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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper

Topic Sentences

Topic sentences are mini summaries of the paragraph to follow and, at the same time, relate to your thesis to help focus your paper. The first or second sentence of each paragraph is typically the paragraph's topic sentence.

Transitions

Transitions are words and/or phrases used to indicate movement or show change throughout a piece of writing. Transitions generally come at the beginning or end of a paragraph and can do the following:

  • Alert readers of connections to, or further evidence for, the thesis
  • Function as the topic sentence of paragraphs
  • Guide readers through an argument
  • Help writers stay on task

Transitions sentences often indicate or signal:

  • Change to new topic
  • Connection/flow from previous topic
  • Continuity of overall argument/thesis

Transitions show connections between ideas. You must create these connections for the reader to move them along with your argument. Without transitions, you are building a house without nails. Things do not hold together.

Transition Words and Phrases

Transitions can signal change or relationship in these ways:

Time - order of events

Examples: while, immediately, never, after, later, earlier, always, soon, meanwhile, during, until now, next, following, once, then, simultaneously, so far

Contrast - show difference

Examples: yet, nevertheless, after all, but, however, though, otherwise, on the contrary, in contrast, on the other hand, at the same time

Compare - show similarity

Examples: in the same way, in like manner, similarly, likewise

Position - show spatial relationships

Examples: here, there, nearby, beyond, wherever, opposite to, above, below

Cause and effect

Examples: because, since, for that reason, therefore, consequently, accordingly, thus, as a result

Conclusion - wrap up/summarize the argument

Examples: in conclusion, to conclude, finally, in summary

Signposts (Transition + Topic Sentence)

Writing strong transitions often takes more than simply plugging in a transition word or phrase here and there. In a piece of academic writing, writers often need to use signposts, or transition sentences that also function as topic sentences, signaling the reader of connections to the thesis. To form a signpost, combine transition words, key terms from the thesis, and a mention of the previous topic and new topic.

Transition/signpost sentence structure: 

[Transition word/phrase]+[previous topic]+[brief restatement of or reference to thesis/argument]+[new topic] = Signpost

  • Do not think of this as a hard and fast template, but a general guide to what is included in a good transition.
  • Transitions link the topic of the previous paragraph(s) to the topic of the present paragraph(s) and connect both to the overall thesis/argument. You'll most often find signposts at the beginning of a paragraph, where they function as topic sentences.

Sample signpost using complimentary transition phrase:

According to [transition phrase] the same overall plan for first defeating Confederate forces in the field and then capturing major cities and rail hubs [overall thesis restated] that Grant followed by marching the Army of the Potomac into Virginia [previous topic], Sherman likewise [transition word] advanced into Georgia to drive a dagger into the heart of the Confederacy [new topic].

Contrasting ideas have the same essential format as complimentary but may use different transition words and phrases:

In contrast to [transition phrase] F.D.R., who maintained an ever-vigilant watchfulness over the Manhattan project [previous topic + reference to overall thesis], Truman took over the presidency without any knowledge of the atomic bomb or its potential power [new topic].

The overall structure of an essay with transitions may look something like this:

*Note how transitions may come at beginning or end of paragraphs, but either way they signal movement and change.

You can learn more about essay structure HERE.