Transitions and Structure Create a Smooth Flowing TOEFL Essay

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One of the essential keys to a well-written essay is integrating transitions into your essay, whether that be the integrated task or the independent task on the writing section of the TOEFL exam. Transitions and transitional phrases are words or groups of words that connect ideas between or within sentences. When you write a paragraph, you should present ideas that flow; consequently, connector words or phrases are useful to make the paragraph cohesive. By inserting smooth connections, ideas can relate more logically so that no gaps exist. If you are able to connect your thoughts in a manner which leads the reader through your essay, you will effectively paint a clearer argument. For this reason, though you may already have presented a strong argument and supporting details, your opinion, reasons, examples and support need to also connect with transitions in order to make your persuasion seem stronger to any reader. Proper selection of transitions makes your written passage much more enticing to read

Moreover, you will need to decide which transition word or phrase to use in a particular spot in your writing. So, examine your essay overall. Look at the organization. When you give ideas that build on one another in the same way, use ‘like meaning’ transitions. If you have presented ideas which are opposing, then you would insert transitional phrases that are contrasting meaning. Sequential words also help to delineate the organization of time in paragraphs and keep sentences in clear order.

Sample transitions

SEQUENTIAL WORDS–First, at first, initially, first of all, in the first place, second, secondly, in addition, as well, next, later, after that, now, recently, at the same time,

EXAMPLE WORDS: for instance, for example, to illustrate, to exemplify, to demonstrate, to show,

EMPHASIS WORDS–in particular, specifically, even, especially, in fact, no doubt, doubtless

LIKE WORDS–similarly, like, as, likewise, in the same way, in addition, plus

CONTRAST WORDS—but, yet, however, nevertheless, yet, still, on the other hand, despite, although, though, even though, while, whereas

CONCLUSION WORDS–In conclusion, in summary, lastly, consequently, finally, hence, therefore, thus

Sentences example without a transition and with transitions

  • I built a house. It was one story. [no transition]
  • For instance, I built a house; initially, it was one story. [two transitions for smooth flowing logic]

Not only are transitions vital to your writing on the TOEFL, but also a solid structure makes your essay more convincing to the reader. The structure of an essay commences with an introduction, an initial paragraph which starts off with catching the attention of the reader with a lead-on on the topic. For instance, you begin with a general statement or question on the topic to entice a reader. The introduction moves from general to more specific: at the end of the introductory paragraph, in the last sentence, you state your thesis statement. A thesis is the main idea of your essay. Whatever main purpose you have (your argument,) you would mention that viewpoint to control the thesis and add your reasons why.

To follow the introduction, you would have a body of a few paragraphs which explain the support of your reasons why. In this way, your reasons each have concrete examples and details, which become more and more detailed to make a convincing argument. Each body paragraph follows a similar structure. You begin with a transition to refer back to the previous paragraph or move forward to a new idea. Thus, your writing will not jump from one idea to the next without logical reasoning. The first topic sentence of each body paragraph contains a controlling idea and one reason, which refers back to one reason stated in the thesis in the introduction. After proposing your reason, you give an example or evidence to support the topic. Following an example, you can include numerous details, which become more concrete as you move through the body paragraph. Those ideas support the argument, reason and example. If you wish to conclude the body paragraph, you may want to rephrase the topic sentence in other words to emphasize the point you are making.

The final part of the structure of an essay is to restate your thesis and express why that is important. In that concluding paragraph, you would start with an ending transition such as “In conclusion,” or “In summary,” or “To sum up.” One of those transitions smooths your writing so that moving from the body to the conclusion is not jumpy. To follow would be a short summary of your opinion and the reasons paraphrased with new word choice. Your concluding line should end strong. It would be a recommendation or suggestion on topic or a universal call to action. Be sure not to introduce new ideas in the conclusion or that would weaken the ending.

Of course, by using both the proper transitions in the correct location within your writing and by organizing your essay structure according to the standard set above, you can impact the reader positively. He/she will be able to readily comprehend your argumentative viewpoint and capture supporting points clearly to give you a better TOEFL writing score.

If you liked this post, try reading the article Writing a TOEFL Independent Essay with a Story as an Example.


The TOEFL Independent Task Five-Paragraph Essay Structure



The typical structure for essays is the five-paragraph organization. The model is useful in the independent writing task since you have a limited time; you will have an advantage to know your structure in advance within a 30-minute time frame. Of course, it’s only one format, so you can optionally write a four-paragraph structural model instead. In either case, you would be organizing with an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs (2-3,) and a conclusion.


Start by getting the reader involved in your essay. You can write a general sentence about the question, but be sure to catch the reader’s attention by stating the topic. Since the introductory paragraph tells the reader what the essay is about, you can present your main points. For instance, you will need to answer the question and include a thesis statement (your main argument) with reasons. The last sentence of the first paragraph will have a related key word to lead into the first body paragraph so the connection is smooth.


The first body paragraph often has the strongest argument. Consequently, you should be sure to use the most significant reason to support the argument, the best example or illustration. The first sentence has a transition/reverse hook, which links back to the last sentence of the introduction.

  • In the first topic sentence, state the argument and first reason, which was in the thesis in the introduction.
  • Then, develop the reason with a supporting example and details which become more and more specific.
  • The last sentence can be either a concluding idea to restate the topic or a transition to lead into the second body paragraph.


The second body paragraph usually presents the second strongest point. So, use the next most convincing reason and direct example with underlying details in support. Again, the first topic sentence of this paragraph has a transitional hook such as a paraphrase of the previous reason relating back to the last paragraph (or the last sentence of the previous body paragraph.)

  • To start, write the topic reason (related to the introductory thesis,) followed by a clear example with supporting details.
  • To conclude, the final sentence can wrap up the paragraph by reiterating the topic reason in other words or lead into the next paragraph.


The third body paragraph will contain the weakest reasoning point, simplest example, and a follow up of that illustration with specific details. The beginning sentence will give a connecting transition or a clear link to the previous paragraph.

  • The first sentence will be the topic (related to the thesis in the introduction) with the least important reason, your weakest example to support that reason, and concrete details.
  • Finally, the last sentence should signal the reader that this is the concluding point in the essay.


For the concluding paragraph, allude to the introduction by paraphrasing the thesis (echoing the idea but not copying the exact original words,) synthesize the three reasons from the body, and offer a universal call to action such as a recommendation or a suggestion of consequence for the reader or a provocative question on the topic.

When you present an orderly structure, the end result is a well-organized essay with ideas that flow coherently, leading to a higher score.