A common weakness I see almost everywhere in day-to-day writing is poor logical flow from one idea or point to the next. This usually takes the form of a bunch of seemingly unrelated phrases thrown together with little or no sense of sequence, continuity, logic, or relativity. Not only can you see this problem in articles and blogs all over the Web, reporters for my local newspaper and TV outlets are often guilty of this same transgression.
[This is an updated and revised version of an article I previously published on this blog a number of years ago.]
Often, when an incident or event is being described in writing (or on TV or radio), the overall subject may be obvious, but the words to describe it seem to be scattered all over the place like an almost random set of unconnected thoughts.
On a regular basis, I see letters, articles and reports in which each phrase seems to be independent of the one before and the one after; when in reality there is an actual sequential and/or logical flow. When I read these, I often find myself asking out loud the obvious questions that don’t get answered, such as: “So why did they do that?”, or “What happened next…?”, or “How does that relate to…?”.
Consider the following three sentence example:
1. 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 or event, but nothing more. In fact, they raise almost more questions than they answer. For example:
– Why was the building being searched?
– What building was it?
– 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 words and phrases, as follows:
“UNLIKE a minor incident at the Customs Headquarters last October, this time the entire building had to be searched for trapped occupants. BECAUSE the fire was still smoking on the first two floors, 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 finally completed the typical one-hour job.”
Notice the use of the transition words: UNLIKE, BECAUSE, and CONSEQUENTLY. Using these three 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.
The following paragraphs list some of the more common transition words and phrases that will help make your text more understandable and interesting to the reader. For each one, I have included a typical example of how the word/phrase might be used in a typical sentence. (Note that I have capitalized the transition words/phrases for emphasis and easy identification).
CAUSE AND EFFECT…
THEN, he moved on to the next work station.
AS A RESULT, the team lost the game.
FOR THIS REASON, she always went home for the weekend.
THE RESULT WAS always predictable.
WHAT FOLLOWED was as painful as it was inevitable.
IN RESPONSE, he quickly upped the ante.
THEREFORE, the aircraft overshot the runway.
THUS, it was just a matter of time.
BECAUSE OF THIS, the results were always the same.
CONSEQUENTLY, he was no longer friends with Frank.
THE REACTION to this event was swift and decisive.
IN CONTRAST TO…
UNLIKE last year, this one was highly profitable.
DIFFERENT from this, was our approach to manufacturing.
IN SPITE OF the dot com bust, the company prospered.
ON THE OTHER HAND, earnings per share have increased.
ON THE CONTRARY, the impact was less than expected.
OPPOSING that idea was the move to new technologies.
HOWEVER, that approach may actually prove better.
CONTRARY to his findings, the revenue picture is good.
NEVERTHELESS, something still appears to be missing.
SEQUENCE AND RELATIVITY…
THEN, each one followed in numerical sequence.
IN ADDITION, a fourth material was added to the mix.
TO ENUMERATE, first was the car, second was the boat, third…
NEXT in line for cuts was the marketing division.
NEXT IN THE SERIES was the “outrigger” brand line.
BESIDES THAT, there were two other possible sources.
SUBSEQUENTLY they moved on to the next polling station.
FOLLOWING the concert, there was a reception in the atrium.
SIMILARITY AND COMPARISON…
LIKE always, he took the company on a risky course.
SAME as before, he managed to meet all of the requirements.
SIMILAR things were known to happen at certain times.
CLOSE to that was the result of the second round of voting.
LIKEWISE, they made similar changes in the factory.
ALSO, there were the worker’s families to consider.
NEAR that one, was where we found the faulty component.
EXPLANATION AND EXAMPLE…
FOR EXAMPLE, last year’s model was under-powered.
ONE SUCH occurrence was last week’s power outage.
FOR INSTANCE, earnings this year are higher than last.
TO ILLUSTRATE, he went to Chicago just to make his point.
ALSO, there is a new approach to sheet-metal molding.
THAT TOO, just goes to make my point even stronger.
TO DEMONSTRATE, I will use the new model throughout.
As shown in the above examples, transition words and phrases are usually inserted at or near the beginning of a sentence. They normally refer back directly to the previous sentence and/or paragraph without repeating the specific subject. Many such transition words and phrases can easily be inserted into everyday conversation and writing. In my opinion, appropriate use of these words/phrases is the number one technique for making any type of writing flow more logically and clearly.
Bottom line: Smooth, orderly and logical transitions from one thought to the other, one sentence to the next, and one paragraph to another, are key to creating clear meaning and flow in any document. Appropriate use of transition words and phrases will achieve this for you.
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