In this article we look at how conjunctions (or transitions) can be used effectively to give readers clues as to how your writing is organized.
There are certain ways we use language that we're not aware of.
For instance, to a large extent we use conjunctions - the part of language that expresses relations between words, phrases, and clauses - to clarify our ideas, but most of us have no idea that we're doing so. Nevertheless, these connectors help us organize and understand what is being communicated to us. This is not only the case with the spoken word. Good writing, in fact, is permeated with conjunctions, leading the reader clearly from general to specific ideas, and back again.
The goal of this lesson is to harness the potential in deploying conjunctions throughout your writing. In order to do this effectively, this article will make reference to an article on macro-organization, which describes in detail six principle forms of organization. This link will allow the reader to more thoroughly understand what is being discussed herein.
Just as there are types of patterns of organization, there are also types of conjunctions. These are closely, though not perfectly, correlated to each other. Below you will find a list of conjunction types, along with demonstrations on how to effectively use them in coordination with patterns of organization.
Let's give conjunctions a different name. How about "transitions"? A conjunction serves as a transition between ideas, doesn't it? Yes. But, it is not a neutral transition. It is a transition that imparts a description of the connection. So, transitions are used to explain to a reader (or listener) how a certain collection of ideas are related to one another.
And now, the different types:
Cause and Effect
Definition and Example
You might recognize some of the names as being the same, or similar to the patterns of organization named in the article linked above. Types of transitions that share the same name as a pattern will always be used together and sometimes in tandem with other transition types as well.
The order they are presented in is intentional. They are ranked, with a certain degree of flexibility, in order of importance. That is to say, the presence of a contrast transition will, in most cases, indicate a more significant piece of information than a comparison transition would. However, do not apply this rule to all cases though, as it is just the general case.
Further note that all types of transitions described below will be accompanied by a list of common words that fall under that category. But, these lists are not exhaustive. And, in some cases, the same words could appear in more than one category.
The important things to pay attention to are what functions each type of transition provides.
Generally, contrast transitions signal an important change in the direction of ideas being presented. More often than not, this change signals a tension between two ideas and in most cases this relation of difference is significant to the progression of ideas the author is presenting. So, when an author uses a contrast transition to point out an idea that counters something before it, you can be sure they have done so because that idea is important.
You too, then, should use contrast transitions purposively. First of all, use them to draw attention to an important point, one that changes the direction of what has recently been discussed in your writing. Second of all, use them to clarify relationships between things you are comparing and contrasting with one another.
Cause and Effect (including Summation)
Within this category, there are also summation transitions. The logic of these is basically the same as the cause and effect, only their application is a little more specific. They are used to show the reader that a conclusion (or effect) is being made based on the reasons (or causes) given above. The last five examples given in the list above are indicative of this type of usage.
Another form of transitions falling under this type are dates. So, using "On July 3..." or "In 1990..." would qualify as a time transition. It may seem like an obvious variation, but it is often overlooked. Just as in the case of addition transitions, these are often used at the beginning of sentences.
Definition and Example
There are actually two types of transitions at work here: definition transitions and example transitions. Though they often work in tandem, it is very often the case that definitions are provided without being accompanied by examples. Thus, illustrations of them have been divided and labeled below.
Now, if a Comparison and Contrast pattern of organization is being used, they become more relevant. These words will help to clarify which aspects of compared things are similar. This is when they will be of the greatest value and consequence in your writing.
The next time you are reading a professional piece of writing, be it a newspaper, magazine, novel, journal article, or philosophical tome, take the time to circle the transitions that you see being used.
In particular, circle only transitions you see from the first four categories described (contrast, cause and effect, addition, time). These tend to be the most integral in the organization of a passage and will often help to clarify precisely what the author is driving at and how they are doing so.
Doing this will not only help to make you more familiar with this skill, but it will also reveal to you a layer of organization in polished writing that you have long understood intuitively. No longer though will it remain intuitive. Being conscious of how and when to appropriately use these transitions will help not only to clarify your words for other people, but for yourself as well.
To recap then, here are the transitions described above, along with notes on common usage:
If you've made it to this point in the article, then let me ask you: did you find this article clear and well organized? If so, then you have experienced the benefits of this method of connection ideas.