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 BedEver 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 the common transitional expressions, 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)
2. Cause-Effect Transitions
as a result
for this reason
The ideologue is often brilliant. Consequently some of us distrust brilliance when we should distrust the ideologue.
3. Comparison Transitions
- by the same token
in like manner
in the same way
in similar fashion
When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, a clear volume, through successive eliminations, you arrive inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the egg and following the same process in reverse, one finishes with the portrait.
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)
5. Conclusion and Summary Transitions
- and so
on the whole
Reporters are not paid to operate in retrospect. Because when news begins to solidify into current events and finally harden into history, it is the stories we didn’t write, the questions we didn’t ask that prove far, far more damaging than the ones we did.
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
- in fact
The joy of giving is indeed a pleasure, especially when you get rid of something you don’t want.
(Frank Butler, Going My Way)
8. Place Transitions
on top of
to the left
to the right
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.
(Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep)
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.