Transitions and Connective Words

Examples illustrating their use

Dr. Gerald Grow
Division of Journalism
Florida A&M University
Tallahassee, FL 32307

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Transitions carry your reader from phrase to phrase, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and through the major divisions of your article. Although you may be able to write perfectly clearly without using transition words, they help readers know what they are reading about, how they got there, and where the thought is leading them.

In early drafts, it is better to overuse transitions; you can always cut them later. Be over-specific at first.

Use transitional words to guide your reader through each step of the article:

First..., next..., then..., finally....

Apparently..., for example..., but actually..., in conclusion....

Sometimes..., but not always....

On the one hand..., on the other hand..., in summary....

Because..., therefore....

Use transitional words to point out how the current thought is related to the previous one:

on the other hand
earlier in the day
in other words
in order to
to sum up.


Use transitional words to spell out the connections among the different elements of your writing. For example, consider how many ways the following two simple statements can be combined and related:

He stayed home. He was shot.

He stayed home, and he was shot.
First he stayed home, then he was shot.
First he was shot, then he stayed home.

Because he stayed home, he was shot.
He stayed home, because he was shot.

Although he stayed home, he was shot.
He stayed home although he was shot.

He was shot while he stayed home.
He was shot shortly after he stayed home.

If you do not spell out the connections among your ideas, readers will insert them. And they may get them wrong.


See the Chart of Transition Words for other examples.

Junior and

the Chase

A Little Story Illustrating the Major types of Transitional Terms

--Dr. Gerald Grow, Florida A&M University, Division of Journalism.


I felt a cold shiver, then I saw them sneaking up on me.
Junior ate all the turkey; furthermore, he ate all the pie.


As soon as I saw them, I started running.
Junior ate the turkey after he ate the pie.


I ran for my life; nearby, children played at recess.
Junior stood by the sweet potatoes; opposite him, Cousin George stood by the ham.


Junior loves weird combinations of foods; for instance, yesterday he poured gravy on his cake.

Every object seemed determined to drown out my cries as I ran; one motorcycle, in particular, met me at every intersection for the sole purpose of making my call for help inaudible.


Junior still felt hungry; likewise, George sized up the leftovers.
I slowed from fatigue; similarly, my pursuers fell behind.


I should have felt glad; on the contrary, I was terrified.
The turkey was gone; on the other hand, there was plenty of ham left.


Junior turned next to the bountiful harvest of the fjords of Norway, that is to say, a can of sardines.
The pavement rose suddenly and hit my arms; in other words, I fell.


Because he expected the movie to make him hungry, Junior slipped a few sardines into his coat pocket for a snack.

I saw the outline of a familiar building; for that reason, I felt renewed hope.


Junior bought popcorn and forgot about the sardines; consequently, his cleaning bill was even larger than usual that month.
I wore hiking boots; therefore my feet grew tired from the extra weight, but I had better traction on the icy sidewalks.


In order to confuse my pursuers, I darted into the theater.
Junior was standing in the aisle, so that a man could get past to his seat.


Although I staggered down the aisle, I kept my balance.
Junior didn't hear me coming; perhaps he was absorbed in the plot.


As we collided, I recognized Junior by the smell of sardines; undoubtedly, he, too, was surprised to meet this way.
In the darkness, my pursuers cried out as they fell over our prostrate forms; surely they had lost at last.


One villain broke an arm. Another was knocked cold. A third rose to stab me when Junior threw up all over him. In short, confusion reigned.


Finally, overcome with relief and nearly overwhelmed by the smell, I dragged Junior into the sunlight. Leaning close to his trembling lips, I could just make out his gutteral whisper: "I'm starving."


Admittedly, I was taken aback; nonetheless, I bought him the biggest hamburger in Brooklyn.

Using Transitions

In practice, you will not use as many transitions as these examples do. [That is because] overuse of transitions makes your style sound old-fashioned. [Because of this,] contemporary writers organize their writing carefully so that the transitions are implied, instead of spelled out explicitly.

Nonetheless [he transitioned], beginning writers need to master transitional terms and the concepts behind them, whether they use transitions explicitly or implicitly.

If you don't indicate how the elements of your thinking relate to one another, your readers will make up their own links, and may interpret your writing differently than you intended.

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