Paragraphs and Paragraph Transitions

Learning Objective

  • Describe techniques for effective use of transitions in paragraphs

When to Paragraph

How do you know when “enough is enough” with a paragraph? How do you know when you have enough information in one paragraph and have to start a new one? And how much is too much? There is no simple answer. Paragraphing conventions differ depending on the task and the genre. For example, digital writing typically requires shorter paragraphs with multiple short paragraphs on the screen.

As you write, deal with your paragraph length as part of your revision process. Find places where the information shifts in focus, and put a paragraph break in those places. You can do your best to paragraph as you draft, but know that you’ll address paragraphing more during the revision process.

Overall Paragraph Structure of an Essay

Often, essays are constructed in a format that looks something like this outline shown below. Depending on the purpose of your writing assignment, this format may vary depending on the rhetorical style. You are probably familiar with this general format for the five-paragraph essay. You can build off of this basic structure to write essays that are not too rigid or overly structured even if people dismiss the five-paragraph essay. As you write longer essays in college and possibly for your job, five paragraphs may not be enough for all of your ideas, but this structure works for organizing your ideas. Notice the way that paragraphs separate each topic and provide supporting evidence to the topic sentence.

    1. Introduction
      • Background information on topic
      • Overall point of view of the topic (thesis)
      • Overview of components to be discussed (structure)
    2. Body paragraphs
      • paragraph 1
        • Topic sentence outlining first component
        • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
        • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
      • paragraph 2
        • Topic sentence outlining second component
        • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
        • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
      • paragraph 3
        • Topic sentence outlining third component
        • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
        • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    3. Conclusion
      • Summary of the main points of the body
      • Restatement of the main point of view
      • Justification/evaluation (if required by task)

Try It

Can you determine the best order for these paragraphs? What clues can you use to figure out the best arrangement? Pay close attention to the first sentences of each section.

Three architects looking at a blueprint.

Figure 1. Just as architects carefully construct buildings, a well-structured essay will help readers to clearly follow and understand your ideas.

Linking Paragraphs: Transitions

In writing traditional five-paragraph essays, you may have been taught very basic transition sentences: “My first point is,” “In conclusion,” etc.

In college, your professors will expect less formulaic writing. Strong transition words or phrases that indicate linkages in ideas are the key to taking your writing to the next level and moving from the formulaic to the organic.

When writing your argument, you need to lead your readers from one idea to the next, showing how those ideas are logically linked. Transition words and phrases help you keep your paragraphs and groups of paragraphs logically connected for a reader.

Below are some examples of transition words to help as you transition both within paragraphs and from one paragraph to the next.

Transition Word / Phrase Purpose
and, also, again expands on the same general idea
but, or, however, in contrast counteracts what was just said
as a result, consequently, therefore indicates a conclusion or summary of ideas
for example, to illustrate presents a concrete example of an idea
particularly important, note that emphasizes the importance of an idea
in conclusion, hence signals an ending

Transition Words and Phrases

We divide these transition words and phrases into four categories. Click on the arrows below to learn more about additive, adversative, causal, and sequential transition.

Making Connections

In general, if you feel your readers may have a hard time making connections, providing transition words (e.g., “due to” or “on the other hand”) can help lead them. Transitions between paragraphs may appear at the end of the first paragraph, at the beginning of the second paragraph, or in both places.  If the transition introduces new ideas, it usually appears at the beginning of the second paragraph.

Below is a chart of transition words that are useful for linking ideas within a paragraph. Click on the arrows to read more about transitions that can help guide your reader.

Try It

Select the most appropriate transitions in the following passage:

Proofreading Your Writing

From sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, your ideas should flow into each other smoothly and without interruptions or delays. If someone tells you that your paper sounds choppy or jumps around, you probably have a problem with transitions. Compare these two sentences:

  • Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. Read your paper. You can say it aloud to catch errors. Use spell check on your computer.
  • Proofreading is an important step in the writing process. One technique is to read your paper aloud, which will help you catch errors you might overlook when reading silently. Another strategy is to use spell check on your computer.

Both sentences contain the same information. The second example, however, has better transitions between ideas. Transition words and phrases can make a huge difference in the readability of your writing. If you have to pick one aspect of your writing to focus on during the revision process, consider focusing on adding effective transitions to help your reader follow your thinking.