Writing Tip Wednesday: Topic Sentences (Part 3)

Dear Master’s Programs students,

Our last two writing tips focused on topic sentences that cue the main idea and topic sentences that cue neither too much nor too little. Continuing with this theme, this week we’ll look at transitions in topic sentences.

Order and organization within your paper are established by the sequence of your ideas and paragraphs (here‘s a link to a helpful organizer; select Rough Plan.”)  Even a well-ordered paper, however, benefits from solid transitions that help provide the feeling of continuity and organization for your reader. These transitions help establish what many writers refer to as “flow.”

One technique to create smoother transitions is the use of transition words. Conjunctive adverbs such as moreover, however, therefore, or subsequently help to show the logical link between a paragraph and the one that preceded it. These words also have the benefit of providing the reader an instant cue about what will follow. For example, when I see a topic sentence that includes moreover, I immediately know the paragraph will build upon what was just discussed. Conversely, however cues me to expect counter-argument or a change from what I’ve just read. Therefore lets me know the upcoming paragraph will discuss a consequence of the previous section.

Another way to establish these transitional links is through the use of pronouns such as this, that, these, and those. Pronouns link back to their antecedents (the words to which the pronouns refer), so they’re a natural way to connect to ideas and terms from the preceding paragraph. For example, the topic sentence of this paragraph uses the phrase “these transitional links.” This phrase reminds the reader you’ve already discussed transitional links, and will continue to examine “these links” in the paragraph that follows.

Sometimes the gap between two paragraphs will be too great to span with a simple word like this or furthermore. In that case, you’ll want to make sure you’ve arranged your paragraphs in the best order possible (again, see our Rough Plan worksheet). If your paragraphs are still too disparate to link easily, consider writing a “bridge paragraph.” As its name suggests, this kind of mini-paragraph helps bridge the idea-chasm between two sections of your paper. When preparing a bridge paragraph, ask yourself what relationship exists between the two sections, and consider the best way to explicate that connection. It’s usually a good idea to start by talking about the ideas of the first paragraph, and move toward an ending that focuses on the ideas of the second.

Happy writing!
James

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