I recently edited some college admission personal statements for a few people and a common weakness I noticed in most of them was poor logical transitions from one idea or thought to the next. Essentially, what I saw in many cases was a group of vaguely related phrases thrown together with little or no sense of sequence, continuity, or relativity. The sentences often seemed to be scattered down the page like an almost random set of unconnected thoughts.
I often see this same situation in letters and reports that I am asked to review and/or edit. Each phrase seems to be written as if it is independent of the one before and the one after; when in reality there is an actual sequential and/or logical flow.
When writing just about anything, it is essential that you use smooth and logical word transitions from one idea to the next. If you don’t, you will be sabotaging yourself by failing to make your point clearly.
Although your overall subject may be obvious, the words to describe it should be connected in some sort of logical sequence.
Consider the following three sentence example:
1. After the fire, the entire building had to be searched.
2. They started the search on the third floor.
3. It took three hours to complete the search.
Notice that the three separate statements are all valid sentences. They convey the bare essential facts of a situation, but nothing more. Now, just imagine that you read those statements in the newspaper or heard them on the radio or TV news. As they are stated, they tend to raise more questions than they answer. For example:
– Why was the building being searched?
– Who conducted the search?
– Was it a serious incident?
– Had it ever happened before?
– Why did they start on the third floor?
– What about the first two floors?
– Is three hours a long time for that?
– How long does it usually take?
These are all logical (and obvious) questions that the average person might ask when reading a paragraph made up of the three sentences above.
Now, let’s transform these three statements, using transition phrases, as follows:
“UNLIKE a minor incident that occurred after-hours at the same business last year, this time it was during working hours, so firefighters had to search the entire building for possible occupants. BECAUSE the first two floors had already been evacuated and were still smoking, they started on the third, working upwards to the tenth, covering the first two floors last. CONSEQUENTLY, it took them a full three hours before they could sound the all-clear. NORMALLY, this would have taken about one hour to complete, but they were hindered by thick black smoke that had filled the entire building.”
Notice the use of the transition words: UNLIKE, BECAUSE, CONSEQUENTLY and NORMALLY. Using these four words has allowed us to easily connect the three independent sentences and give them a sense of chronological order and logical flow. They also allow us to answer ALL of the obvious questions, either with the transition word itself, or by adding a couple more words.
In short, transition words/phrases have turned three dry independent phrases into a little story that makes sense to the reader.
These types of words/phrases are ideal for allowing one to easily connect thoughts, and create logical sequences between sentences and paragraphs. They are usually inserted at the beginning of a sentence and normally refer directly back to the previous sentence and/or paragraph without repeating the specific subject.
To see a list of typical transition words and phrases, with examples of their use, click on the following:
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