So Just Where does the Transition Go?

Posted: November 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Argument or Analysis, Transitions | No Comments »

Unlike in civilian writing—where the transition often goes before the next heading—the transition in legal writing goes after the heading because the heading itself is a form of transition. Thus, the first paragraph or the first sentence after the heading serves as the transition to the new topic. Many legal writers mistakenly put the transition before the heading—a mistake that leads to cumbersome transitions, such as This memorandum will now address. . . . (Scroll down to see yesterday’s post on why sentences like this just don’t do anyone any favors.)

So don’t let your transitions wander to strange places. Do you know where your transition is tonight?


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A sentence that simply announces what you will do next is a waste of space and time.

Posted: November 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Argument or Analysis, Transitions | No Comments »

Many writers try to transition by writing a sentence that simply announces what they are planning to do next. They write sentences like these:

I will now turn my attention to . . . .

A question still remains . . . .

I might add that . . . .

This paper next addresses . . . .

It is interesting to note that . . . .

A sentence that simply announces what you will do next wastes space—and your readers’ time—because it does not say anything new or add value. As we have discussed in earlier posts, you should use your “leads” to transition. If you have used your “leads” to lay out the structure of your argument, you do not need to waste a sentence telling your readers what the next point is. They already know, so you can simply leap into the next topic.

In my next post, I will turn my attention to . . . . OOOOOPS!


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One Lead Sentence Goes a Long Way.

Posted: November 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Argument or Analysis, Transitions | No Comments »

A lead sentence that summarizes your argument serves as the transition not only to that argument. It can serve as the transition to later paragraphs, as well. If the reader already knows where your argument is going, you need not waste time on careful transitions between paragraphs later on.

Consider Justice Breyer’s transitions to his section discussing the interest in stake in school desegregation cases in Parents Involved in Community Schools, 551 U. S. 701 (2007). There, Justice Breyer used his opening sentence to summarize the three major elements behind that interest and then addressed each element individually. In this passage, his opening sentence establishes the bridge for transitions to later paragraphs. Here is how he begins four successive paragraphs:

“Regardless of its name, however, the interest at stake possesses three essential elements.”

First, there is a historical and remedial element: an interest in setting right the consequences of prior conditions of segregation.”

Second, there is an educational element: an interest in overcoming the adverse educational effects produced by and associated with highly segregated schools.”

“Third, there is a democratic element: an interest in producing an educational environment that reflects the ‘pluralistic society’ in which our children will live.”

551 U.S. at 838–840 (emphasis added).

One lead sentence goes a long, long way . . . .


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Transition by Leading Each Paragraph with a Strong Topic Sentence

Posted: November 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Most Popular Posts, The Argument or Analysis, Transitions | No Comments »

If you “lead from the top” by beginning each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, that lead sentence serves as a transition to the new topic. Indeed, strong lead sentences are one of the best transition techniques in your arsenal.

Consider these lead sentences from Justice Roberts’ opinion overturning the school assignment system in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007):

“The principle that racial balancing is not permitted is one of substance, not semantics.”

“Jefferson County phrases its interest as ‘racial integration,’ but integration certainly does not require the sort of racial proportionality reflected in its plan.”

“Similarly, Jefferson County’s use of racial classifications has only a minimal effect on the assignment of students.”

“The districts have also failed to show that they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals.”

“The reasons for rejecting a motives test for racial classifications are clear enough.”

551 U.S. at 732-735, 742.

Justice Breyer also used strong declaratory statements to transition between thoughts in his dissent in that same case. Note his focus on facts:

“The historical and factual context in which these cases arise is critical.”

“Overall these efforts brought about considerable racial integration. More recently, however, progress has stalled.”

“In fact, the defining feature of both plans is greater emphasis upon student choice.”

“Experience in Seattle and Louisville is consistent with experience elsewhere.”

“Indeed, the consequences of the approach the Court takes today are serious.”

551 U.S. at 804, 805, 846, 849, 861, 865.

I know. It makes you nervous. You want to write a transition sentence before you leap into the next topic. But in legal writing, the transition goes at the beginning of the topic. Lead from the top. (Have I said that before?)


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The Truth About Transitions

Posted: November 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Argument or Analysis, Transitions | No Comments »

Writing—like life and music—is hardest at the transitions, so many lawyers worry about how to transition effectively. But transitioning between sections and thoughts is easier than you may think. If you follow the principle of leading from the top, your leads all function as transitions. In other words, you already know how to transition. You just don’t know that you know.

An effective opening and strong leads make the work of transitioning later in the paper much easier. If you have opened your paper by “leading from the top,” you have already primed your readers about what to look for and you can spend less time easing them between sections because they already know where you are going. Headings and lead sentences also serve as transitions because they tell the reader what to look for in the section or paragraph.

Lawyers often spend too much time transitioning, not realizing that the form of legal writing enables us to transition quickly between topics. Because our readers are trained to be familiar with the forms in which we write, transitions between topics can be more abrupt than in civilian prose.

In my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of the techniques for writing strong transitions. Stay tuned!


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