Making Transitions

Ever notice how smoothly some speakers or writers move you through their speech or memo? It seems they effortlessly take you from start to finish without making you strain to follow.

Yet, while the reading may be effortless, the writing probably took some extra work and attention to detail. In fact, some writers would say you should work as hard on the transitions between ideas as you do on the ideas themselves.

Consider copywriting guru Joe Sugarman, who says the job of each piece of copy, from the headline down, is to get you to read the next paragraph. And the paragraph after that. And to keep on reading them until you get to the 'offer,' where you're asked to order the featured product.

To get readers from one paragraph to the next, or from one idea to the next, we use transitions, words or phrases that 'pull' the reader along, or in the case of speeches, pull the listener along.

For examples, take a look at the opening words to the second, third, and fourth paragraphs above. The second paragraph opens with 'Yet,' which implies that the idea you read in the first paragraph wasn't complete. It should 'pull' you into the second paragraph. You'll notice that the third and fourth paragraphs also aim to pull you along.

Later, we'll look at ways of constructing transitions, but for now let's focus on their strategic use.

First, and touching on an idea we explored above, transitions help ensure that readers or listeners get the complete message. For readers, in particular, it means they're less likely to stop after reading the headline, subject line, or first paragraph.

Granted, you still need good content that compels to some degree. But, whatever the content, your chances of getting the reader to go all the way to the end of the document, or the 'offer,' increases significantly with effective transitions.

Second, smooth transactions allow the reader or the person listening to your speech to concentrate on the message, rather than its delivery.

You know from experience how hard it is to take in the message when each new paragraph seems to abruptly introduce a new idea. It's a bit like driving along a street and having to stop for red lights at many successive intersections.

Third, and this relates to the second point, you'll become a stronger writer if you use transitions. Not just because of the transitions, but because their use forces you to manage the ideas in your document or speech.

The process of starting each new paragraph with a transitional word or phrase can't help but lead to you to link the idea in that paragraph to the preceding paragraph.

That's true even when you make a major shift, because in that case you'd use a transition signal of some kind. Remember "And now for something completely different," made famous by Monty Python's Flying Circus?

In summary (another transitional signal), transitions from one paragraph to another, or from one idea to another, make our communication more effective.

About The Author

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Each week subscribers receive, at no charge, a new communication tip that helps them lead or manage more effectively. Click here for more information:

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