Description:Professor Robert Hawkins’ handout offers specific advice to students on organizing paragraphs and making transitions.
Ideally, every sentence in a paragraph should contribute to developing some central idea. The following paragraph would be much better if some portions were removed. Which ones and why?
The paragraph above is an example of a classic way of organizing a paragraph: stating a main idea (“excellent transportation facilities”) in the first sentence, and then elaborating that idea throughout the remainder of the paragraph. In this case, the elaborating points are all of equal standing, and could come in any order. In other paragraphs, the points could be ordered chronologically, from greater‑to‑lesser importance (or the reverse), from general to specific, or even spatially (if the paragraph described a physical object). You even can choose an order that places related points closer to the beginning or end of the paragraph to help your transitions from the previous or to the next paragraph. The point is that you should have some reason for the order in which you present things in your paragraph.
Transitions are a key to organizing good writing at all levels, from sentences to complete books. They help the reader move smoothly from one sentence (or paragraph, or chapter) to the next and keep track of how the parts relate to each other. In the example paragraph above, several words are italicized. What are each of these words or phrases telling the reader?
Here are some common transition ideas, and a few words that commonly serve each idea.
|Result||therefore, thus, hence|
|Example||for example, specifically, as an illustration|
|Contrast||but, yet, however, on the other hand|
|Time||meanwhile, later, after|
|Sequence||first, then, finally|
Pronouns also tie sentences together by referring to a person or thing mentioned previously.
But you have to be careful—it must be unambiguous who or what the pronoun refers to. In the sentence below, is it the college, the city, or the business district? Letting “college” be the noun of the second sentence would be a better idea.
Repeating a key phrase or even a word can make the connection. Note the italicized words and phrases in this paragraph, and how re‑using them moves the paragraph along.
All the above transition devices can also be used to connect paragraphs with each other. Here’s an indirect example relying on the viewer identifying these network names to set up a contrast transition:
An additional paragraph transition point from the very first example: Notice that the first sentence implicitly contains two related-idea transitions from an earlier paragraphs: “greatest advantage” and “our new distribution center.”