Let’s say you’ve got a set of numbers. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Let’s also say they’re sort of set up like an equation. But not really. Because they’re arranged like this:
1 2 3 4 = 5
What do you make of that? What can you make of that?
Automatically, your brain probably first goes something along the lines of, “Huh?” You figure that there has to be some connection between them. Those numbers are arranged there in such a particular fashion, after all. And there is the equal sign to consider as well.
Clearly, everything is supposed to come together to point to a particular conclusion.
Yet without the proper indicators between those first four numbers, you’re either going to have to spend unnecessary time trying out different combinations of adding, subtracting, dividing and/or multiplying… or you’re going to give up altogether.
It’s the very same thing with transitions in writing. Without them, you’re making your readers work way too hard.
Seen from one standpoint, there are two types of transitions:
Those that smooth out connections between sentences or paragraphs in order to make the words flow better
Those that smooth out connections between sentences or paragraphs in order to better build logical points off of each other.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to talk about the latter. We can discuss the former another day. But out of the two, correctly constructing logical points is more important.
Otherwise, our whole entire argument – whatever that may be – falls apart.
Let’s say our subject matter is social media addiction. We want to make the point that it can be isolating, and so we write something like this:
The more time we spend on social media, the less we feel good about ourselves and our situations. We take in images and input, and internalize them.
Then we move on to the next point, thinking that we have two correct facts there. And that should be enough.
Except that you need more than just facts to represent your point. You also need connections.
You need transitions.
In the previous example, I would probably add in the following transitions to strengthen the point being made:
The more time we spend on social media, the less we feel good about ourselves and our situations. We see everyone else sharing selfies and publishing posts that make them seem happy, loved, respected, or otherwise experiencing life to its fullest. We take in images and input, and internalize them until we’re certain we’re not measuring up.
And there we go. It’s instantly stronger. All we needed to do was add in some details to flesh out the facts we’re working with: to explore, explain or establish more of the what, why, when, where, who and how involved.
Normally, we fail to make those kinds of connections on paper because we’ve got them solidified in our heads. We know all the additional details, and so we automatically expect everyone else to as well.
As a general rule though, you want to err on the side of caution, assuming that your readers are going to need things spelled out more clearly. That isn’t to say you treat them like idiots. Only like individuals who don’t have direct access to your exact education, experiences and perspectives.
They’re readers, yes, but not mind readers. So it’s your job to lead them through your thought process – one logical transition at a time.
Oh yeah, and, for the record, the proper configuration of the numbers above is: 1 + 2 x 3 - 4 = 5.