We use paragraphs to signal and create the underlying structure of our writing.
If a reader is having trouble seeing how a paragraph relates to the preceding one, it might be a signal that you need to change the structure of the paper. But maybe you just need to add a more informative paragraph transition.
We can signal transitions with words or short phrases. Some categories of transitions are ordering words like first, second, next; combining words like also, in addition, moreover; and contrast words like however; in contrast, on the other hand. These transition signals are very useful, especially in public speaking. They also work well inside paragraphs. They are easy to use, which is great. But sometimes they are too simple to create a good connection between paragraphs.
Instead of using a word or phrase as a transition, we can create more powerful, informative transitions by using sentence structure. As an example, let’s imagine I’m writing a paper on bilingualism, and I am arguing that children are not better language learners than adults. In one paragraph, I acknowledge that children are better at learning pronunciation. In my next paragraph, I want to argue that pronunciation is only one small part of language, and then talk about vocabulary learning.
If we look at the two paragraphs we want to connect, our transition sentence is going to be the first sentence of the second paragraph (the green line in the diagram). We are going to use a particular sentence structure: a complex sentence. A complex sentence has two parts: one is called the main clause and the other is called the subordinate clause. Either one can come first, but for our transition sentence, we are going to put the subordinate clause first.
|Subordinate clause||uses word like while, although, if||references idea from previous pgh|
|Main clause||regular sentence structure||introduces topic of current pgh|
- Our subordinate clause is going to reference the topic of the previous paragraph and show how it relates to my current paragraph.
- The main clause is going to introduce the topic of the current paragraph.
My two paragraphs contrast with each other, so I’m going to signal that with although.
(1) Although children do learn pronunciation better than adults, there is a lot of evidence that adults can learn more vocabulary words and do it much faster than children.
Compare (1) with this example that only uses a transition phrase:
(2) On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that adults can learn more vocabulary words and do it much faster than children.
The sentence in (2) isn’t bad; my reader can probably get the connection. But we can’t always be sure our reader is going to see the same relationship that we do. Using a full clause in (1) helps me establish a really clear relationship between these two ideas in my paper.
A complex sentence is a great strategy to create a strong paragraph transition. There are other sentence structures that do the same thing, so you can always play around with this pattern. You don’t need to do it for every paragraph, but it is there any time you need it.
Paragraph transitions are helpful for our readers, and they can also help us understand our paper better. In my early drafts, I often put paragraphs in an order that feels right, even if I can’t exactly explain why. Writing a good transition sentence helps me develop a better picture of the relationships between the different parts of my paper.