You must remember, however, that no matter how well a paragraph stands alone it is always just one small part of a larger whole-the essay itself. And in order to do its part in the whole operation, it must connect smoothly with the parts around it. Like a loaded car on a moving freight train, it carries its own separate portion of cargo, but it must be firmly coupled to the car immediately ahead.
Transitions between paragraphs fall roughly into three categories:
1. Standard devices
2. Paragraph hooks
3. Combinations of # 1 and #2
The standard devices are simple and obvious; they are specific words and phrases, and using them is hardly more than a matter of selection. The paragraph hooks are more sophisticated-and more fun. And when you have mastered the technique of the hook, the combinations will come easily and naturally. No one of the three is "better" than the others; they are all useful and necessary.
The wise writer will make use of all of them.
Perhaps you have already noticed that certain words and phrases recur often in your writing as you develop a thesis. If you want to acknowledge a point that isn't debatable, you may write "It is true that . . ." or "Admittedly," or "Obviously," or any one of several similar expressions. These are the con transitions, notifying the reader that you intend to concede a point. A few sentences later you will come back with' a "Nevertheless," or "But . . ." that clearly signals your intention to present arguments in your favor.
Such words and phrases are among the standard transitional devices for leading your reader through an argument. They notify him briefly and efficiently that conflicting points of view are being presented; without them, as you saw in the example on page 94, the conflicting statements seem quite irrational. Here are a few more examples to illustrate the difficulties you can run into:
Girls are a nuisance.
They are wonderful.
The project had value.
It wasted time.
He was a brilliant actor.
He often performed miserably.
These paired statements simply don't make sense. Yet the same statements become perfectly clear when they are supplied with transitions:
True, girls are a nuisance.
Nevertheless, they are wonderful. Admittedly, the project had value. But it wasted time.
He was, to be sure, a brilliant actor. Yet he often performed miserably.
These examples are, of course, oversimplified in order to emphasize the necessity for proper transition; but if each sentence were a fully developed paragraph, the problem of transition would be the same.
You will be tempted to believe that because a connection between ideas is perfectly clear to you as a writer it is also perfectly clear to the reader. It isn't. The reader needs to be reminded constantly of exactly where you stand. So never omit the transition between paragraphs as you move back and forth between pro and con arguments.
For additional and more detailed examples of pro and con transitions, look back at the sample essay structures in Figures 4 and 5, on pages 58-59.
Not all the mechanical transitions, of course, can be classified as strictly pro or con. What you use, and how you use it, will depend upon the purpose of the paragraph it introduces. You will use one kind of transition when you are shifting your point of view:
Girls are a nuisance.
Nevertheless, they are wonderful.
and another kind when you are simply adding another paragraph in the same vein:
Girls are a nuisance. Furthermore, they are gossips.
Other transitional phrases are primarily for emphasis, whether pro or con:
Girls are, in fact, a menace to society.
Girls are, in fact, the most marvelous creatures in the world.
The best guide to transitions is common sense-and a list like the following. It should give you a word or phrase that will introduce almost any paragraph of argument:
This is a fairly comprehensive list of standard transitional devices. It is not, however, a complete list.
Although however and the other transitional devices listed above are indispensable to the writer, enabling him to make dozens of connections neatly and efficiently, they can't handle the whole transitional load. Even if they could, no writer would depend upon them exclusively, for they can become painfully obvious when they are used over and over again. You want your reader to be pleasantly aware that your paragraphs are firmly linked, but you don't want him to see the chains too clearly or hear them clank too audibly into place.
So you need another kind of transition, something that is both stronger and subtler. You have it in the paragraph hook.
You probably use the paragraph hook often in your own writing without knowing it and see it constantly in your reading without realizing it (as in this sentence, for example). But to take full advantage of its possibilities, you should learn to use the paragraph hook consciously, to direct and control it for your own purposes. Control, remember, is the essence of style, and the handling of transitions is an important part of any writer's style.
To see how the paragraph hook differs from the standard transitional device, look first at the example below. Here the transition from one paragraph to the next is accomplished by a standard transition alone-the word but:
Mark Twain is established in the minds of most Ameri
cans as a kindly humorist, a gentle and delightful "funny
man." No doubt his photographs have helped promote this
image. Everybody is familiar with the Twain face. He looks like every child's ideal grandfather, a dear old
white-thatched gentleman who embodies the very spirit of loving-kindness.
But Twain wrote some of the most savage satire ever produced in America....
