Transitional Phrases


Let me start by saying this: if you’re a student who isn’t familiar with transitional phrases, then you must read this article.  Period.  But don’t get me wrong: this article can benefit anyone, particularly those working on nonfiction. 

Transitional phrases are absolutely essential to academic writing.  Once I was exposed to their importance during my final years of high school, my papers started flowing much more smoothly, making their points much more clearly.  So, I really hope this discussion helps you out.

What are Transitional Phrases, and Why Do They Matter?

Whether or not you’re consciously aware of the term, you probably use transitional phrases fairly often in both your casual speech and your writing.  Regardless, it’s helpful to have a firm understanding of what they are and how they’re used.  That way, you can deliberately spice up your writing. 

Basically, a transitional phrase helps you link ideas together.  These links can work in a number of different ways.  For instance, phrases such as furthermore and moreover can signal the continuance of an idea, perhaps by introducing another piece of evidence to support the argument.  Additionally, phrases such as likewise and similarly can indicate that two points are similar, as you may have guessed.  Moreover, some phrases, such as for instance, for example, or specifically, can help you elaborate on a point through detailed evidence.  These phrases in particular can be quite helpful for setting up a quotation, an important form of evidence in most academic papers. 

That’s not all transitional phrases can do, however.  Others, such as however, nevertheless, and yet, can let you signal contrast between ideas.  They are also useful for introducing a caveat you must make in your argument.  Indeed, the possibilities are just about endless.  Words such as indeed can even help you emphasize a point if used sparingly.  You should therefore use your transitional phrases skillfully.

But seriously, the benefits of using transitional phrases are immense.  To begin with, they help your writing sound more appealing and authoritative.  Particularly, words such as consequently and furthermore can make you sound much smarter than you really are. 

That’s not all, however.  The whole reason you use transitional phrases is to transition between ideas so they can guide the reader.  They allow your thoughts to flow smoothly together, giving the reader a firm understanding of where you’re going. 

In fact, transitional phrases can even guide you, the writer!  Think about it.  If you’re using transitional phrases, then chances are you’re also paying close attention to how your words, sentences, paragraphs, and ideas are flowing together.  Therefore, if you notice a large section that’s devoid of transitional phrases, then you might want to examine whether or not you’re clearly going from point to point in a meaningful way.  Are you building up your ideas or merely jumping from one thought to another?

It is, of course, possible to overuse transitional phrases.  I may have done so in this article, but I just couldn’t help it: I had to drill a point into that noggin of yours.  Still, you must be aware of how greatly they can benefit your writing, academic or otherwise.  With transitional phrases, the reader doesn’t have to guess how sentences are related to one another: they can know

So, when in doubt, use transitional phrases.  They’ll usually go at the beginning of a sentence.  They can, however, be found in the middle of one too.  In that case, they’re usually surrounded by commas, but it’s also possible that they’re simply part of the sentence. 

Overall, when your words and ideas are flowing together coherently, things are looking up.

A Writing Sample with and without Transitional Phrases

Without Transitional Phrases:

Japanese animation, commonly referred to as anime, differs from most American cartoons in a number of ways.  Most anime tell a story from beginning to end, every episode leading into the next.  In the typical American cartoon, the episodes can be watched in just about any order.  Anime usually has a set number of episodes, letting the series end once the story has been told.  American cartoons tend to run until they are no longer profitable, even if this requires churning out lots of mediocre episodes to keep them going. 

Perhaps the most significant differences can be found in subject matter.  While we Americans tend to view cartoons as a children’s game, anime can be targeted at any age group, young or old.  There are some adult cartoons here in the US, such as Family Guy.  A fair amount of anime is willing to deal with serious topics in a mature, realistic way, something rarely seen here in the states.  The Japanese series Clannad allows us to watch Tomoya, a high school student with a drunken father, as he attempts to regain a sense of purpose in life.  With the exception of only a few movies, American animation rarely tackles such serious subjects.  It is safe to conclude that anime needs to be recognized as an art form distinct from the current state of American cartoons.

With Transitional Phrases:

Japanese animation, commonly referred to as anime, differs from most American cartoons in a number of ways.  To begin with, most anime tell a story from beginning to end, every episode leading into the next.  This is in strong contrast to the typical American cartoon, where the episodes can be watched in just about any order.  Likewise, anime usually has a set number of episodes, letting the series end once the story has been told.  American cartoons, on the other hand, tend to run until they are no longer profitable, even if this requires churning out lots of mediocre episodes to keep them going. 

Perhaps the most significant differences, however, can be found in subject matter.  While we Americans tend to view cartoons as a children’s game, anime can be targeted at any age group, young or old.  Admittedly, there are some adult cartoons here in the US, such as Family GuyYet, a fair amount of anime is willing to deal with serious topics in a mature, realistic way, something rarely seen here in the states.  The Japanese series Clannad, for example, allows us to watch Tomoya, a high school student with a drunken father, as he attempts to regain a sense of purpose in life.  With the exception of only a few movies, American animation rarely tackles such serious subjects.  Overall, it is safe to conclude that anime needs to be recognized as an art form distinct from the current state of American cartoons.

