So you have a thesis. (Kudos.)
You’ve even figured out the main points you’re going to use to argue your thesis. And in what order you’re going to use them. (Double kudos.)
Pleased with yourself, you sit down to write your paper assuming that the logical progression from idea to idea you have so thoughtfully devised will naturally translate onto paper. But don’t be too hasty? Think of your job as a writer as equivalent to that of a GPS guiding a driver (i.e. reader) from point A to point B. Even if you work out the fastest, least-trafficked route, you’ll run into trouble if you don’t give clear directions.
To make sure the reader stays with you throughout the course of the paper, you need to provide effective signposts in the form of transition words. Yes, that phrase is terribly reminiscent of high school English rubrics, but don’t roll your eyes and click away just yet. Transition words are phenomenally important in relating one idea to the next, helping to situate the reader and make sure he or she remains keyed-in to your thought process throughout the paper. Using the wrong one is akin to telling a driver to turn left before instead of after the intersection; it leads the reader astray.
Transition words might seem simple, but a surprising number of students have trouble discerning the minute (yet critical) differences between commonly used words. Visitors to the Writing Workshop frequently request that tutors help them with their transitions, often because a Professor has taken note of sloppy transitions in a previous paper. To clear some things up, let’s pull apart a few useful transition words and phrases to help determine when is appropriate to use each transition:
Just as…so too
Indicates a similarity
If you have a list of evidence that all proves the same argument, it can get repetitive to constantly be saying “also, take a look at this.” “Just as…so too” is an elegant way of indicating that your next statement will be along the same lines as your previous statement. For instance:
Just as Eleanor seeks freedom from her marriage, so too does her husband long for divorce, though he is far less vocal in his desire.
Indicates and emphasizes an alternative/contrast to what was just said
Speaking of repetition: have you ever written a paper that read like an endless bout of “however”‘s? “Here’s point A…however some people raise point B…however in the end, we should stick with point A.” Acknowledging counter-arguments is a useful exercise when writing academic papers as it forces you to not only support, but also defend your thesis. “Nevertheless” is a great way of telling the reader that even though certain counter-arguments or contrary facts exist, ultimately your opinion prevails:
Financial concerns no doubt influenced the Hunter’s decision to close his business. Nevertheless, given the tenuous relationship between Hunter and other local business owners, we should understand his decision as primarily motivated by personal, not financial, inclinations.
Establishes causation; links two points together in sequence
This is a great example of those “signposts” I was talking about before; words like “causation” indicate to the reader that the point you just made directly informs the point you’re about to make.
The organization ran out of money and was unable to offer bonuses. Consequently its employees, furious by what they deemed to be poor management, revolted in the largest strike in company history.
There are, of course, tons of other juicy transition words and phrases (in addition, not withstanding, regardless, etc.). Pardon the cliche, but this really is just the tip of the iceberg. Next time you’re writing a paper, spend some time figuring out where to put transition words. Need some help coming up with words to use? This PDF from the University of Ottowa might come in handy.