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Unpredictable node mobility, low node density, and lack of global information make it challenging to achieve effective data forwarding in Delay-Tolerant Networks (DTNs). Most of the current data forwarding schemes choose the nodes with the best cumulative capability of contacting others as relays to carry and forward data, but these nodes may not be the best relay choices within a short time period due to the heterogeneity of transient node contact characteristics. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to improve the performance of data forwarding with a short time constraint in DTNs by exploiting the transient social contact patterns. These patterns represent the transient characteristics of contact distribution, network connectivity and social community structure in DTNs, and we provide analytical formulations on these patterns based on experimental studies of realistic DTN traces. We then propose appropriate forwarding metrics based on these patterns to improve the effectiveness of data forwarding. When applied to various data forwarding strategies, our proposed forwarding metrics achieve much better performance compared to existing schemes with similar forwarding cost.