Paragraph Level Transitions: A Smooth Ride with Cruise Control

We ease the reader's travels by linking old information with new information at the sentence level.  By repeating a key word, your reader cruises smoothly from one idea to the next. 

Linking words works especially well in topic sentences to smooth the connection between paragraphs. Ask yourself two key questions:

  1. How does this sentence link to the previous paragraph?
  2. How does the sentence move the reader to the new idea in this paragraph?


Before editing the transitions in your own text, try these two short activities as a warm-up.

Activity 1

Paulina needs to edit her memo to the director of the Department of Corrections on steps the department took to address serious complaints on penitentiary conditions. Her first paragraph discusses conditions in the penitentiary system and ends with the sentence:

"Many penitentiaries are dangerously overcrowded."

Her next paragraph explains the terms of reference given to a committee struck to investigate complaints and propose reforms. But she thought the paragraphs did not connect very well.

Which of the three topic sentences below would be the best link for the next paragraph?

Readers will likely need to glance back at the preceding paragraph to look for what the pronoun "This" refers to and to make sure they can identify the goal. Choose a better topic sentence.

This is the best topic sentence. Starting the topic sentence with a key word or idea from the previous paragraph makes a better link to the information in the previous paragraph. Readers can quickly see that the new special committee's mandate for prison reform links to the problem of overcrowding.

The topic sentence is long and complicated. Also the phrase "concerned by the violence and overcrowding in penitentiaries" is a misplaced modifier. The sentence should be rewritten to make it clear that the federal government, not the special committee, is concerned about overcrowding. Finally the linking words, "dangerous overcrowding", are at the end of the sentence, making the reader wait to see the connection with the previous paragraph.

Activity 2

Can you help Madelyn edit her memo on unconscionable contracts by rewriting her second paragraph's topic sentence? Read the two paragraphs and decide what more concrete word or term can replace the bolded words in the second paragraph in order to better link the reader to the first paragraph's ideas. Then edit the sentence in the box below.

First paragraph:

"A court will find the terms of a contract are unconscionable where two elements are established: the parties are unequal and one party abuses that inequality. The material ingredients are (1) proof of inequality in the position of the parties arising out of the ignorance, need, or distress of the weaker, leaving the weaker party in the power of the stronger, and (2) proof of substantial unfairness of the bargain. Proof of those circumstances creates a presumption of fraud, which the stronger party may rebut by showing that the bargain was fair. The bottom line is whether the contract as a whole diverges from the community standards of commercial morality such that it should be rescinded."

Second paragraph:

This test was developed by the Supreme Court in Abel v Cain and has been applied in employment contracts where the employee has been treated unfairly. The first case was…"


The community standards test was developed…

"This test" isn't very clear and could refer to one of several different points Madelyn raised in the first paragraph. By keeping the reader focused on the concrete idea, as opposed to the abstract term "test", the reader can travel with you more easily.