Paragraphs represent the basic unit of composition: one idea, one paragraph. However, to present a clear, unified train of thought to your readers, you must make sure each paragraph follows the one before it and leads to the one after it through clear, logical transitions. Keep in mind that adequate transitions cannot simply be added to the essay without planning. Without a good reason for the sequence of your paragraphs, no transition will help you. Transitions can be made with particular words and phrases created for that purpose--conjunctive adverbs and transitional phrases--or they can be implied through a conceptual link.
Conjunctive Adverbs and Transitional Phrases
Conjunctive adverbs modify entire sentences in order to relate them to preceding sentences or paragraphs; good academic writers use many of them, but not so many that they overload the page. Here is a list of some of them, courtesy of The Brief Holt Handbook:
Transitional phrases can perform the same function:
|in addition |
|of course |
as a result
in other words
as a result
Use them wisely and sparingly, and never use one without knowing its precise meaning.
Implied or Conceptual Transitions
Not every paragraph transition requires a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase; often, your logic will appear through a word or concept common to the last sentence of the preceding paragraph and the topic sentence of the following paragraph. For example, the end of a paragraph by Bruce Catton uses a demonstrative adjective, "these," to modify the subject of the topic sentence so that it will refer to a noun in the last sentence of the preceding paragraph:
When Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor of a modest house at Appomattox Court House, Virginia,...a great chapter in American life came to a close.In this transition by Kori Quintana in an article about radiation and health problems, the connection between the paragraphs resides in the common term of "my family":
These men were bringing the Civil War to its virtual finish.
What I did not know when I began researching the connection between radioactivity and genetic damage was that I would find the probably cause of my own family's battle with cancer and other health problems.The first paragraph outlines the origins of Quintana's research into the connection between radiation exposure and disease, and ends with the revelation that her own family had been affected by radiation. The next paragraph discusses her family's health history. Each has its own singular purpose and topic, yet the first paragraph leads to the topic of the second through a common term.
Hailing from Utah, the state known for its Mormon population's healthy lifestyle, my family has been plagued with a number of seemingly unrelated health problems.
Paragraph transitions can expand the range of discussion as well as narrow it with an example, as Quintana's transition does; this selection from an article by Deborah Cramer on the ecological impact of the fishing industry shows how a single instance of overfishing indicates a world-wide problem:
....The large yearly catches, peaking at 130 million pounds from the Gulf of Maine in 1942, wiped out the fishery. It has yet to recover.Here, the transition alludes to the entire preceding section about New England fishing. Although Cramer managed this transition in a single sentence, transitions between large sections of an essay sometimes require entire paragraphs to explain their logic.
The propensity to ravage the sea is by no means unique to New England. The northern cod fishery in Canada is closed indefinitely. In Newfoundland more than 20,000 fishermen and fish processors were abruptly put out of work in 1992 when the government shut down the Grand Banks...
Proofreading Paragraph Transitions
At some point in your editing process, look at the end of each paragraph and see how it connects to the first sentence of the paragraph following it. If the connection seems missing or strained, improve the transition by clarifying your logic or rearranging the paragraphs. Often, the best solution is cutting out a paragraph altogether, and replacing it with the right one.
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.