Essay Paragraph Structure And Transition

Paragraphs & Topic Sentences

A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.

Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.

TOPIC SENTENCES

A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates or supports an essay’s thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject and perspective of the paragraph. That’s why it’s often best to put the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, it’s more effective to place another sentence before the topic sentence—for example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous one, or one providing background information.

Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a paragraph clearly refer—perhaps indirectly—to a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs, however, should have a topic sentence.

PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE

Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.

Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.

Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.

Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.

The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in mind.

SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.

George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”

COHERENCE

In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.

Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraph’s coherence may also be related to its length. If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example, you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it with another paragraph.

A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described below.

Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.

Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas. In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have been emphasized) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a general statement.

Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense, and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you" to the impersonal “one,” from past to present tense, or from “a man” to “they,” for example, you make your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your argument more difficult to follow.

Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.

I don’t wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives, we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large animals, dinosaurs in particular.

Stephen Jay Gould, “Were Dinosaurs Dumb?”

SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS

(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference)

To show addition:
again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second, etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, moreover, next, too
To give examples:
for example, for instance, in fact, specifically, that is, to illustrate
To compare:
also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly
To contrast:
although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still, though, yet
To summarize or conclude:
all in all, in conclusion, in other words, in short, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to sum up
To show time:
after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before, during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile, next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when, while
To show place or direction:
above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, farther on, here, nearby, opposite, to the left (north, etc.)
To indicate logical relationship:
accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason, hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus

Produced by Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Transitions

Transitions help readers understand the connection from one idea to the next as they read. This page has information about two types of transitions: transitions between the sentences within a single paragraph and transitions between one paragraph and another. Click on the links below to learn about each type of transition.

Sentence Transitions

Transitions between sentences help readers see the connection between one sentence and the next one. Not every sentence should have a transition; rather, transitions tend to appear in every few sentences, such as when the paragraph is changing directions or bringing up a new idea. One of the most common ways to make transitions is by using transition words, also known as conjunctive adverbs. The chart below lists some common transition words you might use to connect the sentences within a paragraph.

Transition Words

  • therefore
  • however
  • then
  • first
  • consequently
  • on the other hand
  • next
  • second
  • thus
  • conversely
  • afterwards
  • third
  • additionally
  • rather
  • later
  • finally
  • similarly
  • for example
  • meanwhile
  • in other words

Transition words are usually followed by a comma. When you use a transition word to connect the ideas in two sentences, you can punctuate your sentences with either a period or a semicolon.

Punctuation with Transition Words

Without a transition word

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College. He enrolled in English 1A.

With a transition word, a period and a comma

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College. Therefore, he enrolled in English 1A.

With a transition word, a semicolon and a comma

Frank needed a composition course to graduate from Las Positas College; therefore, he enrolled in English 1A.

Example

Notice the differences in the following paragraph with and without the transitions:

Without Transitions

One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I led bicycle trips. It was a really hard job. I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible. The job was too much work and not enough play. While it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

With Transitions

One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. Therefore, I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I led bicycle trips. It was a really hard job. I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. In addition, I went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible; however, the job was too much work and not enough play. Thus, while it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

Transitions make the paragraph much clearer, helping readers see the connections between the sentences. Notice that transitions do not appear in every sentence, just when the connection betwee ideas would not be clear without them.

Paragraph Transitions

Paragraph transitions help the reader understand the connections between the paragraphs' ideas. They also help to clarify for the reader how ideas relate to the thesis.

Paragraph Transition Dos and Don'ts

Do put the transition at the beginning of the new paragraph that it introduces.

This will show readers how your new topic connects to what came before it.

Don't put the transition at the end of the previous paragraph.

This sounds like you're bringing up a new point and then dropping it, which can confuse your reader. Paragraphs should almost always end with the main point of that paragraph, not some new point. Learn more about body paragraph structure.

Do show how the new paragraph relates to what came before it.

example: "Maintaining their spirituality gave Africans the strength and focus to revolt against their slave masters."

This paragraph reminds us what came before it (that African slaves maintained their spirituality), and connects it to the new topic (that this spirituality helped the slaves revolt against their masters).

Don't rely on single transition words to make the connections between paragraphs.

example: "Additionally, Africans also revolted against their slave masters."

While this does have a transitional word, "additionally," it doesn't really tell readers how this information relates to what came before it.

