Throughout our discussion of structure, we have stressed the importance of articulating a clear theme to keep your essay focused. The transition sentences you write play a major role in maintaining this sense of coherence throughout.
The basic purpose of a transition is to serve as a topic sentence; it should give enough direction so the reader knows what to expect. When your essay is following not only a chronological order but a single train of thought, the paragraphs may flow smoothly anyway. For example, in this essay, note the ways in which paragraphs 2-5 begin: with clear references to the various stages of his university career. The step-by-step process is therefore logical and easy to follow.
The topic sentence has more work to do when you move from theme to theme or experience to experience. The reader has to know where you’re going next. This applicant describes a client he has worked with as follows: “Mr. Moraes is not the kind of CEO who only attends meetings with the board of directors; on the contrary, he talks to everybody in the company and knows most of the 1,214 employees by name.” The sentence sounds natural, a distinct idea in itself but also one that intimates what is to follow. Note that the transition is smooth because it takes a step back and suggests a somewhat general point about CEOs.
The strongest transitions will not only introduce the ensuing material but will draw connections to prior paragraphs. These connections can note both similarities and differences. The link does not even have to be intrinsic to the subjects themselves. For example, this applicant shows how he personally has combined two qualities without acknowledging any intrinsic similarities: “This open-mindedness, coupled with my interest in spiritual matters, has led me to develop a keen interest in other religions.” When there’s no obvious link between the two topics, you can make a connection by discussing their role in your life.
Of course, you should when possible seek more in-depth transitions to strengthen the forcefulness of your points. This applicant shows how the experience he’s about to describe is similar to a previous point: “Beyond the academic diversity offered at Wharton, a key lure to me is its diverse student body and renowned faculty.” The connection between two types of diversity helps one point to flow smoothly to the next.
What Not to Do
The most common mistake—other than not including transitions at all—is to rely on words like “also” or “further,” which don’t provide any thematic link. Using such substance-less transitions makes your essay sound like a list instead of a logical argument. For example:
Bad: “Working at X company also provided a great deal of useful experience.”
Good: “Although my previous position provided insight into the technical aspects of the industry, working at X company allowed me to interact with a broader range of corporate personnel and to gain exposure to new issues in management.”
Whenever possible, you should aim to create transitions with as much depth as this one has. When you can make a substantive statement both about what’s to follow and what preceded, then you not only ensure a smooth flow, but you also reiterate and highlight your key themes.