3 Tutorials that teach Transitions
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Author: Gavin McCall

This essay discusses transitions and identifies why they are important for clarifying ideas.

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Video Transcription

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Welcome to English composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today will be all about transitions. We'll cover transitions within sentences, transitions between sentences, as well as those that go between paragraphs.

The first thing that we should do is explain what transitions are, then we can look at all the different forms that they can take. Transitions are words, phrases, or sentences that clarify the connections between ideas. Writers, and speakers for that matter, use transitions to help clarify the relationship between one idea, or point, and those that follow.

They're very important tools for making sure readers understand what you're saying. They're also an important component of authorial control over a text, and they can have a strong impact on an essay's flow. Transitions can also function as signposts, pointing out where the essay has been or where it's going.

A writing project will generally suffer if it lacks transitions, or if those is has are used incorrectly, or if the same transitions are repeated too often. As an example of how important transitions can be for writers, consider this sentence-- "a few people ordered the chicken, but it wasn't as good as the fish." Makes sense, right, but what happens if we change the transition? For example-- "a few people order the chicken, because it wasn't as good as the fish." This doesn't make nearly the same kind of sense.

Now, because of the word because, readers are likely to be asking some odd questions. Are those people gluttons for punishment? Were they just trying to spare others from having to eat the chicken. When writing, it pays to give your transition some careful thought to avoid this kind of faux pas, among other things.

When transitions are used within sentences, like the two we just looked at, they're indicating, among other things, a switch in the focus or a complication of the opening clause of the sentence. Here's an example of one the most common transitions being used. "I've never liked pop music, and American pop music is the worst." And keep in mind that transitions don't necessarily have to be a single word. Here's a longer one. "Your opinions are not interesting to me, but even so I must admit that you have the right to say them."

Besides using transitions to form more complicated sentences like those we just been looking at, writers also use transitions in the form words, word combinations, and even entire sentences to transition from one sentence to another. Like end-sentence transitions do for their sentences, transitions between sentences complicate the ideas in sophisticated ways. And they can also clarify connections between the ideas or make the relationships between them more clear.

These kind of transitions can come in all shapes and sizes, from simple ones like this-- "I've never liked seafood much. However, that shrimp pasta was amazing"-- or longer ones like this-- "I never liked seafood much. That being said, the shrimp pasta was amazing."

And we can even use entire sentences to function as transitions, for example-- "I've never liked seafood much. I am, however, the first to admit when I'm wrong. That shrimp pasta was amazing." As you can see, each of the underlying transitions explains, in different ways, the relationship between the two ideas. The fact that I never liked seafood much, and that the shrimp pasta was amazing.

Writers can also use transitions to link paragraphs, much as they do for sentences. These kinds of transitions are key to making ideas and points flow in an essay, as they are the writer's primary method of letting the reader understand not just what the essays points are, but how they relate to each other. To get a sense of how these transitions can work, take a look at these two paragraphs, taken from an essay I've been working on for awhile. Read along with me and see if you can spot when and where the transition happens.

"On the farm, my parents go to some pretty extreme lengths to force plants to do things are often against nature, but in line with their customers' aesthetics. They stimulate lilies with natural and chemical fertilizers to speed up growth. They reinforce sunflower stems with wire and plastic so they don't buckle under the natural weight of their bred-to-be-big blooms, and they trick chrysanthemums into thinking it's a different season by hanging light bulbs over rows of plants and illuminating them for hours at night so they grow taller.

People like my parents have been doing this kind of work for at least as long as we-- humans-- have been keeping records. Manipulation of plants is one of the basic elements of agriculture, but during my lifetime, the tools, even the rules, have changed. Genetic manipulation, however you feel about its broader, ethical ramifications, is to me just another means towards the end of giving customers what they want."

Now, as you could probably tell, I've put the transition between my explanation of what my farmer parents do and the broader field of agriculture, including genetic manipulation, at the beginning of the second paragraph. By putting the first half in chronological context, the transition explains the relationship I see between the two ideas, while simultaneously-- or at least, I hope simultaneously-- preparing the reader for what's coming next-- a more in-depth discussion of genetic manipulation and GMOs. However, this isn't the only way I could make the transition between these two paragraphs.

Take this one, for example. I'll read only what's changed, but if you prefer, feel free to pause the video and read the whole of the section. It might give you a better sense of how this transition is working. "And the thing is, we've been doing this kind of thing long before I, or my parents, were ever born-- it's perhaps the most important invention humanity ever made-- agriculture." As you can see, this transition, included at the end of the first paragraph, is also making the relationship between the two ideas clear, if in a different way than the last version.

And that's the cool thing about transitions. Like many other aspects of the writing process, there's no wrong way to go about it, only ways that work for you and your purposes in writing and ways that don't. Telling between two-- that's the writer's real work.

What did we learn today? We learned about transitions-- those within sentences, between them, and between paragraphs in an essay. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

Words, phrases, or sentences that clarify connections between ideas.