats for urban wildlife. Beginning the opening of a new paragraph or section of the essay with a backward-looking transition might look something like this: “While their benefits to soil and water conservation are great, the value that trees provide to our urban wildlife also cannot be overlooked.”
Evaluate Transitions for Predictability or Conspicuousness
Finally, the most important thing about transitions is that you don’t want them to become repetitive or too obvious. Reading your draft aloud is a great revision strategy for so many reasons, and revising your essay for transitions is no exception to this rule. If you read your essay aloud, you’re likely to hear the areas that sound choppy or abrupt. This can help you make note of areas where transitions need to be added. Repetition is another problem that can be easier to spot if you read your essay aloud. If you notice yourself using the same transitions over and over again, take time to find some alternatives. And if the transitions frequently stand out as you read aloud, you may want to see if you can find some subtler strategies.
Exercise: Try Out New Transition Strategies
Choose an essay or piece of writing, either that you’re currently working on, or that you’ve written in the past. Identify your major topics or main ideas. Then, using this chapter, develop at least three examples of sentence-level transitions and at least two examples of paragraph-level transitions. Share and discuss with your classmates in small groups, and choose one example of each type from your group to share with the whole class. If you like the results, you might use them to revise your writing. If not, try some other strategies.
(adapted, in part, from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear. This OER text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.)