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Transitional Sentences

  Use Transitional Words

One of your major tasks as a writer is to indicate to your readers how the topic of each sentence relates to the different topic of the previous sentence.

One way to do that is to include transitional words and phrases that explicitly state the relationship. Note some of the most commonly used words and their functions:


Functions of transitional words:
  • To add an idea and, also, next, in addition, moreover, furthermore, firstly, secondly, thirdly .., finally
  • To make comparisons or contrasts lilewise, similarly, in comparison, in contrast, however, but, yet, though, on the other hand, nevertheless
  • To illustrate or support for example, that is, for instance, in other words
  • To summarise to sum up, in summary, in short, in conclusion
  • To express a result or show relationships in order, space, time therefore, hence, consequently, thus, meanwhile, afterwards.
Some of these connectives can perform more than one of the above functions, and almost all of them will appear at the start of a sentence or a new main clause. The most common faults students make are not using connectives where they are needed or using them arbitrarily and imprecisely, for instance, a 'therefore' when there is no logical connection. Another fault is using the same connective several times in the same paragraph when there are other choices.

[Source: Bate, Doutglas. Sharpe, Peter.Student Writer's Handbook (1990) Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. NSW.]

Use echo Words and recurrent images

Another way to guide your readers from one sentence to the next is to use echo words. Most sentences contain some word or phrase that recalls to the readers' minds some information thy've already encountered. Such words and phrases migh be called echo words because they echo something the readers already know.

Consider the following example:

Inflation can be cured. The cure appears to require that consumers change their basic attitudes towards consumption.
In this example, the noun cure at the beginning of the second sentence echoes the verb cured in the first. It tells the readers that what follows will discuss the curing that they have just read about.
In other cases, the echo word can be a pronoun:
We had to return the copier. Its frequent breakdowns were disrupting our work.
Sometimes, an echo word is another word from the same "word family" as the word being echoed:
I went to my locker to get my lab equipment. My oscilloscope was missing.
In this example, oscilloscope in the second sentence echoes lab equipment in the first because people know that an oscilloscope is a piece of lab equipment.
Finally, an echo word can be a word or set of words that recall some idea or theme expressed but not explicitly stated in the preceding sentence:
The company also purchased and retired 17,399 shares of its $2.90 convertible, preferred stock at $5.70 a share. These transactions reduce the number of outstanding convertible shares to 623,250.
In this example, the words these transactions tell readers that what will follow in the sentence concerns the purchasing and retiring that were discussed in the preceding sentence.
Furthermore, a sentence may contain more than one echo word:
Because the park does not own enough horses, the stable manager must meet the demand for riding tours by making the horses work as much as seven hours a day, rahter than a more reasonable four or five. The horses, labouring under this heavy workload, grow tired and uncooperative by the end of the day, so that beginning riders have trouble getting their horses to perform. The use of recurrent images can help give structural unity and coherence to your paragraphs. In the following paragraph about Raymond Carver's short stories, metaphorical images of water recur. The recurrent images are in bold type: Beneath the waves of daily conflict in the lives of Carver's characters are the silent undercurrents of the unconscious. By revealing the odd quirks and complexes that upset the mainstream of mundane existence, Carver suggests the controlling depth without addressing it. Hence, his stories can be read on two levels: as trite, 'photographic' episodes, the froth and bubble of petty frustration, or as descriptions pointing always to dilemmas inseparable from the condition of being human. Somehow, an oceanic tranquillity emerges from this collection of stories, despite all the casualities littering the shore.

Place transitional words and echo words at the beginning of the sentence

Transitional words and echo words will help your readers most if you use them at the beginning of your sentences. That's because, even while they are reading the beginning of a sentence, your readers already want to know what relationship that sentence has to the preceding one. To understand the difficulties you can create for readers by postponing the appearance of your echo words, imagine that you have just read this sentence in a report:
The metal is then coated by the Barnhardt process.
After completing that sentence, you begin the next. The first word you read is:
What has the new information contained in the word sales to do with the old information in the preceding sentence? You can't tell. The next words are:
have increased threefold
Do you know the relationship between the two sentences yet? you may have a guess, but you can't be sure. The next words are:
in the year since
which are followed by:
our engineers
Your suspicions about the reltionship between the two sentences may now be very strong, but you still have only a guess. You know for sure only after you read the last three words of the sentence:
modified this process.
Think how much easier your reading would have been had the second sentence been written so that the echo words appeared at the beginning, not the end, of the sentence:
The metal is then coated by the Barnhardt process. Since this process was modified by our engineers, sales have increased threefold.

[Source: Anderson, Paul, V. Technical writing - a Reader-centered approach (1991) Harcourt, brace, Jovanovich. USA.]