The burden of moving smoothly from one thought to another belongs to the writer. When you write, your reader should never have to go to the trouble of puzzling out hidden connections between ideas; those connections should be readily apparent. You can help your reader see at a glance that a certain train of thought is begun, developed, challenged, or completed by using word signals called transitions.
Good writers combine two transition techniques:
Transitional words and phrases
Transitions are words or phrases (furthermore, for example, nevertheless, indeed) that indicate how a statement in one sentence relates to a statement that precedes or follows. In the following example, the underlined transitions signal contrast:
In the winter of 1973-74 drivers lined up all over America to fill their gas tanks. But it was not merely a question of a fifteen-minute wait and back on the road again. On the contrary, cars often began to congregate at dawn.
Transition words are most effective when they are placed at the beginnings of sentences (although they can also be used in the middle or at the end). The transition below signals a shift to similarity:
Similarly, walkers appeared early on frigid mornings with an empty five-gallon can in one hand and a pint of steaming coffee in the other, determined to wait out the chill and avoid disappointment.
The next passage uses a cause-and-effect transition:
Everybody had to wait. As a result, high-school kids took Saturday morning jobs as gas line sitters; spouses drove their mates to work and spent the rest of the day in line, and libraries had a surge of activity as people decided to catch up on their reading while waiting.
In the final passage, this writer signals that she is summing up and concluding:
All in all, Americans were at their best during that bizarre season, abiding by the new rules as if a place in the gas line had been guaranteed to everyone by the Bill of Rights.
In the lists below you will find that some transitions can do double duty, signaling, for instance, either addition or amplification, depending on the context:
To add a thought or to show sequence in your own writing, use the following transitions:
|again||equally important||in the first place||still|
To amplify or intensify:
|interestingly||it is true||of course|
To show insistence:
To compare or show likeness:
|also||in the same way||likewise||similarly|
To show concession:
|granted||it is true||of course||to be sure|
To show contrast:
|and yet||even so||in contrast||on the contrary||though|
|at the same time||even though||in spite of||on the other hand||whereas|
|but||for all that||nevertheless||regardless||yet|
To give examples:
|an illustration of||for instance||specifically|
|for example||in fact||to illustrate|
To show a restatement:
|that is||in other words||in simpler terms||to put it differently|
To show cause and effect or consequence:
|accordingly||consequently||otherwise||therefore||to this end|
|as a result||for this purpose||since||thereupon||thus|
|because||hence||then||this||with this object|
To show time or place:
|adjacent to||earlier||here||opposite to||there|
|at the same time||farther on||later||so far||until now|
To repeat, summarize, or conclude:
|all in all||in brief||in particular||in summary||therefore|
|altogether||in conclusion||in short||on the whole||to put it differently|
|as has been said||in other words||in simpler terms||that is||to summarize|
Placement of ideas
Another strategy is to place older, previously stated ideas first, followed by newer, just-introduced ideas. This is effective in essay and research papers (generally in pieces longer than a single paragraph).
In the following example, the second paragraph recaps the information contained in the first paragraph before going on to introduce a new idea:
Interestingly, in A Canticle for Leibowitz it is institutional religion itself that leads the struggle against ignorance and superstition. The brothers of the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz live their lives-and sometimes lay those lives down-for the preservation of those fragments of written human knowledge that have survived both the nuclear holocaust and the Great Simplification.
While for generations the church alone values these relics of knowledge, it is also, ironically, the church alone that recognizes (as the new generation of scholar-scientists does not) that knowledge will not redeem man, or make him better, or make him wiser. The secular scholar Thon Taddeo sees the monks as lacking understanding of that which they preserve and himself as a seeker after understanding; nevertheless, it is Abbott Paulo, not Taddeo, who points out that there is no conflict between true religion and Taddeo's "refrangible property of light." In other words, it is the church that most clearly understands both the value and the proper limits of human knowledge.
The above example combines this placement technique with transitions of emphasis, time, addition, contrast, and restatement; you, too, may use every trick in the book to lead your reader along the path of your thought.