Transition words and phrases in academic writing

Transition words and phrases, also called linking or connecting words, are used to link together different ideas in your text. They help the reader to follow your arguments by expressing the relationships between different sentences or parts of a sentence.

Transition words example

The proposed solution to the problem did not work. Therefore, we attempted a second solution. However, this solution was also unsuccessful.

For clear writing, it’s essential to understand the meaning of transition words and use them correctly.

When and how to use transition words

Transition words commonly appear at the start of a new sentence or clause (followed by a comma), serving to express how this clause relates to the previous one.

There is a lack of reliable data to establish a clear correlation between these variables. Nevertheless, it has been argued that a relationship does exist.

Transition words can also appear in the middle of a clause. It’s important to place them correctly to convey the meaning you intend.

It has nevertheless been argued that a relationship does exist.

Example text with and without transition words

The text below describes all the events it needs to, but it does not use any transition words to connect them. Because of this, it’s not clear exactly how these different events are related or what point the author is making by telling us about them.

Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The Soviet Union worked with Germany. They partitioned Poland. In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

If we add some transition words at appropriate moments, the text reads more smoothly and the relationship among the events described becomes clearer.

Example text with transition words added

Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Consequently, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The Soviet Union initially worked with Germany in order to partition Poland. However, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Don’t overuse transition words

While transition words are essential to clear writing, it’s possible to use too many of them. Consider the following example, in which the overuse of linking words slows down the text and makes it feel repetitive.

The first experiment yielded a positive result. However, the second experiment yielded a negative result. Nonetheless, the third experiment yielded a positive result, whereas the fourth experiment yielded another negative result.

In this case the best way to fix the problem is to simplify the text so that fewer linking words are needed.

The first and third experiments yielded positive results, while the outcomes of the second and fourth experiments were negative.

The key to using transition words effectively is striking the right balance. It is difficult to follow the logic of a text with no transition words, but a text where every sentence begins with a transition word can feel over-explained.

Types and examples of transition words

There are four main types of transition word: additive, adversative, causal, and sequential.
Within each category, words are divided into several more specific functions.

Remember that transition words with similar meanings are not necessarily interchangeable. It’s important to understand the meaning of all the transition words you use. If unsure, consult a dictionary to find the precise definition.

Additive transition words

Additive transition words introduce new information or examples. They can be used to expand upon, compare with, or clarify the preceding text.

Function Example sentence Transition words and phrases
Addition We found that the mixture was effective. Moreover, it appeared to have additional effects we had not predicted. indeed, furthermore, moreover, additionally, and, also, both x and y, not only x but also y, besides x, in fact
Introduction Several researchers have previously explored this topic. For instance, Smith (2014) examined the effects of … such as, like, particularly, including, as an illustration, for example, for instance, in particular, to illustrate, especially, notably
Reference The solution showed a high degree of absorption. Considering this result, it is reasonable to conclude that … considering x, regarding x, in regard to x, as for x, concerning x, the fact that x, on the subject of x
Similarity It was not possible to establish a correlation between these variables. Similarly, the connection between x and y remains unclear … similarly, in the same way, by the same token, in like manner, equally, likewise
Clarification The patient suffered several side effects, namely increased appetite, decreased libido, and disordered sleep. that is (to say), namely, specifically, more precisely, in other words

Adversative transition words

Adversative transition words always signal a contrast of some kind. They can be used to introduce information that disagrees or contrasts with the preceding text.

Function Example sentence Transition words and phrases
Conflict The novel does deal with the theme of family. However, its central theme is more broadly political … but, however, although, though, equally, by way of contrast, while, on the other hand, (and) yet, whereas, in contrast, (when) in fact, conversely, whereas
Concession Jones (2011) argues that the novel reflects Russian politics of the time. Although this is correct, other aspects of the text must also be considered. even so, nonetheless, nevertheless, even though, on the other hand, admittedly, despite x, notwithstanding x, (and) still, although, in spite of x, regardless (of x), (and) yet, though, granted x
Dismissal It remains unclear which of these hypotheses is correct. In any case, it can be inferred that … regardless, either way, whatever the case, in any/either event, in any/either case, at any rate, all the same
Emphasis The chemical is generally thought to have corrosive properties. Indeed, several studies have supported this hypothesis. above all, indeed, more/most importantly
Replacement The character of Godfrey is often viewed as selfish, or at least self-absorbed. (or) at least, (or) rather, instead, or (perhaps) even, if not

Causal transition words

Causal transition words are used to describe cause and effect. They can be used to express purpose, consequence, and condition.

Function Example sentence Transition words and phrases
Consequence Because Hitler failed to respond to the British ultimatum, France and the UK declared war on Germany. therefore, because (of x), as a result (of x), for this reason, in view of x, as, owing to x, due to (the fact that), since, consequently, in consequence, as a consequence, hence, thus, so (that), accordingly, so much (so) that, under the/such circumstances, if so
Condition We qualified survey responses as positive only if the participant selected “agree” or “strongly agree.” Otherwise, results were recorded as negative. (even/only) if/when, on (the) condition that, in the case that, granted (that), provided/providing that, in case, in the event that, as/so long as, unless, given that, being that, inasmuch/insofar as, in that case, in (all) other cases, if so/not, otherwise
Purpose We used accurate recording equipment so that our results would be as precise as possible. to, in order to/that, for the purpose of, in the hope that, so that, to the end that, lest, with this in mind, so as to, so that, to ensure (that)

Sequential transition words

Sequential transition words indicate a sequence, whether it’s the order in which events occurred chronologically or the order you’re presenting them in your text. They can be used for signposting in academic texts.

