If you've ever been told that your writing is choppy, you are likely missing useful transitions between your ideas. Transition words and phrases are the signals, connecting roads, and bridges that ease your reader's travel through your document. Transitions tell your reader something useful about what is coming and how it relates to what came before.

You need the reader to easily grasp your legal ideas, so make sure you have effective transitions. Without transitions, the reader sees only a series of disconnected points from your research. And you make the reader figure out how the points relate to each other. For example, if you describe Case A then describe Case B, without telling the reader that the cases are similar or contrasting or that one modifies the other, the reader doesn't know what you think. Remember, you are the writer; you are responsible to make everything clear for your reader.

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How fluent are your transitions? Do you steer the reader well and keep the reader's eyes on the road with enough varied and well-placed transition words?

Here are two paragraphs that we edited for better transitions. First we highlighted all the transition words and underlined places where we thought the reader would benefit from a transition word or phrase. Then we revised. We added transitions,and changed the repetitive ones. We removed unnecessary transitions and moved some to the middle of sentences.

Look at our highlights and underlines. Then read our revised paragraphs and mouse over the transition words to see why we made the changes.

The paragraphs are from a memo discussing whether a client can stop her neighbour from building a tree house in a tree that straddles two properties. The tree is the common property of both the client and her neighbour.

Here is the highlighted and underlined text. Notice how few transitions are in the first paragraph.

As per the common law, courts have interpreted the term reasonable use by considering (1) the nature of the property, and (2) any impairment caused by the use. Impairment does not include a decrease in the property's value resulting from its usual or legitimate use. A claimant must prove that the impairment is more than just wear and tear from regular use.  In Hersey, the court held that cutting trees for timber was a usual and legitimate use for a wood lot.  The court found that the defendant's use did not amount to destruction of common property.  The defendant cut down nearly an acre of trees.  The acre was only a small proportion of the woodlot. Hersey is an older case, nevertheless  the principle of reasonable use has been applied consistently for decades.

However, unlike Hersey and the subsequent cases, in our case the neighbour's plans do not risk destroying the common property. The neighbour proposes to build a small tree house in the lower branches of the boundary tree.  Our client however complains that the unsightly tree bordering her front yard will diminish her property value. Consequently the question is therefore whether the defendant can prove a significant impact on the value of her property in order to meet the test in Hersey.

Here are the edited paragraphs.

Under the common law, courts have interpreted the term reasonable use by considering (1) the nature of the property, and (2) any impairment caused by the use. But, impairment does not include a decrease in the property's value resulting from its usual or legitimate use. In other words, a claimant must prove that the impairment is more than just wear and tear from regular use.  In Hersey, for example, the court held that cutting trees for timber was a usual and legitimate use for a wood lot.  The court found that the defendant's use did not amount to destruction of common property despite the defendant cutting down nearly an acre of trees because the defendant cut only a small proportion of the woodlot. Hersey is an older case; nevertheless, the principle of reasonable use has been applied consistently for decades.

Unlike Hersey and the subsequent cases, in our case the neighbour's plans do not risk destroying the common property. Specifically, the neighbour proposes to build a small tree house in the lower branches of the boundary tree.  Our client, however, complains that the unsightly tree bordering her front yard will diminish her property value. The question is, therefore, whether the defendant can prove a significant impact on the value of her property in order to meet the test in Hersey.

Test out your transition know-how with the following activity.

Turn on your "transition words GPS" to steer the reader. Keep your reader's eyes on the road with good variety and placement.

Here is a paragraph that needs editing for transitions. We put a number in each spot where you might consider editing.

Try for variety both in the transitions you choose and where you place them.  Your reader will be hypnotized and lose interest in the journey if you constantly use typical, repetitive transition words or phrases in a monotonous pattern.  Decide which transition words to keep. Take out transition words that are not really necessary and just end up cluttering the text. Use the Categories of Transition Words and Phrases to create variety. You can rewrite sentences and combine sentences using transitions.

The national Child Support Guidelines have proved to be an important legal advance, despite [1] early misgivings by some experts. However, [2] some problems have arisen that have significant implications for legislative policy. For example, [3] courts in different regions of the country have permitted exceptions to the guidelines, creating inconsistent calculations. In addition [4], experts suspect these inconsistencies in child support calculations will have serious consequences for families who change province of residence and might need to seek a variation of the original order. Provinces all have unique child support enforcement regimes, and because of [5] varying requirements, enforcement of orders across provincial boundaries were, at one point [6], difficult. "Fortunately", [7], collaboration between the provinces has eliminated most of the domestic inconsistency. [8] The remaining problem is inconsistent enforcement of foreign child support orders creating uncertainty at the international level with a possible breakdown in important international enforcement conventions. Whatever [9][10] the original concerns about the guidelines, the overall benefit to children has been significant and the guidelines must not be abandoned.

Categories of Transition Words and Phrases

To amplify or add

Also, in addition, further, besides, moreover, similarly, furthermore, as well

To compare

Like, similarly, in fact, just as, likewise, also, again, equally important, in the same way

To contrast

But, however, although, yet, on the other hand, unlike, in contrast, nevertheless, instead, conversely, despite, rather, nonetheless, alternatively, in any event, even so

To show sequence

First, second, finally, then, during, now, next, later, before, at first, after, simultaneously, following this, to begin with, initially, to begin, subsequently

To show spatial order

Above, inside, beyond, there, next to, below, beside, under

To give examples

For instance, such as, namely, for example, in particular, that is, specifically

To show cause or logical connection

Because, as a result, consequently, thereby, accordingly, thus, therefore, otherwise, so, under

To emphasize or conclude

To conclude, after all, in short, furthermore, therefore, above all, definitely, in fact, certainly, especially, but also, that is, in other words, in brief, finally

To generalize

For the most part, generally speaking, in general, ordinarily, usually, customarily, normally, as a rule, as usual, by and large, more often than not, mostly