Six Ways to Make Your Writing More Effective – Part II

Connect and Transition

If you doubt your writing skills, OR you want more effective writing skills, these tips are essential.

Photo by Christine Sponchia

For one of my classes in high school, I wrote a paper about lions. I loved lions and had read about them for years. So, when we did peer editing in class, the feedback I got shocked me: my classmate said that I needed to stick to one topic, either lions or pride.

She meant “pride,” the feeling.

I knew that “pride” also refers to a group of lions; it never occurred to me that not everyone knew that. So, I had to define “pride” in my paper as it relates to lions.

Background

This is an example of how your readers may lack context on a topic that would help them understand why two ideas are related.

At the same time, even readers with expertise on your topic can’t see inside your head; a thought that logically follows another in your mind may seem like an abrupt change of subject to your audience.

That’s why we need connections and transitions, words and phrases that help readers understand the relationship between two thoughts written by you, the author. This topic is part of a series on six tips for more effective writing. The other five are:

  • Organization (covered in Part I of this series)
  • Passive versus active voice
  • Adverbs: to avoid or not to avoid?
  • How to vary your sentence by length, structure, and type
  • The vital need for a fresh set of eyes (even if they’re your own!)

Today, I’ll focus on how to connect ideas and transition between them. We’ll start small, with types of conjunctions. Then we’ll look at other connection/transition words and phrases, and finally, we’ll walk through an example of how to use them.

(Note: I’m getting ready to use some technical terms. I know, BORING!!! Hang with me, though. If your head starts to spin from the terminology, ignore it and focus on the examples.)

Connections Versus Transitions

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As writers, we often know our subject so well that we forget that not everyone can follow our thought process without clear verbal signals. Sometimes, like in my paper about lions, we just need to add a definition, explanation, or other type of context. When it comes to making your thought process easy to follow, however, you must rely on connections and transitions to walk your reader down the logical path of your argument.

Technically, transitions ARE a type of connection, but I like to differentiate. To me:

  • Connections indicate that you’re still on the same basic topic/subtopic.
    Examples:
    I like plants, but I don’t enjoy watering them.
    That was a ridiculous idea. Still, it just might work.
  • Transitions show that you’re shifting gears either to a different topic/subtopic that’s related or to the next step in a logical progression.
    Example:
    [Paragraph on why you should drink water to stay hydrated.]
    Another way to stay hydrated is through the types of food you eat.
    [Paragraph on foods that help you stay hydrated.]

With that in mind, let’s look at some of each.

Connecting Words: Conjunctions

One type of connecting word is a conjunction.

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are the conjunctions we’re probably most familiar with. These are little words that connect two thoughts, or clauses, that each have a subject and verb, and that could each stand alone as a complete sentence. Use the acronym FANBOYS to remember coordinating conjunctions:

The car wouldn’t start.

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

How do you use them? Start with two complete sentences, or independent clauses:

Donovan turned the key.
The car wouldn’t start.

Then connect them with one of the FANBOYS:

Donovan turned the key, but the car wouldn’t start.

Other examples:

She’ll be home at six, so I want to start dinner soon.
That dog is ugly, and it needs a good bath.
Albert was very tired, for Betsy had practiced her yodeling all night long.

Subordinating Conjunctions

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There are a lot of these. Like coordinating conjunctions, they connect two clauses; the difference is that only one thought is complete. The other, even though it has a subject andverb, is incomplete. Why? Because it’s dependent on more information. In fact, these are called dependent clauses or subordinate clauses. Here are some examples:

  • When she arrives home
  • While breakfast is served
  • Although I hate pigs
  • That movies are long

Their very name—dependent/subordinate—explains why they can’t stand alone. They need something to prop them up. The cool thing is, a lot of times, these clauses come with their subordinating conjunction included—all you have to do is add an independent clause! Take a look:

  • When she arrives home, we’ll start the gravy.
  • Let’s practice our juggling routine while breakfast is served.
  • Although I hate pigs, I do love bacon!
  • It is true that movies are long.

Something else to know: subordinating conjunctions indicate time, place, or cause/effect. Here are a couple of great resources that list more subordinating conjunctions.

Correlative Conjunctions

There is another type of conjunction, the correlative conjunction, that includes word pairs like both/and, either/or, whether/or, and not only/but also, but those are pretty easy to figure out and use.

For now, I’d like to get into something a little more fun.

Words and Phrases to Connect and Transition

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These are SO much fun. Caution, though: don’t overuse them. Still, in the writing I review on a regular basis, there is a tendency towards the opposite problem: not using enough connections or transitions.

How do these phrases connect or transition between two sentences or paragraphs? They let us know that there is:

  • Additional information.
    Examples: Plus, Also, In addition
  • Cause and effect.
    Examples: Thus, As a result, Therefore, Due to ________
  • Opposition/Contrast/Exception.
    Examples: Although, In spite of, Granted, On the other hand
  • Comparison.
    Examples: As well as, Likewise, Similarly
  • Emphasis/Example.
    Examples: Above all, Indeed, For example, For instance, Namely
  • Timeframe/SequenceExamples: Meanwhile, During, Later, Then, Next, Now
  • Conclusion/Generalization
    Examples: After all, In conclusion, In essence, Overall, To summarize

How to Use

As I say, often when I am editing or giving feedback on someone’s writing, these things are missing. Again, this happens because the connection is clear in the writer’s head, and she doesn’t realize that it isn’t obvious to anyone who might read what she wrote.

For instance, here’s a problem paragraph:

She loves good stories. She has a hard time sitting still when she’s bored. Movies are long. Good writing and unusual special effects can hold her attention. This movie might not be a problem.

OK, you can kind of see where that’s going, but it’s disjointed and lacks clarity. Let’s add in some conjunctions and transitions:

She loves good stories, but she has a hard time sitting still when she’s bored. Also, movies are long. Still, good writing and unusual special effects can hold her attention, so this movie might not be a problem.

Do you see how much smoother that reads? How your mind has to work less to make sense of it?

Granted, most people can write a better paragraph than the first example here. Still, you’d be surprised how often even the best writers leave out connections and transitions in their first drafts that would make their writing much clearer!

Final Word

Writing is an art. What I’ve covered today may seem boring and as far away from art as you can get, but think of these technical terms as the writer’s equivalent of brushes and paint pots. Practice using them, play with them. They’ll become second nature, and you won’t even know you’re using them.

It will come to feel organic. And then—then, you can create your masterpiece.

Next month in my post on writing, I’ll discuss more effective writing tools. Stay tuned! Let me know your thoughts and questions.

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