Transitions

When writing essays, we use transitions to help alert  the reader to our way of thinking. Transitions can be used in professional writing, but we have to use them with attention to other organizing features like headers and our audience.

Good organization occurs at the document, section, and paragraph level. This blog post will give guidance on the use of transitions at each of these levels.

Document

Organization at the document-level is the responsibility of our coordinators. They provide you with model documents with headers and sub-headers. These documents have been vetted for good information design and usability.

Avoid transitions after a header or sub-header.

At the university, students often to learn to write 5-paragraph essays that build a consistent argument. The structure requires students to be proficient in transitions that help build the logic of the essay. In the transition to professional writing, students tend to overuse transitions. In professional writing, headers and sub-headers can help build the logic of a document.You might feel the need to reference the previous section when beginning a new section. If the document is organized well with clear headers and sub-headers, this is not necessary.

Look at this example from a report on skills:

Usefulness in Other Settings
Besides being used in a law office, classroom, or doctor’s office…

The header Usefulness in Other Settings follows sections in which the use of a skill is discussed in university and workplace settings. The organization of the document helps the reader move through the different places the skill can be used. You don’t need to reference these places again.

Be direct in initial sentences.

Look at this example from a Brookings report on the value of university degree:

Introduction
It pays to get a college degree.

This example gets to the point in a concise and direct statement.

Section

In sections with multiple paragraphs or with sub-sections, a clear organizational strategy should be evident. Sometimes the logic of a section is similar to the logic of an essay with clear transitions that help build the argument.

Use transitions sparingly. 

Transitions between paragraphs are useful when writing long sections that read like essays.

Look at the following first sentences from the introduction to the Brookings report on the value of university degree. They give us an outline of the section as a whole, showing the logic of its organization.

1. Direct Statement: It pays to get a college degree…
2. Contrast: Yet coming out of the Great Recession…

The transition yet concisely signals a contrast.

3. Direct Statement: Individual outcomes for college students vary widely…
4. Addition: The characteristics of the college matter as well…
5. Addition: Another important college characteristic may be selectivity itself…
6. Addition: Aside from student support policies…

The third paragraph begins with a direct statement. The fourth uses as well to signal an additional factor. The fifth and sixth signal additional information with the transitions another and aside from.

7. Direct Statement: There is increasing interest in…
8. Addition: Likewise, popular private rating systems…
9. Interpretation: Fortunately, new advances in technology…

The seventh paragraph begins with a direct statement, while the eight signals more information. Fortunately signals a move from reporting to analysis. Other transitions that signal that the report is shifting to interpretation include interestingly, significantly and surprisingly.

10. Claim: This report builds on these advances…

The final paragraph begins by addressing the significance of the report, i.e. making a claim about what the report does. It is common in reports to have direct sentences about what the report does or how it is organized. They may begin: this report builds, this section describes, etc.

Would direct statement of organization be helpful?

Look at this example from a Brookings report on the value of university degree:

Methods
This section defines the metrics used to assess college quality, the method for constructing them, and the source of the underlying data.

The initial sentence of the Methods section outlines the section, indicating to the reader what will come next.

Paragraph

The purpose of a paragraph will indicate how a paragraph should be organized.

Avoid transitions between sentences in descriptive and expository writing.

Academic writing often emphasizes making claims and supporting them with examples and explanation. This argumentative style often requires more transitions to help build the argument. In descriptive or expository paragraphs, transitions are often not needed as the logic of the description and the focus of the exposition do not require transitions.

Most of the documents we produce at Profwrite Inc. rely heavily on descriptive and expository writing.

Avoid transitions in short paragraphs designed for the public.

In documents designed for the public, paragraphs tend to be short and have a clear focus. Concise paragraphs that are organized logically rarely require transitions.

Most of the documents we write at Profwrite Inc. are for audiences that prefer shorter paragraphs.