Transitions – Transition Words – Transitional Phases

Transitions are a lifeline for readers, listeners, users—a kind of conceptual superglue. Transition words and traditional phrases are crucial to helping audiences keep track of the author's reasoning and purposes for writing. Learn to identify when transitions are warranted in your work and the work of others. Distinguish between effective and ineffective transitions.            

"Golden Gate Bridge" by ground.zero, CC BY 2.0.

What are Transitions? Transition Words? Transition Phrases?

Transitions, Transition Words, Transitional Phases—these terms concern authors’ efforts to design the flow of information in a text in ways that promote clarity, brevitysimplicityflowunity for readers, listeners, users.

Accomplished writers understand interpretation is challenging. They understand readers can lose track of the big picture—the writer’s purpose, thesis, research question. Thus, when revising and editing, writers are careful to check the flow of information across words, sentences, paragraphs. They seek to identify and rewrite choppy spots in their writing when readers ask, “Why am I being given this information? So What? How does this relate to what’s been said thus far?”

Transitions refers to

Transition Words & Phrases are words and phrases (aka signs or signposts) that writers and speakers use to help their readers, listeners, or users understand the flow of information across a text.

Transitional Words refers to elements of spoken and written language (e.g., words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and sections) that authors use to help audiences understand the flow of information across a text.

Synonyms

  • Transitions may be referred to as sticky points, wounds, seques, gaps
  • Transition Words may also be referred to as transitional language, linking language, explanatory language, metalanguage, pivoting, signposting

Related Concepts: Communication; Information Architecture; Organization; Organizational Schema; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning; Unity


Why Do Transitions Matter?

For readers, listeners, users, transitions are a lifeline—a kind of conceptual superglue. Transition words are crucial to helping audiences keep track of the author’s reasoning and purpose for writing.

At any given moment, people experience a tsunami of information coming at them at warp speed. When reading or listening, people may be distracted by any number of other things—an email, a plane flying overhead, a social media post, a poignant memory, a stock market crash. Their own personal concerns or a nudge from social media may get them off task in a jiffy.

Writers and speakers use transitions to keep the audience’s focus on their narrative, thesis, research question, hypothesis.

Function of Transition Words & Transitional Phrases

Transition words and transition phrases may be categorized by their rhetorical function—aim of discourse, as illustrated in Table 1 below.

Aims (aka Purpose)Examples of Transition Words for Essays
1. To guide readers
You might first conclude . . .
Please consider the possibility that . . .
As you recall . . .
Consider now . . .
2. To order ideas and structure textsTo begin…next…furthermore…
First, second, third…
3. To place emphasis
More importantly
Without doubt
Surprisingly, Astonishingly, Most unusually
Remarkably

Notably, Pierre did not actually know how to throw his voice. 
4. To compareElmer plotted his escape; similarly, Pierre imagined sweet freedom.
5. To provide examples
For example, For instance, In fact
Additionally, Also
Similarly

In other words, For instance

Pierre had a habit of failing to plan. For instance, when he robbed the local tractor supply store, he took the bus instead of obtaining a getaway car.

Additionally, he wore his rugby uniform to the heist, which was emblazoned with his name

6. To show logical connections

If…then
Consequently
However
Furthermore
Hence
As a result
On the other hand…
In contrast
Nonetheless
Still
While

7. To hedgePerhaps
We may conclude
Possibly
This suggest
It may seem
8. To show location, place, or space (spatial order)Above, below, alongside
in front, in back
there

First, Elmer engaged in a tryst with the night guard. Then, he was able to wrest from her a promise to be his co-conspirator.

Elmer slipped stealthily from his cell. Behind him, his paramour pretended not to notice. 
9. To clarify conditionsIn the event of a betrayal on the part of his lover, Elmer even concocted a backup plan.
10. To summarize

Finally, In conclusion, Thus
To summarize
As a result
As I have demonstrated
Table 1: Rhetorical Moves – Types of Transition Words & Transition Words
the first glimmer of the day to come, sunrise, St. Pete
Sunrise, Downtown St. Petersburg

Best Transition Words for Essays

The best transition words are the ones that best match your rhetorical situation.

