Transition Words

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A frequent fault of inexperienced writers is a tendency to present thoughts and ideas without showing connections between them, or without making their significance clear to the reader. Transition words and phrases keep the reader on track by showing relationships between ideas and information.

Consider the following paragraph:

People who adopt a dog need to teach it basic commands. Basic obedience keeps the animal safe and prevents it from becoming a danger. Many pet owners fail to teach their dogs to obey. They should always consider the need to train their puppies to obey.

The writer of this paragraph sees value in training a dog in basic obedience, but a reader might wonder what connection there is between basic obedience and the dog’s safety or dangerous behavior. Transitions are needed to show these connections.

The paragraph revised:

People who adopt a dog need to teach it basic commands in order to keep it safe and prevent it from harming others. For example, a dog that won’t come when called might run into the street and be hit by a car. A dog not trained to keep from jumping on people could cause injury by knocking someone down. Unfortunately, many pet owners fail to teach their dogs to obey, and, as a result, the animal becomes a nuisance or danger to family and strangers alike. To avoid undesirable behavior in their pets, dog owners should always consider the need to train puppies in basic obedience.

Here is a list of transition words grouped according to the types of transition they can be used for:

To add information:
and, not only…but also, also, moreover, furthermore, in addition, again, besides, equally important, what’s more, too

To give examples:
for example, for instance, specifically, in particular

To show contrast:
but, however, on the other hand, otherwise, instead, in contrast

To show concession:
yet, nevertheless, however, although, even though, despite the fact that, despite

To show similarity:
likewise, similarly, in the same way

To show result:
so, as a result, therefore, thus, as a consequence, consequently

To indicate time or sequence:
first, second, finally, meanwhile, immediately, thereafter, soon, finally, previously, formerly, next, following this, after, soon, therefore

To offer conditional thoughts:
or, whether…or, if…then

To explain or emphasize:
in fact, actually, in other words, namely, obviously, in any case, naturally, certainly, unquestionably

To offer alternatives:
or, either…or, neither…nor

To compare:
on the other hand, on the contrary, by comparison, compared to, balanced against,
vis-à-vis, although, in contrast

To prove:
because, for, for the same reason, obviously, evidently, in fact, in any case

To conclude:
in conclusion, in brief, on the whole, to conclude, as I have shown

Some transition words, like also, and, or, like, as for, and further are unobtrusive, directing the reader without distracting. Others, like albeit, jump out at the reader and must be used sparingly. Still other transitions cast doubt on the credibility of the writer. Here are some transitions often seen in freshman compositions. They are perhaps best avoided:

in all honesty, to tell the truth, to put it briefly, be that as it may, last but not least, to get back to the point, to make a long story short.

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4 thoughts on “Transition Words”

  1. I don’t get it concerning the confusion between singular and plural in this sentence from above:
    “People who adopt a dog need to teach it basic commands.”

    “People” adopt more than one dog, so the sentence should state:
    People who adopt dogs need to teach them basic commands.

    Otherwise, the whole sentence could have been cast into the form of singular words: “A person who adopts a dog needs to teach it the basic commands.”

  2. Here is an example of confusion between singular and plural that I thought – until recently – was done only by ignorant sports announcers. Recently, I have heard it from people who are supposed to be professional newscasters, such as Wolf Blitzer on CNN-TV:
    “Those kind of….”

    Now, the word “kind” is singular, and hence “those” does not go with “kind” at all. The expression needs to be “That kind of…”
    “Those kinds of…” is also a possibility.

    As far as “Those kind of….”, someone could say that it is an idiom in English, but there is a problem with that. I never heard that phrase back in the 1960s and 1970s, and then it started to flow out of the mouths of some ignorant sports announcers during the 1980s.
    Earlier than that, we had sports announcers like Jim McKay, Bud Wilkenson, Tony Kubek, and Frank Gifford who knew how to speak real English instead of broken English.

  3. The real problem with the example is the writer’s attitude. Rather than communicate, rather than discussing ideas, the author makes a series of four pronouncements, demanding that the reader meekly agree to them. The revised text creates transition words, but it also includes specific examples to further explain what the author means — in other words, the revised text does not assume that the author’s every statement is perfectly understood and accepted by the reader. I appreciate the reviser’s intent, but the use of transition words (a technique sometimes referred to as “signposting”) can get a little wordy and tiresome. It’s not a bad technique, but it’s not the only way to fix this problem. Conversing with, rather than lecturing to, the reader — that’s the real key to effective writing.

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