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Transition words are used in academic essays to signal the reader that the author is about to go more deeply into a point, offer a different set of ideas, or move in a new direction altogether. Unless transition words are used, these changes in position can seem abrupt or even illogical. Choosing the best essay transition words depends upon whether the essay’s next point will support or oppose the previous idea, explore a cause or effect, or provide an illustration of the previous point.
Transitional phrases and words function a bit like a road map; there may be cases where they aren’t absolutely necessary, but providing them helps the reader feel more secure about where the paper is going. Unfortunately, when transition words or phrases are used unnecessarily, they can muddy the waters rather than clarify. There are a number of transitional words that mean the same thing; it’s best to use a variety to keep the paper from sounding repetitious or flat.
To introduce a transition that supports the idea under discussion, use words like “in much the same way,” “also,” or “furthermore.” Words that indicate similar ideas include “as well as,” “correspondingly,” and “in comparison.” If the author plans to go more deeply into an idea, a good choice of essay transition words might include “adds to,” “in addition,” or “equally important.”
In order to signal a negative relationship to the idea under discussion, such as a contradiction or limitation, include essay transition words like “although,” “on the other hand,” or “in contrast.” If the author’s intention is to set forth a point that only seems valid, using transition words such as “but in reality” or “is not the case” are appropriate. On the other hand, if the point is valid but there is an equally valid opposing position, using transition words such as “and yet” or “be that as it may” will help the reader realize the point under discussion is a complex one.
Some transitional phrases or words are limited to specific conditions or causes. Using a phrase such as “with this in mind,” “in order to,” or “leads to” lets the reader know the particular topic point depends upon a situation. “Consequently” or “accordingly” are transition words that signal a result or effect.
Another category of essay transition words are those used to introduce an illustration or specific example of an idea. “For example” is both clear and direct; “to demonstrate” tells the reader a vignette or other exhibit will be used to give the point added validity. Other illustrative transitional words include “such as,” “to clarify,” and “should be remembered.”
Something I always did when writing an essay was to read it aloud after I finished. That will sometimes highlight something like poor transitions, etc.
Another tip is to let someone else read it, and ask them to pay particular attention to the transitions. If they're awkward, a fresh set of eyes will usually spot them right away.
Focus on whether the transition word adds or takes away from the writing. Using a lot of transitions does not make a person sound educated or like a competent writer. In fact, it makes a writer seem as though he or she is trying to compensate for poor writing skills by using a lot of "therefores" and "howevers." It's a dead giveaway every time.
Like most other writing skills, choosing the best transition words is a matter of practice. Read a lot of well-written essays and nonfiction. Take notice of the transition words the writer uses, when, and in what context.
Sometimes, a transition word isn't necessary. Sometimes it is. Only doing a lot of writing and stringent self-editing will teach a person to use the correct word consistently.
It may also be helpful to consult writing manuals like Strunk and White, Harbrace or the Chicago Manual of Style to get a better handle on which transition words are appropriate in which cases. But mostly, it's just practice, practice, practice.
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