How to Write Strong Transitions and Transitional Sentences
Transitions are the words and sentences that tie a work of writing together. They guide the reader from idea to idea, making connections that turns pieces into a whole. Find out more in this lesson.
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Let’s say you’re on a road trip. You see a billboard saying the world’s largest cow is at exit 72. Awesome! How can you miss that?
So where are you? Well, you’re just passing exit 68, so exit 72 must be close. Wait, now you see exit 12. What? Are you going the wrong way? Now you pass exit 93. Did you miss it? No, there’s exit 84. What’s going on here? Why are they hiding the world’s largest cow from you? Not cool, road.
Road signs are much like transitional words and sentences in your writing. They help take the disparate parts and make sense out of them. They help explain the order of the pieces in a logical, orderly manner. Well, not on this road, but on most roads; that’s how it works. Let’s look at how transitions work.
Transition Words in Fiction
In writing, a transition is a word, phrase or sentence that connects one section to another. A transition can be as simple as a single word. In fiction, you might see the word ‘meanwhile’ used as a transition. Here’s an example: Marla summoned all her training in order to vanquish the kraken. Meanwhile, her brother was at home, eating chips.
What happens if you take out that ‘meanwhile?’ Those two sentences seem disjointed and awkward. The transition word helps move us from one place to another. ‘Meanwhile’ moves us around in location.
Other transitions move us around in time: ‘then,’ ‘soon,’ ‘later,’ ‘next,’ ‘finally.’ We could use these words to describe how we found that huge cow. I found exit 72. Then, I got lost again. Later, I saw a sign for the cow again. Finally, I found it! Ok, that’s not a compelling story, but note how the transition words move us along in time.
Transition Words in Non-Fiction
In an essay, you may use transition words to organize your thoughts and ideas. You can use words to indicate that you’re expanding upon your idea. They can also provide additional support for an argument. These words include: ‘also,’ ‘furthermore,’ ‘similarly,’ ‘likewise,’ ‘too,’ ‘including,’ and ‘like.’
They don’t have to begin your sentence. In fact, I just said ‘They can also provide additional support for an argument.’ See that ‘also’ in there? That’s me expanding upon my idea. They can be at the end of a sentence, too. Oh, I just did what I was describing.
Furthermore, these may be simple words to provide structure, like first, second and third. These are like signs on the road indicating milestones in the essay. They tell your reader that they’re moving from one idea to another.
Here’s an example: There are countless reasons I love salad. First, it’s a healthy lunch option. Second, it’s easy to prepare. Third, no one steals your salad from the fridge. Each idea here is separated by a transition word that tells us a new reason is coming. It’s important that the transitions fit the logic of the work, though. If that last sentence was Third, my favorite food is ice cream, then it’s the wrong transition.
In this case, you want something like ‘however.’ This is effectively a u-turn. Maybe you want to show a counterargument. You can use words like: ‘but,’ ‘although,’ ‘however,’ ‘conversely,’ ‘still,’ and ‘yet.’
So far, we’ve focused on single words. With transitions, though, you’re not limited to single words. This is like the difference between a sign that says ‘stop’ and one that says ‘do not enter.’ ‘Stop’ tells you all you need to know in one word. But what if ‘do not enter’ was just ‘do’ or ‘not’ or ‘enter?’ That wouldn’t be good.
Think about these phrases: ‘for example,’ ‘in other words,’ ‘in fact,’ ‘to illustrate,’ and ‘in particular.’ These are like ‘also’ and ‘likewise’ in that they help you build upon an idea.
On the other hand, transitional phrases, like ‘on the other hand,’ can also serve as u-turns. Think about these: ‘in contrast,’ ‘by comparison,’ ‘in spite of this,’ ‘be that as it may’ and ‘forget all that stuff I just said.’ Wait, scratch that last one. But those others ones are all good.
Transition phrases can effectively signal to your reader that we’re nearing the end: ‘in summary,’ ‘in conclusion,’ ‘to summarize,’ and ‘as I have shown.’
After single words and short phrases, there are more complex uses of transitions. In some situations, it’s most effective to use transitional sentences to move from one paragraph to the next. Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say I’m reviewing a movie. I’ve just spent a paragraph on the ridiculous amount of fog in the movie. Now, I want to discuss the acting. Fog and acting? Those are two distinct topics. Here is the last sentence of the fog paragraph and the first sentence of the acting paragraph:
I’m fairly certain that the movie The Fog didn’t have this much fog. The lead actor alternates between a blank stare and an open-mouthed blank stare.
We need a transition here. We could say: ‘Meanwhile, the lead actor…’ That’s ok. But, in this case, when we’re connecting such different ideas, a transitional sentence may be better. So, I start the acting paragraph with this: The absurd fog may make it hard to view the scenery, but at least it distracts from the wooden acting. I took two topics and talked about one in relation to the other. Now, I can logically transition to talking about the actors.
In summary (hey - see what I did there?), we learned all about using transitions . These are the words, phrases and sentences that connect ideas and sections in all different forms of writing.
First, we looked at transitions that you might find in fiction. These include time-based transitions like ‘meanwhile’ and ‘later.’ Next, we looked at transition words that expand upon ideas, like ‘also’ and ‘likewise;’ words that indicate order, like ‘first;’ and words that offer contrast, like ‘however’ and ‘conversely.’
Then we looked at transitional phrases. These include ‘for example,’ in contrast,’ and ‘in conclusion.’ Finally (again with the transitions), we looked at transitional sentences. These are more complex transitions that can be useful in easing readers between very disparate topics.
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