Transitions: be subtle, be smooth

By · Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Transitions in writing take readers from paragraph to paragraph, from topic to topic and from speaker to speaker effortlessly. The best transitions are subtle. They amplify words as if a person is speaking into a microphone, not a megaphone.

Here are some quick tips about transitions.

KEY QUESTIONS
Ask yourself some key questions when assessing whether you are using the best transitions.

  1. Do I understand this sequence of paragraphs?
  2. Am I confused?
  3. Does the word structure help or hurt my understanding?
  4. Could the paragraph stand alone without the transition?
  5. What is the purpose of the transition?
  6. Am I drawn to it as an aid or am I distracted by it?

10 DISTRACTING TRANSITIONS
Avoid these phrases. They are weak transitions from paragraph to paragraph because they draw attention to themselves without adding anything to a story.

  1. In addition / In addition to
  2. On the contrary
  3. On the other hand
  4. Nevertheless
  5. Moreover
  6. Besides
  7. Meanwhile
  8. Fast forward to
  9. Considering that
  10. Consequently

ASSESS ORGANIZATION
Before adding transitions to a story to “smooth it out,” assess whether this is a warning sign that a problem of another kind must be addressed. Perhaps the story is not well-organized; maybe a paragraph or two or some details are in the wrong place. A simple reorganization of material might make a transition unnecessary. 

ASSESS HOW PARAGRAPHS ARE LINKED
Look for key words or thoughts in the last sentence of a paragraph. Are these followed up in some way — or even repeated — in the first sentence of the next graph? If they are, it’s a good indication that the graphs “fit,” that one logically follows the other. The best stories don’t have a lot of obvious transitions; they flow smoothly on their own.

WHEN TO START OVER
Sometimes you just need to reorganize a story rather than insert transitions. Here are some warning signs to alert you.

  1. You feel the story “jumps around,” too often referring to things mentioned earlier.
  2. By the time you reach a second reference to a person, you have forgotten the identity or role of the person in the story.
  3. You’re looking back in the story, rereading to refresh yourself.
  4. You’re writing full sentences — not a simple phrase or word — for transitions.
  5. You’re compelled to write a subhead within the story.

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