Good writing uses transitional words and phrases to help the reader smoothly work through what you wrote. It’s strange how simple, but powerful, these words can be.
Basically, these words and phrases are used to connect one idea to the next.
Look at the word “Consequently” for example. Consequently means “as a result.” So when X happens, as a result, or “consequently,” Y happens.
So, “Demian Farnworth, the most unlucky mime in the world, performed the one routine you should never perform in a prison. Consequently, he was thrown out a window.”
If you take the word “consequently” out of that paragraph, you get, “Demian Farnworth, the most unlucky mime in the world, performed the one routine you should never perform in a prison. He was thrown out a window.”
While it’s possible to live without the second version of the paragraph, the transitional word “consequently” makes it unmistakably clear the relationship between the two ideas.
And that’s what we are after: unmistakably clear, concise, and compelling copy.
In this 8-minute episode you’ll discover:
- The four types of transitions — and when you should use each
- The one error about writing clearly even educated people fall for
- Demian’s embarrassing admission about his struggles with transitions
- The one book that “turned on the light” for him about writing clearly
- A simple print out of 226 transitions
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
- Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
- Transition Words from Michigan State University
- Transitional Words & Phrases from Study Guides and Strategies
- Transitions Print Out
226 Transitional Words and Phrases Every Writer Should Know
Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Demian Farnworth: Howdy friend, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And thank you for spending the next few minutes of your life with me.
So this is episode 31. And we are calling this episode “226 Transitional Words and Phrases Every Writer Should Know.”
Now, I’m NOT going to tell you all 226 words you should know in this podcast … that alone would take me ten minutes. I will tell you a few of those transitional words and phrases during the course of this episode … but
I’ve got a little present for you …
But before I share the present with you, let’s talk about the nature of transitional words and phrases.
The Four Types of Transitions — and When You Should Use Each
See, good writing uses transitional words and phrases to help the reader to work through what you wrote smoothly.
Basically, these words and phrases are used to connect one idea to the next. The writer helps the reader travel from one significant idea to the next with transitional words and phrases. But these words and phrases also demonstrate the relationship between one paragraph, one section, one idea.
Take the transitional word “Consequently” for example. Consequently means “as a result.” So when X happens, as a result, or “consequently,” Y happens.
For example, take this sentence: “Demian Farnworth, the most unlucky mime in the world, performed the one routine you should never perform in a prison. Consequently, he was thrown out a window.”
Take “consequently” out of that paragraph and you get, “Demian Farnworth, the most unlucky mime in the world, performed the one routine you should never perform in a prison. He was thrown out a window.”
Why it’s possible to live with that second version of the paragraph, the transitional word “consequently” makes it unmistakably clear the relationship between the two sentences. And that’s what we are after: clear, concise, and compelling copy.
But different transitions do different things …
Transitional words or phrases can be additive, meaning they add, clarify, or introduce something. “Indeed,” “such as,” and “I mean.”
They can also be adversative. In other words, these words are setting up a conflict or an unequal relationship. They are showing a difference between two ideas. Think “but,” “However,” and “in any case.”
Then you have causal transitions (not casual): where you have purpose being shown, effect and cause between ideas being shown, reason and results flowing from ideas. “For the simple reason,” “because,” and “as a result.”
Finally, you have sequential transitions, these are numerical or digressive or continue a string of ideas. Think “In the first place,” “Subsequently,” and “to change the topic.”
The One Error About Writing Clearly Even Educated People Fall For
What this is all about goes back to something the author, literary critic, and legal scholar Stanley Fish said about writing clearly:
…there is only one error to worry about: the error of being illogical, and only one rule to follow: make sure that every component of your sentences is related to the other components in a way that is clear and unambiguous.
Transitional words and phrases helps you build those relationships. Gives you that logical clarity.
The other day I had an interesting conversation with a professor friend. We’d gotten on the topic of writing and the level of writing he was seeing in colleges and universities.
And he exclaimed, and he was very exercised when he was talking, so it clearly impacted him, but he said “You would be amazed at the lack of transitions in the papers I get. These are bright kids with bright ideas but they have no clue how to connect the ideas. So their papers are sloppy and awful.”
I mean think about that. What kept these students from becoming good writers was their inability to connect ideas coherently, orderly. In a meaningful way.
Demian’s Embarrassing Admission About His Struggles With Transitions
I’ve got to confess, though, I’ve been in their shoes. I was that student at one time. Handing in papers that amounted to sound ideas scattered in jarring positions across the page. And of course as an English Lit major I thought I was the genius, and my professors the dorks for missing that genius …
The One Book that “Turned On the Light” For Hime About Writing Clearly
But it wasn’t until I was out of school and read Joe Sugarman’s book Advertising Secrets of the Written Word that I understood that my copy needed to slide smoothly from one idea to the next.
And that lesson came home when I learned a few transitional words like “Therefore,” “however,” “as a result,” and “by the way.”
Yes, I went to public school. I graduated from college. But somehow I’d missed these all important words.
Once I started using these words to move smoothly from one idea to the next, from one sentence to the next, my articles, and emails and sales letters started taking on a quality not unlike water: fluid. seamless. One.
Then I started building that vocabulary of transitional words. Add a few more here and there. Words like “indeed” and phrases like “That is to say.”
It took me a long time. I mean, I picked up these words slowly. Perhaps that was the proper way to do it. This allowed me to master those specific words before I was introduced to another set.
Whether that’s the appropriate way we should approach the study of transitions, I don’t know.
A Simple Print Out of 226 Transitions
What I do know, is that I wish I had a list of all the transitional words and phrases available. I don’t know you, you know, like in one, handsome downloadable PDF.
Sort of like the one we designed for you. Which you can download and print … just go to the show notes. It will be there waiting for you.
With 226 transitional words and phrases to help you transition smoothly between your ideas, paragraphs, and sentences.
Go download it when you get a chance.
And let me end by saying this, good copy uses transitional words, but it also uses psychological connectors to persuade and keep the reader engaged.
And that’s exactly what we will talk about in the next episode of Rough Draft.
Until then, take care.
True, the right transitional word does make our writing more clear and concise. As a result, I’ve got to work on incorporating transitional words in my writing.
Looks like I just did: “As a result.”
Thanks for this great episode.
Maury Brooks says
Perfect timing to discover this talk.
Looking forward to putting it to the test as I fly through the creation of a new web site I am bring to the light of computer screen readers across the world.