For nearly 20 years, I have helped graduate students edit essays, research papers, dissertations, and other graduate-level papers. Some papers only need basic proofreading to correct spelling errors, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and problems with word choice. Other papers need help with APA format, reference lists, and citations. However, most papers need substantial revising.
The most common problem I have found when editing graduate papers is the lack of transitions. Rather than a logical flow of ideas from one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next, many papers seem to be a collection of disconnected ideas with little relation to what has just been written. Without good transitions, the reader (i.e., the professor) will ask, “Why am I reading this now?” or “What does this have to do with what I just read?”
With a good transition, the reader can answer those questions, or may not ask them at all. The overall result of sentence and paragraph transitions is a single, coherent, logical discussion of a topic. Fortunately, the idea of creating sentence and paragraph transitions is not hard to understand. The basic concept is this:
- Each sentence or paragraph must reflect the ideas, concepts, or words in the preceding sentence.
- Each sentence or paragraph must suggest the ideas, concepts, or words in the following sentence.
For transitions in sentences, the preceding and following sentences are the sentences prior to and after the sentence in the paragraph, respectively. For transitions between paragraphs, the preceding sentence is the last sentence of the preceding paragraph, and the following sentence is the first sentence of the next paragraph. Let’s take a look at an example of each.
Transitions between sentences:
Each sentence refers to the previous sentence and suggests the next, while adding new content. For example, these two sentences may come from a research paper:
“(1)Racism is felt most strongly by members of a minority population. (2)The term minority typically refers to population size, but it may also refer to the influence the members bear on the general population.”
The first sentence describes who experiences racism. The second sentence defines minority. These are different topics, but the sentences have a logical flow because of their transition. The end of the first sentence and the beginning of the second sentence both refer to the concepts of minority and population. In this case, the two sentences use the same words to make that connection.
Transitions between paragraphs:
Paragraph transitions are similar to sentence transitions. Each paragraph refers to the previous sentence (end of previous paragraph) and suggests the topic for the next paragraph, while adding new content. For example, this sample may come from a dissertation:
“[end of prior paragraph 1] For these types of research questions, quantitative methodologies may not be appropriate, and the researcher may gain better understanding through qualitative research methodologies.
[beginning of paragraph 2] A qualitative approach does not focus as much on identifying what happened as it does on discovering why something happened. In particular, researchers can use qualitative research to answer research questions about unintended effects, the impact of programs, and the motivations of and influences on social groups….”
The final sentence of paragraph 1 introduces the concept of qualitative research, which is the main topic of the next paragraph, as seen in the first sentence of paragraph 2. Also, the final sentence refers to understanding, which in the beginning of paragraph 2 is reflected by the idea of discovering.
Because the lack of transitions is the major problem with graduate papers, essays, etc., I think about them consciously and continuously when working on client’s papers. When I notice that the ideas don’t fit together, or that I can’t understand their relationship, I know the paper has a problem with transitions. To solve this problem, I have three basic approaches.
- Reorder sentences: re-arrange the sentences into a more logical order, thus using what already exists to create the transition. This can mean moving whole blocks of text to another place in the paper.
- Shift paragraph breaks: move the first sentence of a paragraph to the end position of the previous paragraph, or vice versa.
- Revise and embellish sentences: rewrite sentences and add information, as needed, to create the transition.
One strategy isn’t better than the others. In many cases, I use a combination of these approaches to create sentence and paragraph transitions. Regardless of the strategy, the end result needs to be a coherent discussion of the topic that moves the reader smoothly through a series of ideas. When you do that, you will solve the major problem with graduate-level writing.