Linking words and phrases in academic writing
Linking words, also known as transitions, are among the most important elements in writing, since they allow readers to see the relationships between your ideas. There are several categories of transitions, including words and phrases that signal contrasts and agreement.
Because transitions are so important, it’s critical that you don’t misuse them. This article presents both common transitions and commonly misused transitions, along with examples.
The most important thing I can emphasize here is to always be aware of the definition of any word or phrase you use. You may be familiar enough with a word to feel comfortable using it, but if you don’t actually know its definition and you don’t take the time to look it up, then you may occasionally (or frequently) misuse it.
Linking words present a particularly important case in which you should be aware of definitions, since your audience will be easily lost if you misrepresent the connections between your sentences and ideas.
Linking words often (ab)used
Easily one of the most commonly misused linking words, therefore indicates a logical relationship between two things: the first idea proves or necessitates the second idea. Think of it as equivalent to the phrase “as a result.” Confused uses of therefore often imply illogical connections.
Example of misused transition: Therefore
Law firms are known for their highly competitive environments. Therefore, it is important for lawyers to set themselves apart from their colleagues.
Problem: To see the problem more clearly, simplify the sentence: “People know that law firms are competitive, so it’s important for lawyers to set themselves apart.” The implication here is that lawyers need to set themselves apart because people know that law firms are highly competitive.
However, the fact that people know of the highly competitive environment is more or less irrelevant to the reasons lawyers set themselves apart from each other.
Therefore used correctly
Law firms are highly competitive environments. Therefore, it is important for lawyers to set themselves apart from their colleagues.
Explanation: Here, the logical connection is drawn between law firms being highly competitive environments and lawyers needing to set themselves apart from each other.
Herewith, therewith, hereby
These are all examples of transition words that are not commonly used in academic writing. While these transitions are sometimes included in technical definitions in legal documents, they typically sound archaic when used in other contexts. Though they have their uses, it’s best to avoid these words.
Example of misused transition: Hereby
One of the best ways to understand poverty is as a disease. Hereby, we not only see that it is hereditary, but acknowledge that it has devastating effects on a person’s health.
One of the best ways to understand poverty is as a disease. Understanding it this way, we not only see that it is hereditary, but also acknowledge that it has devastating effects on a person’s health.
Explanation: “Hereby” was above being used as an equivalent to “herewith,” meaning roughly “along with this,” “in this way,” or “by means of this.” The language is simply much more natural in the rephrasing.
This slash-transition (and with most other words joined by a slash) can be very difficult to understand. Some writers mean “either A or B or both A and B,” yet others simply mean A and B, and still others simply mean A or B. It gets confusing.
Avoid and/or altogether in formal writing. The context of the discussion will almost always clarify your meaning if you use simply and or or. In cases that might be confusing, it’s generally best to spend the extra words to clarify your meaning.
Example of misused transition: And/or
On her way to work, she will take the bus and/or the train.
Explanation: It’s difficult to tell whether she might take 1) either the bus or the train, 2) both the bus and the train, or 3) either the bus or the train or both. Making the ambiguity worse, the intended meaning will change depending on the writer. This confusion of use among beginning writers makes it difficult for a reader to decide among the choices.
Solution: Simply avoid “and/or” and spell out the option that you mean:
- the bus or the train
- the bus and the train
- the bus and the train, or both of them.
As well as
The phrase “as well as” is often used as a substitution for “and,” but the meaning is not quite the same. “As well as” implies a difference of emphasis or importance, with whatever comes after “as well as” being less important, so receiving less emphasis. “And,” on the other hand, is used between two equally important things.
Example of misused transition: as well as
The mayor will decide on next week’s meeting time, as well as whether or not staff will be paid for that meeting.
Problem: The emphasis seems not to be right here, at least if we think that whether staff will be paid is at least as important as the time of the meeting. To see the problem more clearly, we can keep the emphasis as it is and rephrase the sentence: “The mayor will decide on not only whether or not staff will be paid for their time, but also on next week’s meeting time.”
