A photograph of a section of a rainbow in the sky

Source: Mavrica, Saperaud, Wikimedia

Transitions are words or phrases that help sustain a thought or idea throughout your writing. They link sentences and paragraphs together smoothly so that there are no abrupt jumps or breaks between ideas. Just as we need a road map to get from one place to another, our readers need transitions to get from one idea to the next.

A portion of a road map that shows the roads around the Houston & Galveston are in coastal Texas

Source: Houston Galveston area towns roadmap, U.S. Coast Guard, Wikimedia

Transitions are like the in-between colors that link the other colors. They link colors on the color wheel just like transitional words and phrases link sentences and paragraphs in an essay, making for smooth transitions from one color or idea to another.

A photograph of a colored pen and pencil set

Source: Markers, Raul Camion, Flickr

Transitions help readers connect with what has come before in a sentence, paragraph, or section. Different types of transitions help connect different ideas. There are many different types of transitions. Watch this short video and notice all the transitional words and phrases, which are highlighted in white:

Source: Tik Tok Transition Song, MrsAudreySmith, YouTube

Now, let’s put various types of transition words into categories that you can use as part of your writer’s toolkit. For example, if you were writing an essay comparing the experiences of summer school and regular school, you would probably use many transitional words and phrases to compare and contrast the two. You might first describe the similarities, as in the paragraph below in which transitional words and phrases are highlighted:

Summer school as well as regular school involves taking classes with readings, projects, discussions, presentations, and exams. Also, you get to see your friends in your classes in both types of school.

Then, you might go on to discuss the differences between the two types of school.

However, some differences do exist between going to school during the fall or spring semester and attending summer school. A semester lasts 18 weeks during the regular school year; on the other hand summer school only lasts six weeks.

A photograph of a sea shore at sunset where the colors transition from blues to yellow, orange, and red

Source: Transition, Justin Kern, Flickr

To help the reader move from one thought to the next in an organized way, you might need to include words or phrases that make a comparison or show an example. Transitional words or phrases help improve connections between ideas.

For this exercise, think about the kind of transition that is needed for the descriptions listed in the left-hand column. Then, look at the list of transitional words and phrases in the right-hand column and determine which you would use for each description. Drag the descriptions and drop them on top of the example words or phrases.

icon for an interactive exercise
A photograph of several wooden bird houses

Source: bird house, kidtalentz, Flickr

The excerpt below is from an expository essay about why you should build your own birdhouse. Which transitional words and phrases would you use? Read the paragraph without transitional words and phrases. Then, select the best transitional words and phrases to link the sentences:

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A photograph of three painter's palettes

Source: Winsor & Newton palettes, Julie Paradise 1, Flickr

You have added transitions that help guide the reader through an essay. Writing expository and procedural essays is much like painting a multicolored picture. You need to use many colors to make the most effective composition possible.

Just as multiple colors make the world more vivid, variety in your expository and procedural essays makes your writing more engaging.