Do paragraph transitions sound boring? Yeah. They sound boring to me too. But you need them. And if I can work through the boring to write this post, you can work through the boring to read it. So keep reading…

First off, I know I’m not the only out there making online classes to help people be better writers at work. However, I think I’m the only one basing my lessons on copywriting techniques vs. taking the approach of a strict English teacher. Yet there are times when we have to get granular. And when that happens, my advice looks suspiciously like something from a grammar lesson you learned in school.

Pop quiz: How many transition words do you see in that one paragraph? Here’s what I see:

First off, I know I’m not the only out there making online classes to help people be better writers at work. However, I think I’m the only one basing my lessons on copywriting techniques vs. taking the approach of a strict English teacher. Yet there are times when we have to get granular. And when that happens, my advice looks suspiciously like something from a grammar lesson you learned in school.

Do you see how those words guide you through the paragraph? First off, however, yet, and are all stepping stones to help you follow my train of thought.

Your writing needs these stepping stones between paragraphs too. Your writing needs paragraph transitions.

Use paragraph transitions and improve your writing at work
In my last blog post, I said you need flow between paragraphs to give your reader the experience of a wide-open freeway vs. a congested one. I said your paragraphs should be a in a logical order so you have that flow.

Transitions are another way to get that flow.

Your reader might be a coworker, your boss or a customer, but one thing your reader is not is a mind reader. That’s why you need transitions to move readers along and keep them following your train of thought.

Transitions between paragraphs can be words or sentences or even paragraphs, all of which I’ll demonstrate below.

Paragraph transitions using words
Using words for paragraph transitions can help your reader stay focused because the words draw attention to what’s next, whether it’s chronological, a contrast, an emphasis or a summary. Below are examples of words you can use for transitions:

Chronological words

first, second, third, next, then, lastly, finally, earlier, before, recently, at the same time, meanwhile, during, after, later, in the end

Compare or contrast words

also, in the same way, similarly, but, however, in spite of, nevertheless, on the other hand

Words to emphasize or build on a point

for example, also, as well, besides, furthermore, in addition, moreover, so, therefore, as a result

Concluding words

in conclusion, finally, to summarize

 

Paragraph transitions using sentences
When a word or two is not enough to help your reader along, you might need a sentence. A topic sentence is the easiest way to do paragraph transitions with sentences. A topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph. It can work as the transition as it introduces the new idea. Or such a sentence can be the last sentence in a paragraph that prepares the reader for the next paragraph.

Let’s use the example from my last blog post to make this point. As a reminder, here are the two disjointed paragraphs from last time:

Beginning gardeners are often challenged because they don’t know what to grow in the first place, especially when garden space is limited. So what are the best ways for beginning gardeners to make the most of garden space?

Plants like corn and pumpkins take up a lot of space and they need a long growing season to produce only a few edible fruits per plant. With enough garden space, they can be delightful.

Between the first paragraph and the second, the writer changed the subject without helping the reader to follow along. We can add a topic sentence to the second paragraph to help the reader out like this:

Beginning gardeners are often challenged because they don’t know what to grow in the first place, especially when garden space is limited. So what are the best ways for beginning gardeners to make the most of garden space?

First of all, gardeners should know which plants to avoid. Plants like corn and pumpkins take up a lot of space and they need a long growing season to produce only a few edible fruits per plant. With enough garden space, they can be delightful. But they are not for those with limited space.

I added a topic sentence to connect the two paragraphs (the transition) but I also added a sentence to the end of the second paragraph to reiterate the topic of this paragraph because the writer of the original made the statement about “they can be delightful.” You could remove that whole sentence. I left it and added a sentence to make it fit when it really doesn’t.

Paragraph transitions using paragraphs
You can also use a paragraph to guide your reader along. You wouldn’t do this in a shorter document, but you might in a longer one. (Usually the shorter the document, the shorter your transitions should be.)

Here’s our example again, this time with a transition paragraph:

Beginning gardeners are often challenged because they don’t know what to grow in the first place, especially when garden space is limited. So what are the best ways for beginning gardeners to make the most of garden space?

To get started, learn which plants will give take up the least space while giving you the most produce, plants like carrots, beets, lettuce, peas or beans. Also look for dwarf varieties of the vegetables you want to grow.

When you picture your garden, you might not picture carrots and lettuce but rather the corn and pumpkin plants of your grandparents’ garden of old. Plants like corn and pumpkins take up a lot of space and they need a long growing season to produce only a few edible fruits per plant. With enough garden space, they can be delightful.

Yes, I added a lot of words, but I also made it make a lot more sense. And considering the audience—the beginning gardener—clarity is key, in my opinion.

Learn more about paragraph transitions
I quickly went over the topic of paragraph transitions in this post, but there is more to learn. If you want to learn more, the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers in-depth advice on transitions. It’s written for college students, but still useful for those writing for work.

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As a writer, you’re guiding your reader
When you write for work, picture yourself leading the reader along a path that you know well but they’ve never traveled. You have to guide them or they will get lost. Transitions are the signposts or stepping stones you use to keep them moving along with a clear understanding of what you’ve written.

And now that we’ve tackled paragraph transitions as a way to improve your business writing skills and make you a better, faster writer, I hope you will forgive the English teacher-esque nature of this lesson and put the advice to work knowing these tips will advance your writing, your productivity and your career.