As a reader, I often find that so much depends on contextual clues the writer provides. Note how the example below, excerpted from a letter in Chapter 6, consistently provides contextual clues related to time ("Over the past year . . ."), content (The NIWC is a cross-community coalition . . ."), and background ("She spent three months in Belfast . . .") about both letter writer and student.
Over the past year I have watched Janet’s interest in Peace and Conflict Studies blossom into a very powerful thesis topic on issues of gender and politics in Northern Ireland. My area of expertise is in the area of gender and nationalism in Northern Ireland; for this reason I am confident when I say she has chosen a fascinating topic for exploration. As part of her research, Janet conducted a case study of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) last summer. She spent three months in Belfast conducting ethnographic and archival research. The NIWC is a cross-community coalition that was formed in 1996 and fully participated in the peace talks which led to the signing of the Easter Agreement. Recently, the NIWC has found itself at the center of political debates focused on issues of gender, class, and nationalism.
Seeking even more contextual efficiency than in the above example, many writers embrace the economy and fluidity fostered by single transition words, especially as they open paragraphs. When a closing paragraph of a recommendation letter begins with a simple transition word such as “Clearly” or “Indeed,” readers sense that the student is viewed in a warm, subjective, and emphatic manner, and they are invited to agree with the detail and spirit of that assessment. A simple transition word also has much more impact than some informal and inefficient phrasing such as “As far as the way I currently see Daniella overall. . . .” Bleah.
Below is a list of transition words that many writers find helpful. As a teacher of writing, I’m always slightly hesitant about providing word lists for fear that writers will simply select from them blindly—a “plug and chug” mentality—or reject the idea of a word list as too elementary. However, my experience with faculty has been that they do appreciate lists and use them appropriately as they consider options for how best to argue a student’s case.
Common Transition Words and Their Functions
In addition to the transition words listed above, you might find frequent use for simple contextual transitions that announce a paragraph or sentence topic simply by categorizing the criterion that you are about to address—words such as “Academically,” “Analytically,” “Athletically,” “Culturally,” “Intellectually,” “Linguistically,” “Scholastically,” “Socially.” Such words are valuable because they lend economy and establish immediate focus. However, avoid nonstandard usage of the suffix “-wise” to mean “in relation to”; such a practice creates irritating coined words such as “Knowledgewise,” or “Intellectualwise,” resulting in sloppy writing (and, in the two cases just cited, unintentional irony).
These pages provide more extensive lists of transition words and their functions: