Is anything wrong with this paragraph?
Every sentence in the above paragraph begins with a transition word. This is how many students are being taught to write, as if the reader cannot follow the sequence without reminder words at the beginning of each sentence. In the above case, the words are obtrusive, calling attention to themselves, but they could be more glaring if the student had used “Secondly,” “Moreover,” “Furthermore,” “Additionally,” and “In conclusion.”
In student text books, transition words are listed by type: chronological (first, next, then, later, finally), comparison (and, also, similarly, like, additionally), contrasting (however, but, rather, in contrast, although), and showing cause and effect (as a result, therefore, consequently). Students are taught to use one of these transition words at the beginning of almost every sentence. They are led to think they must use a single word or phrase that is not organic to the writing or they don’t have transitions. Their writing becomes bloated with these needless, distracting words.
Is there a better way? Yes!
Look back at my last paragraph which begins with “In student text books.” Can you find a transition? In the second sentence there is one transition word, the word “transitions” itself. The first sentence mentions transition words, so when the second sentence repeats the word “transition,” that is a subtle yet useful connection to the information in the previous sentence. The third sentence uses the word “transitions” again, as well as the word “they” to refer back to students in the previous sentence. In the final sentence, “distracting words” refers back to “transitions.” So as you can see, there are several transitions, but none calls attention to itself. Rather, each does what transitions are supposed to do: subtly organize ideas to keep the reader following clearly.
How can students improve their use of transitions?
- Teach the student not to start every sentence with an obvious transition word. If the student must use transition words that are not organic to the writing, tell her to tuck them into sentences rather than highlighting them at the beginning of sentences.
- If students frequently use beginning sentence transitions, ask the students to cut out half of them; then ask them to cut out half of the rest.
- Ask students to eliminate most multisyllabic transitions. “And,” “but,” “so,” and “since” do the job just as well as “additionally,” “however,” “therefore,” and “because” without drawing attention to themselves. In general, the more syllables a transition has, the more obtrusive it is.
- Most of the time, the student should repeat words, or use pronouns to refer back to words or ideas already mentioned. Those repeated words or pronouns become organic transitions.
Compare the paragraph about rocks at the beginning of this blog with the same paragraph using more subtle transitions:
In our next blog, we will talk about using the prewriting organizer to write the first draft.