Monday, 10 August 2015

How to use transitional words effectively

Students are rightly taught that the use of transitional words and phrases will improve their writing. By and large, this is true. However, in my essay editing work I find that many people are not using transitional words and phrases correctly. Therefore, I am writing this blog post to help educate writers on how to use transitional words and phrases. This list is by no means exhaustive. Use the link at the bottom of the page to see more.

There are many different transitional words and phrases, and they should be used for different purposes. The key is to understand the logical connection between the phrases or sentences that these words link. "Transition" means "change" and there are many kinds of changes that can happen in an essay.

The first sense of change is to continue the present thought in a new sentence. We call these "additive" transitions. Additive transitions introduce an idea or example, continue a thought, show similarity, or provide reference or clarification. The following words are used as additive transition words:

  • moreover: Mountain climbing is physically challenging. Moreover, it is expensive and time-consuming.
  • indeed: Lamborghinis are expensive and rare cars. Indeed, I've never even ridden in one.
  • further: Michael Jackson was extremely popular in his day. Further, he sold millions of records.
  • furthermore: I will not tolerate disrespect from my students. Furthermore, lateness will be punished.
  • what is more: My education was very expensive. What is more, I had to borrow the money.
  • in addition: The prisoner was sentenced to 10 years for robbery. In addition, he received 5 years for escaping custody.
  • in fact: Donald Trump is very rich. In fact, his assets are estimated at between 3 and 10 billion dollars.

Another sense of change is to introduce an idea that is different from the previous idea. These are called "adversative" transition words. Use adversative transition words when the idea being introduced conflicts with ideas already introduced. This is useful in a persuasive essay, because you need to be providing a sense of two sides of an argument. Depending on how you handle the logic, these transition words can introduce an idea that supersedes the first idea or is negated by the first idea.


  • but: Smoking causes cancer, but many people continue to smoke.
  • still: Head injuries are very dangerous. Still helmets are not used in some sports.
  • however: Carbon dioxide is a proven greenhouse gas; however, many Americans remain in denial of climate change.
  • in contrast: Republicans deny climate change, in contrast to Democrats, who admit it.
  • while: Democrats are focused on income inequality, while Republicans are focused on conservative credentials.
  • whereas: The Senate voted to support the tax increase, whereas the House voted to repeal it.
  • on the other hand: Several major economists support the idea of universal daycare. On the other hand, the Treasury Department says it is unaffordable.

The fourth class of transition words are those that relate to cause and effect. These are called causal transitions. (Please watch out for the common transposition of letters that changes causal into casual; your spellchecker might even make the change for you.) I often see errors here when I edit student essays. You need to be very careful with your logic when using these transitions. Nonetheless, they are very important in laying out the logic for your essay. Notice that there are five different causal conditions: Cause, Condition, Effect/Result, Purpose, and Consequence.

1. When an assertion is followed by its reason

  • because: I am bringing my umbrella because it is raining.
  • due to: I am upset with my brother due to his lying to me.
  • inasmuch as: I am not going to vote for that politician inasmuch as he's a scoundrel.
2. When an action is conditional upon another event.
  • granted that: I will buy a car tomorrow, granted that I receive my bank loan.
  • even if: I will not purchase a Ford, even if the salesperson throws in a free oil change.
  • unless: I will marry that girl, unless I meet someone I like better.
3. When a cause is followed by its consequence.
  • as a result: I won a lottery, as a result I quit my job.
  • consequently: I closed my company, consequently I will no longer need your services.
  • hence: I took up skydiving, hence my life insurance rates went up.
4. When an action if followed by its motivation.
  • in order to: I started bodybuilding in order to impress women.
  • so as to: I enrolled in law school so as to become a lawyer.
  • so that: I bought a lot of books so that I could fill my bookshelf.
5. When a condition is followed by an outcome.
  • then: If my father gives me permission, then I will set sail tomorrow.
  • otherwise: If I am allowed to be an explorer I will first go to Antarctica, otherwise I will return to law school.
Other transition words are sequential. That is, they help us to keep track of arguments. The types are numerical, continuation, conclusion, digression, resumption, and summation.

1. To provide the first of a number of related items.
  • initially: The plan had several components. Initially, the army was to build a bridge.
  • first of all: First of all, the French Revolution was set in motion by a series of crop failures.
2. To relate items in a time sequence.
  • subsequently: Subsequently, the middle class lost faith in the leadership of the King.
  • previously: Voltaire had visited liberal philosophers in England.
  • eventually: Eventually, the revolution was followed by the Reign of Terror.
3. To provide the final item in a series.
  • finally: Finally, the British gave up their claim to the Thirteen Colonies.
  • in the end: In the end, the Constitution became the source of law.
  • to conclude: To conclude, Washington was elected President.
4. To provide a related point that is not directly part of the argument being developed.
  • incidentally: Incidentally, sans cullottes means "without britches", meaning the working men who did not wear the same type of pants as the elite.
  • by the way: By the way, the guillotine was not invented by Guillotine; it was merely advocated for by him as a less cruel means of execution.
5. To return to the main argument after a digression (as in 4).
  • to resume: To resume, the development of political parties had several consequences for France.
  • anyhow: Anyhow, the chaos of the Reign of Terror led the way to Napoleon's rise.
  • anyway: Anyway, the Constitution was never seen to be a perfect document, being amended several times in its early years.
6. To provide a summation of an argument.
  • to summarize: To summarize, there are many reasons for wearing a hat.
  • therefore: Therefore, the urban sombrero is destined to become a fashion staple.
  • in brief: In brief, nothing could demonstrate a man's savoir faire than a hat echoing multiculturalism.


The list of words for this blog post have been partially sourced from  https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/transw.html, which is licensed for re-use through Creative Commons license 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/>.