The second example was a million times easier to read, right?  That’s pretty funny, since it’s only twenty words longer.  Those transitional phrases sure go a long way.  The second paragraph saw a particularly significant improvement, in my opinion.

Essential Transitional Phrases for Formal Writing

Okay, without further ado, let’s get to the list of transitional phrases.  This first set is especially pertinent to academic papers and other formal writing.  The list, largely based on one that my AP English teacher gave me years ago, is relatively short, but it benefitted me immensely in high school and college, so I hope it serves you well too. 

above all
accordingly
additionally
again
also
as a result
at last
at the outset
besides
consequently
conversely
equally important
eventually
finally
first
for example
for instance
furthermore
hence
however
in addition
in conclusion
in fact
in particular
in short
indeed
instead
likewise
meanwhile
moreover
nevertheless
next
nonetheless
on one hand
on the contrary
on the other hand
otherwise
overall
plus
regardless
second
similarly
specifically
still
subsequently
then
therefore
thus
to begin with
yet

Notes:
- Some phrases, like on one hand and on the other hand, go hand-in-hand.  Having on one hand without following it up with on the other hand would be really awkward.  (However, you can probably get by with the latter phrase alone.)
- Some of these phrases are obviously more formal than others.  Particularly, a furthermore carries much more weight than a plus.  Use your intuition to balance everything out: don’t be too stuffy or too relaxed.
- Many transitional phrases are more or less interchangeable.  For example, I could’ve started this sentence with for instance, and I would’ve been fine.  Keep this in mind while you’re editing.  It’s usually a good idea to vary your diction as a means of avoiding repetition.  In other words, don’t use the same words over and over again!
- Some of my professors considered in conclusion a stupid phrase.  They’d say something to the effect of, “Duh, you’re on the last page!  Of course you’re concluding!”  Regardless, it can sound very powerful when giving a speech.

For a printer-friendly PDF of this list, please click here.  The words are sorted in columns.


Various Transitional Phrases

Now, here’s a list with more transitional phrases added to it.  Many of the additions are less formal or rather uncommon.  Admittedly, some of the ones on here aren’t actually transitional phrases, but rather adverbs that can start sentences well.  For example, “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider that a transitional phrase,” doesn’t start with a transitional phrase, but it can help introduce an idea.

above all
accordingly
actually
additionally
after all
afterward(s)
again
alas
all in all
all things considered
already
also
although
amazingly
anyhow
anyway
apparently
as a matter of fact
as a result
as far as I’m concerned
as far as this goes
as well
at any rate
at first
at last
at the end of the day
at the outset
at the same time
beforehand
before long
besides
but of course
by chance
by the same token
certainly
clearly
commonly
coincidentally
conversely
consequently
definitely
despite
disappointingly
due to
equally important
equally (any adjective)
especially
even if
even more so
even now
even so
even then
eventually
evidently
finally
first(ly)
first off
for another thing
for better or for worse
for example
for instance
for now
for one thing
for starters
for the meantime
for the moment
for this reason
formerly
fortunately
furthermore
generally
God willing
granted
hence
hopefully
however
if not
in addition
in all honesty
in any case
in brief
in conclusion
in due course
in effect
in fact
in general
in other words
in particular
in reality
in short
in spite of
in the beginning
in the end
in the first place
in the long run
in the meantime
in the past
in the same way
in truth
incidentally
indeed
inevitably
initially
instead
lastly
like it or not
likewise
luckily
mainly
meanwhile
more often than not
moreover
mostly
naturally
nevertheless
next
no matter what
nonetheless
normally
noticeably
notwithstanding
obviously
of course
on the contrary
on the other hand
once
one time
ordinarily
or else
originally
otherwise
overall
particularly
perchance
perhaps
personally
plus
possibly
predictably
predominantly
previously
principally
probably
rather
really
regardless
regrettably
regularly
remarkably
sadly
second(ly)
seriously
shockingly
similarly
simply put
since
so
so far
sooner or later
still
subsequently
such as
suddenly
surely
surprisingly
taken as a whole
then
then again
thereby
therefore
though
thus(ly)
thus far
truly
to an extent
to be sure
to begin with
to put it bluntly/simply
to summarize
typically
undoubtedly
unexpectedly
unfortunately
until
ultimately
unquestionably
unsurprisingly
usually
what’s more
when all’s said and done
whereas
whether you like it or not
while
whilst
without a doubt
without further ado
with this/that
yet

For a printer-friendly PDF of this list, please click here.  The words are sorted in columns.

For a printer-friendly PDF of this entire page, please click here.

Last Updated May 7th, 2015

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