Do use subordinators to create transitions between paragraphs.

example: "Although medical studies do not usually confirm the effectivenss of acupuncture, many patients claim it has helped them with pain management and recovery from injuries."

Subordinators such as although, since, when, while, because, and asare all useful in transitioning between paragraphs.

Essay Example

Notice the differences in the following example with and without the transitions:

Without Transitions

Traveling is my life. I work every day to fund my next trip. When I was 22, I went on my first trip by myself. I went to the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland. After that trip, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life traveling. I am so addicted to traveling that if I am not traveling, I am planning my next trip.

            I receive many emails a day from different traveling web sites. Sherman’s Travel and Travel Zoo are two of my favorites. When I open my email, the first thing I see is “Sale. $500 all inclusive 5 nights in Hawaii.” In my mind, I am already there. I am imagining myself lying on the beach, far away from my daily responsibilities.

            I recently paid to receive a monthly magazine called Budget Travel. I knew that this would help feed my addiction while I am saving for my next trip. This is one of the best traveling magazines I have ever found. It gives random tips about traveling like, “keep a $100 bill folded up inside my luggage tag for emergencies” (14).  The pictures entice me even further. My current issue showed the views of Sicily, and now I must travel there.

            I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I lead bicycle trips. It was a really hard job, but I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I also went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible, but the job was too much work and not enough play, so although it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

            I have still managed to travel on my limited budget; I am currently planning a trip to Vancouver, BC next month. I love to travel so much that I subscribe to both magazine and online sources to feed my addiction. Every time I take a trip, it makes me want to see more of the world and enjoy all it has to offer.

This short essay feels choppy. All of the sentences start with "I", and the 
reader is not often clear about how the paragraphs relate to each other nor 
how they relate to the thesis. These have been left to the reader's interpretation.

With Transitions

Traveling is my life. I work every day to fund my next trip. When I was 22, I went on my first trip by myself. I went to the Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland. After that trip, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life traveling. I am so addicted to traveling that if I am not traveling, I am planning my next trip.

            Since I am addicted to traveling, I make sure to stay on top of the latest deals. I receive many emails a day from different traveling web sites. Sherman’s Travel and Travel Zoo are two of my favorites. When I open my email, the first thing I see is “Sale. $500 all inclusive 5 nights in Hawaii.” In my mind, I am already there. I am imagining myself lying on the beach, far away from my daily responsibilities.

            As if receiving constant emails about deals wasn’t enough, I recently paid to receive a monthly magazine called Budget Travel. I knew that this would help feed my addiction while I am saving for my next trip. This is one of the best traveling magazines I have ever found. It gives random tips about traveling like, “keep a $100 bill folded up inside my luggage tag for emergencies” (14).  This is something that I have never thought of, but I know that even if I don’t use it, I will definitely start checking luggage tags at the airport! Not only do I appreciate the traveling tips, but the pictures entice me even further. My current issue showed the views of Sicily, and now I must travel there.

            Although looking at magazines and web sites is exciting, it doesn’t compare to actually traveling, so I decided to get a job that paid me to travel because I just couldn’t afford my habit. I worked for a company called Offroad where I lead bicycle trips. It was a really hard job, but I got to spend two months living and working in France’s wine country. I also went to the south and stood on the red carpet where they hold the Cannes Film Festival. Riding bikes all summer was great, and traveling around France was incredible, but the job was too much work and not enough play, so although it fed my traveling addiction, I knew that job wasn’t for me.

            Although I am no longer working for the traveling company, I have still managed to travel on my limited budget; I am currently planning a trip to Vancouver, BC next month. I love to travel so much that I subscribe to both magazine and online sources to feed my addiction. Every time I take a trip, it makes me want to see more of the world and enjoy all it has to offer.
     
Notice that without the transitions, the essay is understandable, but the author's ideas seem disconnected from one another. However, with the transitions, the author has taken more control over the reader's interpretation of the writer's work. The author's voice is much stronger and clearer in the second example. In addition to the transitions at the beginning of the sentences, the second example has a transition after a quote. Instead of just leaving the quote alone, the author has now told us why he/she used that particular quote, again taking control over the reader's interpretations.

This page was created by Meghan Swanson and Karin Spirn.

0 thoughts on “Essay Paragraph Structure And Transition”

    -->

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *