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Using Transitions and Structure in Your TOEFL Essay

Even a well thought out essay with great arguments and support can score low if it lacks “flow.” You need to connect your ideas in a way that guides the reader through your essay. In addition to making your argument seem stronger to the reader, good use of transitions and structure will just make your essay more pleasant to read. Let’s talk about how you can use structure and transitions to make your essay as convincing as possible.

 

Structure

Your essay should begin by engaging the reader (making them care about what you have to say) and stating your thesis. After that, you need to support your thesis with specific examples, details, and information intended to inform and/or convince the reader. Finally, you need to restate your thesis and tell the reader why it matters. On the paragraph level, transitions can be used to smooth your writing out and make the jump from one paragraph to the next less jarring.

 

Transitions

To decide what transition to use in a given situation, first look at your essay as a whole. How is it organized? If you present arguments that build on each other, use transitions listed under “Similarity” below. Or maybe you present one idea and then the opposite opinion. If so, you will find that transition words of contrast help. And if you list your examples, transition words of sequence will make this relationship clear.

 

Common transitions

SIMILARITY: similarly, like, as, likewise, in the same way, in addition, plus

CONTRAST: nevertheless, yet, still, on the other hand, despite, although

TIME/LISTING: First, second, etc…; next, then; at first; after that; currently; simultaneously

EMPHASIS: actually, even, indeed, especially, in fact

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, finally, therefore, thus

Different grammatical structures

Although two words/phrases from any one category above might have similar meanings, they are not all the same grammatically. You must learn how each word or phrase is used. A good dictionary with example sentences will help.

 

Practice

You can practice some of these words by combining each pair of sentences below; you can change the order of the sentences or rephrase them slightly if you want. How many different transitions can you use for each pair? How does the choice of transition affect the meaning of the sentence?

  • My family has always lived in the same house.  We travel often.
  • Most people who have pets prefer either dogs or cats. I have a pet elephant.
  • I study anthropology. My sister is interested in anthropology.
  • We built a raft. We went on an adventure.

 

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2 Responses to Using Transitions and Structure in Your TOEFL Essay

  1. Miren December 16, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    I scored 25 in writing section. The rater commented “You expressed ideas with reasons, examples, and details, but your response indicated weaknesses such as you may not provide enough specific support and development for your main points”.
    Can you please explain what is wrong with my essay?

    • Lucas Fink
      Lucas December 16, 2014 at 11:46 am #

      That’s a very ambiguous comment! Most likely, your essay was a bit short and didn’t include enough examples and/or explanation of those examples. But it would be hard for me to say for sure based only on that comment, I’m afraid.


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