Transition sentences in essays

Clear transitions are crucial to clear writing: They show the reader how different parts of your essay, paper, or thesis are connected. Transition sentences can be used to structure your text and link together paragraphs or sections.

Example of a transition sentence for a new paragraph

… In this case, the researchers concluded that the method was unreliable.

However, evidence from a more recent study points to a different conclusion. …

Transitioning between paragraphs

When you start a new paragraph, the first sentence should clearly express:

  • What this paragraph will discuss
  • How it relates to the previous paragraph

The examples below show some examples of transition sentences between paragraphs and what they express.

Transition sentenceThis paragraph…
Further evidence in support of this hypothesis is provided by Smith (2019).complements the previous one, providing more support for the same idea.
However, Patel’s arguments are not the final word on the matter.contradicts the previous one by presenting new evidence related to the previous discussion.
Having established the relationship between these factors, we are in a position to draw conclusions about the broader process.…treats the preceding point as a base on which to build up more general arguments.

Placement of transition sentences

The beginning of a new paragraph is generally the right place for a transition sentence. Each paragraph should focus on one topic, so avoid spending time at the end of a paragraph explaining the theme of the next one.

Incorrect: Transition at the end of a paragraph
… The consensus view is clear from these quotations. The following paragraph discusses some scholars who dissent from this consensus.

The first dissenter to consider is …

Correct: Transition at the start of a paragraph
… The consensus view is clear from these quotations.

However, several scholars dissent from this consensus. The first one to consider is …

Transitioning to a new section

While transitions between paragraphs are generally a single sentence, when you start a new section in a longer text, you may need an entire transition paragraph. Transitioning to a new section involves summarizing the content of the previous section and expressing how the new one will build upon or depart from it.

For example, the following sentences might be an effective transition for a new section in a literary analysis essay.

Example of a transition paragraph

Having established that the subjective experience of time is one of Mann’s key concerns in The Magic Mountain, it is now possible to explore how this theme facilitates the novel’s connection with World War I. The war itself is not narrated in the book, but rather hinted at as something awaiting Castorp beyond the final pages. In this way, Mann links his protagonist’s subjective experience of time to more than just his illness; it is also used to explore the period leading up to the outbreak of war.

As in academic writing generally, aim to be as concise as you can while maintaining clarity: If you can transition to a new section clearly with a single sentence, do so, but use more when necessary.

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Transitions within a paragraph

It’s also important to use effective transitions within each paragraph you write, leading the reader through your arguments efficiently and avoiding ambiguity.

The known-new contract

The order of information within each of your sentences is important to the cohesion of your text. The known-new contract, a useful writing concept, states that a new sentence should generally begin with some reference to information from the previous sentence, and then go on to connect it to new information.

In the following example, the second sentence doesn’t follow very clearly from the first. The connection only becomes clear when we reach the end.

The industrial revolution had various effects on the population. Urbanization, involving the concentration of formerly rural populations in the new industrial towns, was one major effect of industrialization.

By reordering the information in the second sentence so that it begins with a reference to the first, we can help the reader follow our argument more smoothly.

The industrial revolution had various effects on the population. One major effect was urbanization, which involved the concentration of formerly rural populations in the new industrial towns.

Note that the known-new contract is just a general guideline. Not every sentence needs to be structured this way, but it’s a useful technique if you’re struggling to make your sentences cohere.

Transition words and phrases

Using appropriate transition words helps show your reader connections within and between sentences. Transition words and phrases come in four main types:

  • Additive transitions, which introduce new information or examples
  • Adversative transitions, which signal a contrast or departure from the previous text
  • Causal transitions, which are used to describe cause and effect
  • Sequential transitions, which indicate a sequence

The table below gives a few examples for each type:

TypeExample sentenceTransition words and phrases
AdditiveWe found that the mixture was effective. Moreover, it appeared to have additional effects we had not predicted.furthermore, moreover, for example, in regard to x, similarly, in other words
AdversativeThe novel does deal with the theme of family. However, its central theme is more broadly political …however, although, nevertheless, regardless, above all, (or) at least
CausalBecause Hitler failed to respond to the British ultimatum, France and the UK declared war on Germany.because, therefore, consequently, if, provided that, so that, to
SequentialThis has historically had several consequences: First, the conflict is not given the weight of other conflicts in historical narratives. Second, its causes are inadequately understood. Third, …first, second, third, initially, subsequently, finally, lastly, to return/returning to x, as previously mentioned, in conclusion

Grouping similar information

While transition words and phrases are essential, and every essay will contain at least some of them, it’s also important to avoid overusing them. One way to do this is by grouping similar information together so that fewer transitions are needed.

For example, the following text uses three transition words and jumps back and forth between ideas. This makes it repetitive and difficult to follow.

Example of overused transition words
Smith (2019) argues for the former hypothesis. However, Jones (2017) argues for the latter, while Davies (2015) agrees with Smith. Moreover, Baldwin (2018) also argues for the former hypothesis.

Rewriting it to group similar information allows us to use just one transition, making the text more concise and readable.

Grouping similar information
Smith (2019), Davies (2015), and Baldwin (2018) all argue for the former hypothesis, whereas Jones (2017) argues for the latter.
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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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