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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Signposting, Transitions & Linking Words/Phrases


Signposting is how you guide your reader and indicate to them the direction your writing will take. It can help to make your discussion flow smoothly by connecting the ideas and arguments in your writing and avoid the reader having to guess what is happening or what is being argued.

A lack of signposting can lead to writing with abrupt, disjointed breaks, stopping and starting with each new point, leaving the reader wondering what your points have to do with one another or what their relevance is. In this way, your writing can lose direction, become confused and read more like a series of unrelated points. A lack of signposting can also indicate that your argument is more descriptive than analytical. 

There are two main types of signposting:

Major Signposts: introductions, conclusions and outlining main arguments; the signalling of key points in paragraphs through topic sentences.
Transitions & Linking Words/Phrases: connecting sentences/words that help guide the reader through the argument by linking ideas within your writing and indicating the direction of the discussion.
In addition to presenting your argument, you should guide the reader as you are doing it. Tell the reader what you will discuss next, then discuss it, then tell them what you have just done. These are your major signposts. Doing this helps the reader understand why you are discussing something and how it relates to the overall argument. At the same time, it forces you to write more concisely and avoid unnecessary repetition. The reader expects and needs signposts. You need to include headings or transitional sentences between major sections of your writing to indicate to your reader that you have finished one section and are moving on to another. Major signposts are used in the introduction to indicate how you are going to address the assignment, the key themes you will cover and in which order. They are also used to direct the reader throughout the assignment and to signal the conclusion. They can also indicate to the reader the important elements of your writing such as the purpose and connection between points.

Examples of Major Signposts:

Signposts can also be used to signal transition in your writing. These signposts are words or phrases that express a connection between two ideas and make the transition from one point to the next in sentences, paragraphs, and sections of your writing and help your reader understand the logic of how your ideas fit together and the direction of your discussion. Without them, it can be difficult to follow the flow of ideas in your writing. They can help your reader see how a part of your argument is being continued, developed, challenged, changed, or summarised. Used within your paragraphs, they can help your reader move from one idea to another as well as move to the next paragraph and avoids any jarring changes of topic that leave your reader struggling to understand the connection between two paragraphs. Rather than leap from one idea to the next, a transitional word or phrase can help your ideas connect and flow and make your writing more reader friendly. You can also think of a transition as a sort of bridge between ideas or between paragraphs. Transition sentences can inform the reader when your writing is moving from one idea to another, and how those ideas are connected. Clear transitions will help to avoid a list style paper of seemingly unconnected points about an issue.

Transitions can link the following:

Ideas within a sentence Two sentences Two paragraphs Two different parts of the assignment

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