Here it should be obvious that the “not only … but also” sentence structure downplays the importance of a seemingly important issue (whether or not staff gets paid). The emphasis is the same in the original sentence.
The mayor will decide on next week’s meeting time and whether or not staff will be paid for that meeting.
Explanation: “And” gives equal emphasis to both the time of the meeting and the issue of staff pay. If we think these are issues that should receive equal emphasis, we need to use “and.”
Different examples of linking words
Note that many of these may appear at the beginning, middle, and end of sentences. If in doubt about the use of any of the linking words below, a quick search for example sentences should help clarify.
Additive linking words
These show addition, introduction, similarity to other ideas, etc.
|Addition||indeed, further, as well, not only x but also y, also, moreover, as a matter of fact, and, furthermore, additionally, besides x, or, in fact, too, let alone, nor, alternatively, on the other hand, not to mention x|
|Introduction||such as, as, particularly, including, as an illustration, for example, like, in particular, to illustrate, for instance, especially, notably, by way of example|
|Reference||speaking of x, considering x, regarding x, in regard to x, as for x, concerning x, the fact that, on the subject of x|
|Similarity||similarly, in the same way, by the same token, in a like manner, equally, likewise, as|
|Identification||that is (to say), namely, specifically, thus, more precisely|
|Clarification||that is (to say), I mean, (to) put (it) another way, in other words|
Adversative linking words
These linking words are used to signal conflict, contradiction concession, dismissal, etc.
|Conflict||but, by way of contrast, while, on the other hand, however, (and) yet, whereas, though, in contrast, when in fact, conversely, still, whereas|
|Emphasis||even more, above all, indeed, more importantly, besides|
|Concession||even so, nevertheless, even though, on the other hand, admittedly, however, nonetheless, despite x, notwithstanding x, (and) still, although, in spite of x, regardless (of x), (and) yet, though, granted x, be that as it may|
|Dismissal||either way, whichever happens, whatever the case, in either event, in any case, at any rate, in either case, whatever happens, all the same, in any event|
|Replacement||(or) at least, (or) rather, instead|
Causal linking words
These linking words signal cause and effect, reason and result, etc.
|Cause or Reason||for the (simple) reason that, being that, for, in view of x, inasmuch as, because (of x), seeing that, as, owing to (x), due to (the fact that), in that, since|
|Condition||on (the) condition (that), in the case that, granted (that), if, provided that, in case, in the event that, as/so long as, unless, given that, granting (that), providing that, even if, only if|
|Effect/Result||as a result (of x), consequently, hence, for this reason, thus, because (of x), in consequence, so that, accordingly, as a consequence, so much (so) that, so, therefore|
|Purpose||for the purpose of, in the hope that, for fear that, so that, with this intention, to the end that, in order to, lest, with this in mind, in order that, so as to, so|
|Consequence||under such circumstances, then, in that case, if not, that being the case, if so, otherwise|
Sequential linking words
These linking words are used to signal a chronological or logical sequence.
|Numerical||in the (first, second, etc.) place, initially, to start with, first of all, firstly (etc.), to begin with, at first, for a start|
|Continuation||subsequently, previously, eventually, next, before x, afterwards, after x, then|
|Conclusion||to conclude (with), as a final point, eventually, at last, last but not least, finally, lastly|
|Digression||to change the topic, incidentally|
|Resumption||to get back to the point, to resume, anyhow, anyway, at any rate, to return to the subject|
|Summation||as previously stated, so, consequently, in summary, all in all, to make a long story short, thus, as I have said, to sum up, overall, as has been mentioned, then, to summarize, to be brief, briefly, given these points, in all, on the whole, therefore, as has been noted, hence, in conclusion, in a word, to put it briefly, in sum, altogether, in short|
This list of transitions is taken with slight modifications from https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/transw.html with credits to Prof. Campbell, Prof. Buckhoff, and Prof Dowell at Michigan State University (License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)