Those Tricky Transitions in Scholarly Text | Tips on How to Get Your Research Published
Creating smooth and effective transitions is among the most challenging aspects of writing well. In fiction or poetry a transition might aim to startle or (temporarily) confuse a reader. Although a little of this thrill effect can be used with success in reporting groundbreaking scholarship, most transitions in academic and scientific writing should be clear and logical. The object is to share knowledge and ideas with readers, so transitions serve as guidance, nudging the reader along the story of your research and the line of your argument.
There are many levels of transitions in scholarly writing: transitions between the main points of an argument, between the sections of a document, between its individual paragraphs and even transitions from one sentence to the next. Transitions between the main points in a research argument often occur in unison with transitions between the sections of a document, particularly if the manuscript has been thoughtfully organised. They need not do so, however, and there are instances in which several major advances in an argument are presented within a single section of a scholarly document. Effectively worded transitions can clarify the importance of these advances for readers, and a brief summary at the end of the section will help situate readers in relation to your argument and prepare them for the next stage.
Often the most important transitions in scholarly documents are those between paragraphs. With the exception of lists and tables, all the textual material presented in an academic or scientific document should be written as well-developed paragraphs. In the individual paragraphs of a document the ideas, resources, procedures and data associated with a research project are introduced and discussed, so it is in those individual paragraphs that the reasoning propelling a scholarly argument is gradually presented. Effective transitions show the reader, for example, whether an author introduces a new idea or bit of evidence as a confirmation or contradiction of what has come before. More generally, they guide the reader across complicated terrain, often with many twists and turns, and render a sophisticated academic or scientific argument effective.
So how does an author create successful transitions? Well, there is no one strategy beyond imagining what the reader might need and providing it that will work in every case, and thankfully so, or reading would be a very dull activity. There are some basic approaches, however, that usually prove successful.
• Repetition of important terms is an excellent tool, with my use of the word ‘transitions’ from paragraph to paragraph above serving as a small but effective example. Choose the words you repeat with care and do not overuse repetition or your argument will become bogged down.
• Choose with care the other words you use to connect ideas as well. Try not to use standard words such as ‘therefore’ and ‘however’ too frequently to establish the movement of your argument and be sure to provide more detailed explanations when the material demands it. Keep in mind that the goal is to enable and encourage the comprehension of your readers.
• Be specific when making important transitions. Key terms should be used with precision and consistency or it may be unclear exactly what you mean. Avoiding pronouns and using the nouns instead when beginning new paragraphs and sections will help you keep your argument well grounded.
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