Transition words guide your readers from one thought in your writing to the next. Too often, we can misuse, overuse, or omit needed transition words. This week we look at how to choose the correct transition word to add clarity and dimension to your audit reports.

To illustrate how transitions work, let’s think about the original Tinker Toys. The concept is fairly basic: you have different length rods that connect to spools with holes. With the right hole in the spool, you can connect rods to form a straight line or change direction. The spools provide structure and without them, you just have a pile of sticks.

Transitions are like the Tinker Toys spools. Like the many spool holes, you choose transitions to determine the direction the sentences take—a sentence could elaborate, compare, or change subject from the previous sentence. Without the transitions, you have a pile of words that provide no real direction for your reader.

These different directions are called transition categories. And it’s important to know common transition categories used in audit report writing.

Know the Transition Categories

We typically think of transition words like however and and as linking two ideas or sentences together—showing some sort of relationship. But these two words create relationships that fall into separate categories.

If you do an online search for transition categories, you’ll see different lengths of lists. But let’s keep it simple with categories you would frequently use as an auditor.

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Now that you’ve given this list a good once-over, let’s discuss how transitions can be used, and misused.

Understand the Connections Between Sentences

As an auditor, it’s crucial to understand the content of your sentence. In other words, know if your sentence is describing background information, sharing evidence, or drawing conclusions for your reader. Knowing this will impact the transition you use (see the “And often connect” column above). Notice how the following paragraph without transitions seems disjointed.

To safeguard cash, two or more employees are required to work together to collect, prepare, and deposit cash into the bank each week. The clinic deposits cash monthly and at odd times that don’t coincide with month-close. The medical assistant collects cash, records patient charges and payments, prepares deposits, and deposits cash in the bank. Employees or patients could steal large amounts of money.

If we read this a couple of times, we’ll figure out that deposits are infrequent and there’s a segregation of duties problem as well. But we can alleviate the need to read and reread by using transition words from the correct category.

Sentence #1 is the rule.

To safeguard cash, two or more employees are required to work together to collect, prepare, and deposit cash into the bank once a week.

Sentence #2 is evidence that the business is doing something contrary to the rule, so you would use a contrasting transition:

However, the clinic deposits cash monthly and at odd times that don’t coincide with month-close.

Sentence #3 is additional evidence, so you would use an adding transition:

Additionally, the same employee collects, prepares, and deposits cash without a second employee.

Sentence #4 summarizes the problem into a risk or consequence. You would use a consequence transition.

As a result, employees or patients could steal large amounts of money.

Write the final:

To safeguard cash, two or more employees are required to work together to collect, prepare, and deposit cash into the bank once a week. However, the clinic deposits cash monthly and at odd times that don’t coincide with month-close. Additionally, the same employee collects, prepares, and deposits cash without a second employee. As a result, employees or patients could steal large amounts of money.

Quick Tip: If your risk (e.g., the final sentence above) is separate from the issue and under its own heading, you do not need to use any transition; the risk heading itself serves as a transition.

Use the Transition List and Use the Correct Transition

If you don’t have a clear understanding of how the sentences connect, then you could be throwing around transitions willy-nilly. Using a different transition can change the entire meaning of a sentence. For example, my little boy said the other day,

“It was a bad day, and I forgot my homework."

It took me a while to figure out that the day was pretty normal—he just forgot his homework and decided the day was ruined. In place of an adding transition, he could have used a consequence transition and improved my understanding.

“I had a bad day because I forgot my homework."

Though simple, this example shows how easily transition words can create entire idea shifts. Sort of mind-blowing isn’t it?

But get this: we grownups misuse transitions all the time too. We can even use the exact opposite transition than what we intended. Consider the following audit example:

The Company is missing coordinated testing for the business continuity plan. Moreover, the group has recognized the gap and has outlined a coordinated test in the Admin Strategic Plan.

Sounds good enough, right? Except the connection is wonky. The connection between the two sentences is actually contrasting, but the writer used an adding transition. Instead, the example should read,

The Company is missing coordinated testing for the business continuity plan. However, the group has recognized the gap and has outlined a coordinated test in the Admin Strategic Plan.

Because the writer used the wrong transition, the reader could be confused as to whether the issue is still a risk or not.

Dial in Your Tone

Transition words should never stand out in a sentence (leave that job to nouns and verbs), but should gently guide the reader between ideas. Still, transition words can create subtle tone changes. An easy way to change tone is to consider the placement and length of the transition words you use.

Placement. Transitions at the beginning of the sentence are stronger than transitions couched between words in the middle of a sentence. In the following example, the transition however takes a front seat:

The demolition date is unknown. However, the warehouse remains unsafe and should be torn down soon.

Notice that the transition loses force as we push it deeper into the sentence:

The demolition date is unknown. The warehouse remains unsafe, however, and should be torn down soon.

Short transitions. Large words are intimidating. Transitions with more syllables, like additionally, however, moreover, and therefore will come across as rigid. As a rule of thumb, sentences with longer words are subconsciously more overwhelming and pedantically frustrating (like this sentence). Use the short word instead. Try and, but, also, and so. Short words are easy to digest.

Choose wisely where you place transition words and which words you use, so that you maintain the appropriate urgency in tone.

To Conclude...

Transition words connect ideas and sentences. You have to know how the ideas connect (transition categories) so you can choose the best transition word. The transition categories provide an array of different transition words to keep your writing interesting. But remember, you don’t have to be fancy with transitions. Good transition words work best as background players that gently guide the reader from one idea to the next... often going unnoticed.

If you want to learn more about transitions or audit report writing, check out one of MISTI’s audit report writing workshops.