What do I struggle with most in my writing? Transitions.
I began my career in government, where dot points and brevity ruled. Adding repetitive and seemingly unnecessary sentences throughout my writing feels unnatural.
But transitions can make a piece of writing really shine. When executed well, they take the reader on a smooth and enjoyable journey, kind of like riding on the back of an eagle. Without good transitions, the reader might feel like they are riding on a rusty North Korean roller coaster.
What is a transition?
The most basic definition of a transition is: “the process or period of changing from one state to another.”
In writing, a transition connects one idea to another. Transitions can show how one sentence connects to the next, how one paragraph connects to the next, or how an idea fits within the whole structure. I find paragraph transitions the hardest, so that’s what this post will focus on (selfish, I know).
Why are transitions important?
Transitions ease the reader through your writing, allowing your ideas to flow logically. Failing to use transitions is jarring for the reader. They’ll probably find themselves thinking where the heck did that come from? at numerous points in your work.
Can you give me some examples?
Sure! Your first paragraph might be about how the octopus is a very strange and intelligent animal. Your second paragraph might explain that the octopus has a uniquely structured brain (about two-thirds of its 500 million neurons are distributed through its arms).
How do these paragraphs relate? They are two separate ideas: (1) that the octopus is strange and intelligent and (2) that it has a weird brain. But they are related—the brain directly influences intelligence. So you might transition with something like this:
The octopus is weird: eerily malleable body, sucker-studded arms, skin that can transform into a convincing facsimile of seaweed—or sand—in a flash. It can solve mazes, open jars, use tools. It even has what seems to be a sophisticated inner life.
Start of second paragraph (transition in bold):
What’s confusing about all this is that the octopus has a brain unlike that of almost any creature we might think of as intelligent.
Start of second paragraph without transition:
The octopus has a brain unlike that of almost any creature we might think of as intelligent.
See how the transition helps to link the two paragraphs? With out that linking phrase, moving between one idea to the next is a little bit jarring. The transition explains why the author has provided us with all of those interesting facts in the first paragraph. It also relates the two ideas: that while the octopus is intelligent, its brain works differently to other intelligent animals.
I hope this post is helpful to anyone else out there who also has trouble with transitions. For an additional helpful resource, see this post.
Transitions are still very much a work in progress for me, something I have to work on continually. So if you have any suggestions for improving transitions, I’d love to hear from you!
The octopus example is taken from an interesting article I read in the October 2013 edition of Wired. The article—Alien Intelligence: How the Freaky Octopus Can Help Us Understand the Human Brain—was written by Katherine Harmon Courage.