Transition Words For Historical Essays



The addition of just a few transitional words in the passage above helps the writerindicate how the different parts of the passage are logically related and strengthensthe "flow" of the sentences.

Three Problems to Avoid

Transitional words and phrases help strengthen writing, but they can be misused.Below are three things to be wary of as you bring transitional words and phrasesinto your essays.

Make sure the logical connections are clear as you use transitions.

Because transitions indicate relationships between words and ideas, they can bemisused if the relationship indicated by the transitional words is unclear or doesnot exist.Example: George's wife stands at the window and looks out at the rain falling onthe empty streets. For example, she sees a cat huddled under a table in the rain.("For example" does not make sense here because the woman seeing the cat isnot a clear "example" of anything in the first sentence.)Example: George's wife decides to go out into the rain to get the cat.Consequently, George sits in bed reading his book. ("Consequently" doesnot make sense here because it is unclear how George sitting in bedreading is a consequence of the woman deciding to get the cat.)

Avoid the overuse of transitions.

Transitions are supposed to guide readers through your writing, but overuse oftransitional words and phrases can have the opposite effect and can make yourwriting confusing.Example: Writing an essay can be challenging. However, there are techniquesthat can make the process a little easier. For example, taking plenty of notes onthe subject can help the writer generate ideas. Therefore, note-taking is animportant "pre-writing" strategy. In addition, some people "free-write," writingquickly for ten or twenty minutes to see what ideas arise. However, taking notesand free-writing are only the beginning. Ideas must eventually be organized in alogical way. Consequently, an outline can help the writer make sense of therough material generated through the note-taking and free-writingprocess. Therefore, writing an outline is another important step in the writingprocess. However, some writers are able to conceptualize a sense of logicalorder for their ideas without actually writing an outline. Nevertheless, thesewriters seem to have some kind of outline in their minds. In addition, an outlineshould help the writer formulate a thesis for the essay. Consequently, an outlinecan help give focus to the essay. (This passage could be stronger with fewertransitional words and phrases. Especially when the transitions are used at thebeginnings of sentences, they can become annoying or even confusing toreaders if they are overused.)

Transitional words and phrases show the relationships between the parts of a sentence, between the sentences in a paragraph, or between the paragraphs in a longer piece of writing (i.e., an essay, short story, novel, magazine article, etcetera). Although transitional words and phrases mean little by themselves, they are very important in linking your ideas together smoothly and logically so that your paragraphs have coherence. Transitional words and phrases can be divided into categories according to the kind of relationship you as a writer are trying to show. There are eight (8) basic categories you must learn:

  1. To Show Time. after, afterward, always, as soon as, at last, at once, briefly, eventually, finally, immediately, in the meantime, in the past (or future), last, later, meanwhile, next, never, now, often, once, promptly, sometimes, soon.
  2. To Show Place. above, among, around, at this point, behind, below, beside, beyond, down, forward, from, here, in front of, inside, nearby, next to, on, on the other side, opposite, over, through.
  3. To Add An Idea. again, also, and, as well as, besides, for one thing, further, furthermore, in addition to, last, likewise, more, moreover, next, similarly, too.
  4. To Illustrate or Explain an Idea. for example, for instance, in other words, in particular, namely, specifically, such as, that is, thus, to illustrate.
  5. To Compare or Contrast Ideas. but, even so, conversely, differently, however, in contrast, in spite of, in the same way, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still,yet.
  6. To Show a Result. accordingly, as a result, consequently, for that reason, hence, then, therefore, thus.
  7. To Empasize an Idea. above all, especially, indeed, in fact, most important.
  8. To Summarize an Idea. as has been noted, finally, in brief, in other words, in short, on the whole, to sum up.

These are not all of the transitional words and phrases in the English language that we use, but they represent a good sampling of those most often employed in writing. Remember that transitions are like bridges -- they link one thing with another. They can be used to go forward (on to the next sentence or paragraph) or to go backward (to refer to something that has just been stated). The following is a brief listing of commonly used transitional words and phrases one finds in daily speech:

and beforeneverthelessaccordingly
orotherwise unfortunatelybut
when howeverrecentlyfor
afterthereforealthough for example
so consequently at last in conclusion

The student writer who masters the usage of transitional words and phrases is well on the way to achieving coherence (a smooth flow in the writing that is logical and easy to follow) in one's writing. Keep in mind that your paragraphs can be unified (stick to the topic sentence and the thesis statement) yet still lack coherence (sounding mechanical and stiff).

Coherence is achieved when the sentences in your paragraphs are arranged in an order that makes your ideas clear and sensible to the reader; the relationship among the sences and paragraphs is logical; and your ideas flow smoothly from one sentence and paragraph to the next. As one of the devices to achieve coherence, transitional words and phrases are a most important writing tool. With reference to using transitions effectively in writing (and also as a guide to reading with comprehension and critically), there are some authors (i.e., Langan, Donnelly, Neeld, et al) who refer to transitions as signal words. Do not let terminology fool you as the intent is the same -- no matter what you refer to these as, it is absolutely essential to master transitions if one is to become a good writer.

Courtesy of Paragraphs (Roloff & Brosseit, 1979)

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