Here we'll consider how transitional words and phrases can help make our writing clear and cohesive.
A key quality of an effective paragraph is unity. A unified paragraph sticks to one topic from start to finish, with every sentence contributing to the central purpose and main idea of that paragraph.
But a strong paragraph is more than just a collection of loose sentences. Those sentences need to be clearly connected so that readers can follow along, recognizing how one detail leads to the next. A paragraph with clearly connected sentences is said to be cohesive.
The following paragraph is unified and cohesive. Notice how the italicized words and phrases (called transitions) guide us along, helping us see how one detail leads to the next.
Why I Don't Make My Bed
Ever since I moved into my own apartment last fall, I have gotten out of the habit of making my bed--except on Fridays, of course, when I change the sheets. Although some people may think that I am a slob, I have some sound reasons for breaking the bed-making habit. In the first place, I am not concerned about maintaining a tidy bedroom because no one except me ever ventures in there. If there is ever a fire inspection or a surprise date, I suppose I can dash in there to fluff up the pillow and slap on a spread. Otherwise, I am not bothered. In addition, I find nothing uncomfortable about crawling into a rumpled mass of sheets and blankets. On the contrary, I enjoy poking out a cozy space for myself before drifting off to sleep. Also, I think that a tightly made bed is downright uncomfortable: entering one makes me feel like a loaf of bread being wrapped and sealed. Finally, and most importantly, I think bed-making is an awful way to waste time in the morning. I would rather spend those precious minutes checking my email or feeding the cat than tucking in corners or snapping the spread.
Transitional words and phrases guide readers from one sentence to the next. Although they most often appear at the beginning of a sentence, they may also show up after the subject.
Here are some of the most common transitional expressions in English, grouped according to the type of relationship shown by each.
1. Addition Transitions
first, second, third
in the first place, in the second place, in the third place
to begin with, next, finally
"In the first place, no 'burning' in the sense of combustion, as in the burning of wood, occurs in a volcano; moreover, volcanoes are not necessarily mountains; furthermore, the activity takes place not always at the summit but more commonly on the sides or flanks; and finally, the 'smoke' is not smoke but condensed steam."
(Fred Bullard, Volcanoes in History, in Theory, in Eruption)
2. Cause-Effect Transitions
as a result
for this reason
"The study of human chromosomes is in its infancy, and so it has only recently become possible to study the effect of environmental factors upon them."
(Rachel Carson, Silent Spring)
3. Comparison Transitions
by the same token
in like manner
in the same way
in similar fashion
"The heaping together of paintings by Old Masters in museums is a catastrophe; likewise, a collection of a hundred Great Brains makes one big fathead."
(Carl Jung, "Civilization in Transition")
4. Contrast Transitions
on the contrary
on the other hand
"Every American, to the last man, lays claim to a 'sense' of humor and guards it as his most significant spiritual trait, yet rejects humor as a contaminating element wherever found. America is a nation of comics and comedians; nevertheless, humor has no stature and is accepted only after the death of the perpetrator."
(E. B. White, "The Humor Paradox")
5. Conclusion and Summary Transitions
on the whole
"We should teach that words are not the things to which they refer. We should teach that words are best understood as convenient tools for handling reality… Finally, we should teach widely that new words can and should be invented if the need arises."
(Karol Janicki, Language Misconceived)
6. Example Transitions
as an example
"With all the ingenuity involved in hiding delicacies on the body, this process automatically excludes certain foods. For example, a turkey sandwich is welcome, but the cumbersome cantaloupe is not."
(Steve Martin, "How to Fold Soup")
7. Insistence Transitions
"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else."
(John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money)
8. Place Transitions
on top of
to the left
to the right
"Where the wall turns up to the right you can continue by the beck but a better path is to be found by turning with the wall and then going to the left through the bracken."
(Jim Grindle, One Hundred Hill Walks in the Lake District)
9. Restatement Transitions
in other words
in simpler terms
to put it differently
"Anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer studied the few peaceful human tribes and discovered one common characteristic: sex roles were not polarized. Differences of dress and occupation were at a minimum. Society, in other words, was not using sexual blackmail as a way of getting women to do cheap labor, or men to be aggressive."
(Gloria Steinem, "What It Would Be Like If Women Win")
10. Time Transitions
at the same time
in the future
in the meantime
in the past
At first a toy, then a mode of transportation for the rich, the automobile was designed as man's mechanical servant. Later it became part of the pattern of living.