The standard transition indicates clearly enough that the writer is preparing to take off with a new idea in opposition to the one in the first paragraph. But the transition is far too abrupt. The leap from one idea (how Twain looked) to the next (how he wrote) is simply too great to be handled by a mechanical transition. Observe how much more firmly the paragraphs hang together if the transition is made like this:
a dear old white-thatched
gentleman who embodies the very spirit of loving-kindness.
The loving-kindness begins to look a little doubtful in view of some of his writing. For Twain wrote some of the most savage satire ...
Here you see demonstrated the simplest kind of paragraph hook. The last word of the first paragraph is hooked into the first sentence of the second paragraph and used as a point of departure for introducing another idea. This repetition hooks the paragraphs together solidly. The hook need not be one word; it can be a phrase. It should not, however, exceed two or three words.
Although the last word or phrase of a paragraph frequently serves as the simplest and strongest kind of hook, you can go back farther than this, sometimes to even better effect:
a dear old white-thatched
gentleman who embodies the very spirit of loving-kindness.
This dear old white-thatched gentleman happens to be
the author of some of the most savage satire ...
Generally speaking, the last sentence of a paragraph is the best place to find the hook for your new paragraph, for this sentence is the one freshest in the reader's mind. If you go back much deeper than this, you will usually need a multiple hook, as in this example:
No doubt his photographs have helped
promote this image.... He looks like ... the very spirit of loving-kindness.
(Still deeper: the multiple hook)
To accept such an image is to betray greater familiarity with the photographs than with the writing. For Twain wrote some of the most savage satire ...
Here both image and photographs are repeated, thus "double hooking" the paragraphs to make up for the greater distance between their first and second appearance. The greater the distance, the more likely you are to need a multiple hook. But no arbitrary rule in this matter is possible. Let your inner ear and your good sense guide you. The important thing is to remember the reader. Make certain that the connection is clear to him. But don't insult him by making the connection too clear-that is, by repeating huge sections or whole sentences from the preceding paragraph. One or two key words will do the job.
All the examples so far have been simple word or phrase hooks. Another variation of the paragraph hook is the idea hook. The principle is the same; you hook into the preceding paragraph, but instead of repeating an exact word or phrase you refer to the idea just expressed, compressing it into a single phrase:
Mark Twain is ........................................................................
................... the very spirit of loving-kindness.
Such a view of Twain would probably have been a
source of high amusement to the author himself. For Twain wrote some of the most savage satire ...
Any resemblance between this popular portrait and the man who reveals himself in his writing is purely imaginary. For Twain wrote ...
In neither of the above examples is an exact word or phrase from the first paragraph repeated. But the hook is clearly there; the referential such a view and this popular portrait fasten the paragraphs firmly together.
The idea hook can be a great deal more subtle than this, of course. If you examine the work of any accomplished essayist you will find many paragraphs that have no specific word or phrase serving as a link but that are nevertheless unmistakably tied together by meaning. Transitions of this kind require some of the subtlest skills of writing-the ordering of ideas, the use of inference and allusion, the creation of "echo effects," the unobtrusive handling of time and emphasis. All these are skills that derive from an intimate understanding of language-and from experience.
That takes time. Meanwhile the simple idea hook illustrated above can serve you well. By using it you can avoid the danger of overloading your work with either the word hooks or the purely mechanical transitions. Any transitional method, remember, can become annoyingly obvious to a reader if it is overused. So vary your practice, never permitting one method of handling transitions to take over the job exclusively.
The combination of standard transitions and paragraph hooks is so natural that you will probably find yourself using it as a matter of course. Any of the samples provided on pages 101 and 102, for example, could be used to demonstrate combinations:
The loving-kindness begins to look a little doubtful, however, in view of ...
Yet this dear old white-thatched gentleman ...
But to accept such an image ...
Such a view of Twain, however, would probably ...
Whether or not to use a single transition or a combination depends partly upon your sense of what the reader requires for clarity and partly upon your own view of your material and your natural rhythm in writing. If you are certain that you have made yourself perfectly clear with a single transition, let it stand. If you are not certain, or if the rhythm of the sentence seems to need an extra beat, use the combination.
Remember that the chief purpose of transitions is to help your reader follow your train of thought. They are the links that hold your ideas together and keep them moving toward a single goal. So make certain, always, that some kind of link exists between your paragraphs, and that the link exists not only in your own mind but also, clearly and unmistakably, in the words you put on paper.
One kind of link is not necessarily better than any other kind, but variety is better than sameness. So try for variety. Use the purely mechanical devices for quick and simple transitions. Use word and phrase hooks for stronger and clearer links. Use idea hooks for broad references. Use combinations for emphasis and tone.
Use them all. But above all, use them.