Transitions for Expository Writing
Expository essays require strong thesis statements, paragraph topic sentences and specific details; however, writers also need strong, smooth transitions to make these elements coherent and effective. Transitional phrases add cohesiveness and guide the reader in a logical but unobtrusive way.
Transitions between paragraphs are usually more effective in the first sentence of the next paragraph. Although the first sentence should show the paragraph’s relation to the previous one, its primary purpose is to introduce the information to come. For example: If an essay about caring for zoo animals has a paragraph on how they are fed, the next information should focus on something related, but distinctly different: “…each animal requires a unique environment. “
Review the relationship of information within the two paragraphs to connect them in a logical way. If the information between the two contrasts, then use a contrasting transition: “compared to, whereas, conversely.” Since our zoo animal example adds another aspect, the proper connecting phrase should illustrate that addition while still primarily focusing on the next paragraph’s content: “In addition to special feeding techniques, each animal requires a unique environment.”
When transitions are used other than in the first sentence of the paragraph, they often interrupt narrative flow and draw readers’ attention away from the information. Phrases such as “As will be shown …” or “In the following paragraphs…” used within paragraphs put emphasis on the writer and away from the writing. Similarly, transitions at the end of paragraphs are abrupt and often make the next paragraph’s topic sentence repetitive. For example, a paragraph could end: “Besides feeding techniques, animals also benefit from specialized environments.” Then the next paragraph could begin: “Each species of animal requires a specialized environment.”
Transitional clichés also tend to narrow the writer-reader distance required for more polished writing. Worse yet, they rarely connect the information of the preceding paragraph to the current one, which weakens the framework of the essay. Some transitional clichés include: “Firstly … secondly … thirdly” or “To conclude, in conclusion, as I have shown.” By keeping thesis, audience and paragraph purpose in mind, writers can create transitions that unobtrusively guide the reader and enhance the information in the essay.
William Martin has earned degrees in English/language arts and education. His background includes teaching reading and writing, literature analysis, arts and culture, outdoor recreation, home repair and improvement. His first short story was published as a junior in high school; more years ago than he'd probably care to admit.