GRE Essay Organization - Transition Sentences

A transition sentence is one that connects the ideas in your paragraphs together. While each paragraph should have its own distinct main idea, it is necessary that your audience can identify how all the paragraphs are related. An essay should build on its ideas from the beginning to the end, and each paragraph should reinforce and expand upon the ideas in the paragraph that came before it. This is a critical aspect of your GRE essays, and is one of the criteria that is used to score your compositions. The GRE scoring guide indicates that a typical, high scoring essay sustains a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically.

Take the following example of the last two sentences of a paragraph:

Even though I had decided not to have a party when my parents were away, having a couple of people over and having alcohol at the house was definitely one of the most irresponsible things I have ever done. That decision led to my friend's accident and the responsibility of that accident was as much mine as it was his.

If the paragraph that comes after this one is going to expand on the author’s argument about responsibility, it needs to begin by echoing the ideas in the previous paragraph. A bad transition from the above sentences would disconnect the ideas and likely confuse the audience.

That decision led to my friend’s accident and the responsibility of that accident was as much mine as it was his.

When I started college I decided that I would think ahead before I made decisions that might influence my future so dramatically. I think about what impact even the most minor choice could have on my life if it turned into a situation that was out of my control.

Notice the drastic shift in time and place that occurs between these two sentences. This transition would be difficult for the audience to follow because suddenly the author is talking about a completely different set of circumstances. The same shift could be made with appropriate transitions that would ease the audience into the new situation. For example:

That decision led to my friend’s accident and the responsibility of that accident was as much mine as it was his.

I learned that responsibility meant thinking about the possible consequences of my actions before something bad happens. I make use of this lesson even now that I am in college by thinking ahead about the impact that even the most minor choice could have on my life if it turned into a situation that was out of my control.

In this example the addition of one transition sentence connects the ideas from one paragraph to the next. The audience can follow along as the author has transitioned from a story about high school to the present day impact without a dramatic shift in ideas.

An important point in developing transition sentences is to simply remember that your audience must be able to follow the progression of ideas from one paragraph to the next. Starting paragraphs with examples makes this almost impossible so it is necessary to think about why your examples are significant and to begin and end paragraphs with arguments and justifications (take a look back at the section Sentences – Introduction, Body and Conclusion Sentences for a review of arguments, justifications, and examples). Following this pattern, your audience will be able to follow a continuity of ideas and will easily be able to identify the organizational pattern of your essay.