More on Unity and
When you write, you
have to guide and direct your reader through the relationship of your
ideas. It's like you are giving some friends directions from Houston to
Austin. In order for your friends not to get lost, you must give them
signals and signposts that direct them to their destination. You must
keep your reader focused on your thesis (your destination) and help them
to see throughout the essay where they are in terms of developing and
supporting this thesis. It is worth hearing a few words on following a
writer's ideas from Peter Elbow:
The problem with
much poor or needlessly difficult writing is the way it pretends to
exist as it were in space rather than in time. Such writing is hard
to read because it demands that we [the reader] have access all at
once to the many elements that the writer struggled to get into the
text. ...Poor writers often assume that because they are making a
document rather than talking, they are giving us a thing in space
rather than leading us on a journey through time, and that therefore
they can pretend that we can "look at the whole thing."
One of the marks
of good writers, on the other hand, is their recognition that readers,
like listeners, are indeed trapped in the flow of time and can take
in only a few words at a time. ... The drama of movement through time
can be embodied in thinking and exposition as naturally as in stories.
And the ability to engage the reader's time sense is not a matter
of developing some wholly new skill or strategy, it is a matter of
developing for writing that time-bound faculty we've all used in all
One of the most important
signals to give your reader in the "narrative of your ideas"
is when you go from one PRIMARY SUPPORT to another. Since each Body paragraph
develops one Primary Support, these signals come in the form of transition
sentences. For example, notice how the topic sentences from the Model
Essay help to connect the flow of ideas in the essay:
of all, the government should crack down on TV violence because the
violence is too excessive.
the government should limit TV violence because the government is
the best institution to do the regulation.
and most importantly, we must get the government to limit TV violence
for the sake of our society, especially our children.
Key to Coherence: Topic/Transition/Linking Sentences
I call this signal
when you move from one primary support to the next a "Topic/Transition/
Linking" sentence. A Topic/Transition/Linking Sentence comes in the
first sentence of each body paragraph and DOES three things:
1) It gives a signal
word (a transition telling the reader here is a primary support)
2) It reconnects with or restates the thesis
3) It presents the primary support (reason) to be focused on in that
Look at this example
from an argument/persuasion essay:
should not regulate TV violence.
| ---------------link to thesis-----------------------
| ------primary support (reason)-----------
of all, I oppose this government
regulation because it is censorship
and violates the first amendment freedom of speech.
||Signal | ------------link
to thesis------------- | ------primary
addition, this regulation is a
bad idea because it would hurt
the networks' business.
||Signal | --------------------------link
to thesis------------------------------------- | ------primary
I believe the government should not regulate
TV violence because it is not
necessary--TV is not the cause of violence in America.
Think of these sentences
like a one-two-three punch: transition-link-reason.
One more example will
help you see how these transition sentences work even better. This example
comes from a process analysis essay:
How do you build
Building a deck falls into four distinct phases.
||Signal | ---------link
to thesis----------- | ------primary
first phase of building a deck is
the planning and design phase.
||Signal | --------------link
to thesis------------------- | ------primary
next phase in the deck building process
is to purchase your lumber and materials.
| ----------------------link to thesis-------------------------------------
| ------primary support-----
you are ready for the funnest
phase of building your deck: the construction
||Signal | --------------link
to thesis------------------- | ------primary
final phase in the deck building
process is staining and treating your
I know you may be thinking, "this sounds so repetitive," or
"this is too obvious," or "this is too mechanical."
You are right, in a way. However, the benefits to these types of transition
sentences far outweigh their negatives. These topic/transition/linking
sentences help to make the main PRIMARY SUPPORTS for your point/thesis
crystal clear. "Coherence," after all, means "understandability,"
and by creating these sentences to begin each of your body paragraphs,
the main thread of your development will be quickly understandable. These
type of transition sentences also have the added benefit of keeping you,
the writer, well-focused too.
The most important
feature of these transition sentences is the LINK back to the thesis.
Always present your Primary Supports in terms of the Thesis which they
are supporting or developing. You can repeat the Thesis word for word
in your transitions, but in order not to sound too redundant, you would
be wise to vary the way your link back to your thesis. All you need to
do is remind the reader of what the whole paper is about (your thesis).
Here is an example
of varying the phrasing of your link back to the thesis (links are highlighted in red below):
Thesis: Hamlet's tragic
flaw is his cowardice.
P#2: First, cowardice
as Hamlet's tragic flaw can be seen ...
P#3: Further evidence pointing to fear and lack of courage as his tragic
flaw can be seen...
P#4: Finally, Hamlet's flaw is clearly cowardice because...
At this point, you
may find it helpful to try creating some Topic/Transition/Linking sentences
yourself. Do the exercises (following this link)
and then be sure to check your answers.
Transitions to Highlight the Organization of your Ideas
are important signal words to help your reader follow the flow of your
ideas whether it is between Primary Supports (as we just practiced with
Topic/Transition/Linking Sentences) or within your paragraphs as you develop
your Secondary Support.
we saw in the Organization Writing Guide,
there are various methods for you to organize your thoughts in writing:
or Sequential Order
Perhaps you need to sequence your ideas in a time order (yesterday, today,
tomorrow) or by sequence (first, second, third).
Perhaps it will be important to arrange your ideas by their relationship
in space. You could move from top to bottom, inside to outside, left to
right, East to West.
Significance or Precedence
You may want to sequence your ideas by importance or quality--from least
important to most important, from the least in quality to the best in
Below is a list of
Transition words you may find helpful as you attempt to signpost whatever
particular order you are developing in your essay:
again, also, too, moreover, in addition, besides, furthermore
similarly, also, in comparison, by the same token
but, however, instead, even though, on the other hand, on the contrary,
although, in contrast, whereas, nevertheless, nonetheless
example, for instance, specifically, namely, thus, in fact
particular, that is, specifically
then, as a result, hence, since, consequently, therefore, so, accordingly
admittedly, granted, certainly, of course, indeed
summary, in conclusion, therefore, consequently, thus, as a result,
Notice how these transition words help to highlight the organization of
the secondary support within this Body paragraph from our Model
the government should limit TV violence because the government is the
best institution to do the regulating. The
government can make and enforce regulations with the weight of law behind
it. For instance, a network that shows too
graphic a killing with blood spattered everywhere might be fined one hundred
thousand dollars. This might make them think twice about the violence
they show. In addition,
the government is best equipped to do the job because they already regulate
TV. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) already limits the amount
of obscenity and nudity that can be shown. It would be easy for them to
add on violence to their list. Lastly,
the government is needed because the TV industry is unable to regulate
themselves. Some believe that the current warning messages are enough,
but excessive violence is still being shown.
The ax-murderers, gangsters, rapists and serial killers still fill the
TV screen, and many times parents aren't there to prevent their children
from watching it. The government is needed to get this trash off the screen.
Transition words are
important also within Body paragraphs to signal the organization of your
"The Shifting Relationship Between Speech and Writing." College
Composition and Communication , 36: 283-303. Reprinted in Everyone
Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing.
New York, Oxford University Press: 2000.