Function Example sentence Transition words and phrases
Enumeration This has historically had several consequences: First, the conflict is not given the weight of other conflicts in historical narratives. Second, its causes are inadequately understood. Third, … first, second, third…
Initiation To begin with, I want to consider the role played by women in this period. in the first place, initially, first of all, to begin with, at first
Continuation Subsequently, I discuss the way in which the country’s various ethnic minorities were affected by the conflict. subsequently, previously, eventually, next, before x, afterwards, after x, then
Conclusion Finally, I consider these two themes in combination. to conclude (with), as a final point, eventually, at last, last but not least, finally, lastly
Resumption To return to my main argument, it is clear that … to return/returning to x, to resume, at any rate
Summation Patel (2015) comes to a similar conclusion. In summary, the four studies considered here suggest a consensus that the solution is effective. as previously stated/mentioned, in summary, as I have argued, overall, as has been mentioned, to summarize, briefly, given these points, in view of x, as has been noted, in conclusion, in sum, altogether, in short
These lists of transitions are adapted from those created by Prof. Campbell, Prof. Buckhoff, and Prof. Dowell at Michigan State University under a Creative Commons license.

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Common mistakes with transition words

Transition words are often used incorrectly. Make sure you understand the proper usage of transition words and phrases, and remember that words with similar meanings don’t necessarily work the same way grammatically.

Misused transition words can make your writing unclear or illogical. Your audience will be easily lost if you misrepresent the connections between your sentences and ideas.

Confused use of therefore

“Therefore” and similar cause-and-effect words are used to state that something is the result of, or follows logically from, the previous. Make sure not to use these words in a way that implies illogical connections.

  • We asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their work from 1 to 10. Therefore, the average satisfaction among participants was 7.5.

The use of “therefore” in this example is illogical: it suggests that the result of 7.5 follows logically from the question being asked, when in fact many other results were possible. To fix this, we simply remove the word “therefore.”

  • We asked participants to rate their satisfaction with their work from 1 to 10. The average satisfaction among participants was 7.5.

Starting a sentence with also, and, or so

While the words “also,” “and,” and “so” are used in academic writing, they are considered too informal when used at the start of a sentence.

  • Also, a second round of testing was carried out.

To fix this issue, we can either move the transition word to a different point in the sentence or use a more formal alternative.

  • A second round of testing was also carried out.
  • Additionally, a second round of testing was carried out.

Transition words creating sentence fragments

Words like “although” and “because” are called subordinating conjunctions. This means that they introduce clauses which cannot stand on their own. A clause introduced by one of these words should always follow or be followed by another clause in the same sentence.

The second sentence in this example is a fragment, because it consists only of the “although” clause.

  • Smith (2015) argues that the period should be reassessed. Although other researchers disagree.

We can fix this in two different ways. One option is to combine the two sentences into one using a comma. The other option is to use a different transition word that does not create this problem, like “however.”

  • Smith (2015) argues that the period should be reassessed, although other researchers disagree.
  • Smith (2015) argues that the period should be reassessed. However, other researchers disagree.

And vs. as well as

Students often use the phrase “as well as” in place of “and,” but its usage is slightly different. Using “and” suggests that the things you’re listing are of equal importance, while “as well as” introduces additional information that is less important.

  • Chapter 1 discusses some background information on Woolf, as well as presenting my analysis of To the Lighthouse.

In this example, the analysis is more important than the background information. To fix this mistake, we can use “and,” or we can change the order of the sentence so that the most important information comes first.

  • Chapter 1 discusses some background information on Woolf and presents my analysis of To the Lighthouse.
  • Chapter 1 presents my analysis of To the Lighthouse, as well as discussing some background information on Woolf.

Note that in fixed phrases like “both x and y,” you must use “and,” not “as well as.”

  • Both my results as well as my interpretations are presented below.
  • Both my results and my interpretations are presented below.

Use of and/or

The combination of transition words “and/or” should generally be avoided in academic writing. It makes your text look messy and is usually unnecessary to your meaning.

First consider whether you really do mean “and/or” and not just “and” or “or.” If you are certain that you need both, it’s best to separate them to make your meaning as clear as possible.

  • Participants were asked whether they used the bus and/or the train.
  • Participants were asked whether they used the bus, the train, or both.

Archaic transition words

Words like “hereby,” “therewith,” and most others formed by the combination of “here,” “there,” or “where” with a preposition are typically avoided in modern academic writing. Using them makes your writing feel old-fashioned and strained and can sometimes obscure your meaning.

  • Poverty is best understood as a disease. Hereby, we not only see that it is hereditary, but acknowledge its devastating effects on a person’s health.

These words should usually be replaced with a more explicit phrasing expressing how the current statement relates to the preceding one.

  • Poverty is best understood as a disease. Understanding it as such, we not only see that it is hereditary, but also acknowledge its devastating effects on a person’s health.
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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

2 comments

Bridget Irving
October 5, 2020 at 12:04 PM

Thank you for such solid and comprehensive information on essays, essay structure and academic transition words.

Reply

Abdurrahman
July 8, 2020 at 8:38 PM

This is a great, wowing article.

Thank you.

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