In order to identify the best transition words for an essay you are writing, you should first engage in rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning. Subsequently, you can then make rhetorically informed decisions regarding the appropriate persona, tone, and voice you should adopt when you begin your composition.

Sample Questions for Rhetorical Analysis of Transitions

In order to select appropriate transitions and transitional words for your texts, engage in rhetorical analysis. Ask yourself,

  1. What is the rhetorical situation that informs your reason for communicating, the exigency that informs the call to write?
    1. What is my purpose (aka aim)? What am I attempting to accomplish?
    2. Is your topic fairly straightforward?
      1. If so, you may not even need transitions.
    3. Is your topic complex?
      1. Then you’ll need extensive transitional language to help your readers follow your reasoning.
    4. Are there any genre considerations or media considerations that inform your readers’ expectations regarding effective or ineffective uses of transitional language?

Academic Writing Prose Conventions

Transition words in academic essays and academic writing in general tend

Template for Transitions in Academic Writing

Below are examples of common transitions in academic writing genres.

To show agreement:Smith (2022) asserts that a, b, c. Likewise, x asserts

Similar to Balls’ position, I …
To show qualified agreement:
While it’s true that__________________, it’s important not to ignore_______________.

I agree that_______________; however_________________.
To show disagreement:
Smith argues_____________; yet, he doesn’t take into account________________.

Smith suggests _______________, but others argue________________.
To offer examples:
Smith’s finding have been replicated by a number of researchers. For example, _____________ and ________________.

Other investigators support Smith’s claims. Specifically, ___________________.

Professional Writing Prose Conventions

Transition words in professional writing (aka workplace writing) are similar to those in academic writing. However, there are a few distinctions: workplace writing tends to rely more on headings and visual language than rely on paragraph-style transitions like those used in academic writing.

Transitions & Invention

Revision: pic of a chrysalis transforming into a butterfly
A chrysalis transitioning into a butterfly

For writers, transitions across topics can spark invention. Sometimes when revising, when looking in between sentences and paragraphs to check them for clarity, writers identify breakdowns in their reasoning or gaps in scholarly conversations or discover entirely new things to say.

How to Edit Transitions & Transition Words

Teachers and critics write Transition? on texts when they

  • cannot follow the logic, reasoning, or organization of a text
    • They don’t understand why they are being told what they are being told.
  • believe a transitional word or a transitional phrase is superfluous or used incorrectly (see Brevity)

You will find it helpful to examine your use of transition words if you have been told your organization needs work or that your writing is awkward or choppy.

Step 1: Rhetorical Analysis

First, make sure your transitions are appropriate for the rhetorical situation you are addressing. For example, if you are addressing a loved one in a personal note, you would want to use “also” instead of “moreover.”

Check, in particular, the tone and diction level of your transition words.

Step 2: Textual Analysis

When you revise, edit, or proofread your documents, you should consider whether or not you have provided sufficient transitions and transition words.

  • between and within sentences:
    Transitional words or phrases are used to create connections between sentences, as well as within sentences; both uses enhance the progression of ideas at the sentence level.
  • between paragraphs: Transitional sentences are used to create a bridge between paragraphs. These sentences should provide a summary of the main idea of one paragraph and give the reader a clue as to what is coming in the next paragraph (Internal link to: relate paragraphs logically to previous paragraph(s).
  • between sections: Transitional paragraphs are used in longer works to summarize the discussion of one section and introduce the reader to the concept(s) presented in the next section.

Also, be sure to double check that you have avoided tedious repetition. Remember, when it comes to transition words, less is more. When possible, you want to vary your transition words.

Example of Unvaried transitional language that creates a primer-like style:

We went to the national mall. Then we visited the Air and Space Museum. Then we stopped for lunch at Jaleo.

Varied transitional language:

To start the day, we went to the national mall. After a stroll around the reflecting pool, we visited the Air and Space Museum. When we couldn’t walk another step, we stopped at Jaleo for lunch.

Transitions, Transition Words, Transitional Language — these concepts are intertwined with information architecture, organizational schema (aka organizational scaffolding), and recent research on cognitive development and learning science theory.

Transitions & Transition Words are a major textual attribute of a reader-based prose style, an academic prose style, and a professional writing prose style (aka workplace writing style).

In contrast, writer-based prose lacks needed transitions and transition words.