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Writers' Center

Eastern Washington University

Writing Your Paper: Transitions


Transitions are words and/or phrases used to indicate movement or show change throughout a piece of writing. Transitions generally come at the beginning or end of a paragraph and can do the following:

  • Alert readers of connections to, or further evidence for, the thesis
  • Function as the topic sentence of paragraphs
  • Guide readers through an argument
  • Help writers stay on task

Transitions sentences often indicate or signal:

  • Change to new topic
  • Connection/flow from previous topic
  • Continuity of overall argument/thesis

Transitions show connections between ideas. You must create these connections for the reader to move them along with your argument. Without transitions, you are building a house without nails. Things do not hold together.

Transition Words and Phrases

Transitions can signal change or relationship in these ways:

Time - order of events

Examples: while, immediately, never, after, later, earlier, always, soon, meanwhile, during, until now, next, following, once, then, simultaneously, so far

Contrast - show difference

Examples: yet, nevertheless, after all, but, however, though, otherwise, on the contrary, in contrast, on the other hand, at the same time

Compare - show similarity

Examples: in the same way, in like manner, similarly, likewise

Position - show spatial relationships

Examples: here, there, nearby, beyond, wherever, opposite to, above, below

Cause and effect

Examples: because, since, for that reason, therefore, consequently, accordingly, thus, as a result

Conclusion - wrap up/summarize the argument

Examples: in conclusion, to conclude, finally, in summary


Writing strong transitions often takes more than simply plugging in a transition word or phrase here and there. In a piece of academic writing, writers often need to use signposts, or transition sentences that signal the reader of connections to the thesis. To form a signpost, combine transition words, key terms from the thesis, and a mention of the previous topic and new topic.

Transition/signpost sentence structure: 

[Transition word/phrase]+[previous topic]+[brief restatement of or reference to thesis/argument]+[new topic] = Signpost

  • Do not think of this as a hard and fast template, but a general guide to what is included in a good transition.
  • Transitions link the topic of the previous paragraph(s) to the topic of the present paragraph(s) and connect both to the overall goal/argument. You'll most often find signposts at the beginning of a paragraph, where they function as topic sentences.

Sample signpost using complimentary transition phrase:

According to [transition phrase] the same overall plan for first defeating Confederate forces in the field and then capturing major cities and rail hubs [overall thesis restated] that Grant followed by marching the Army of the Potomac into Virginia [previous topic], Sherman likewise [transition word] advanced into Georgia to drive a dagger into the heart of the Confederacy [new topic].

Contrasting ideas have the same essential format as complimentary but may use different transition words and phrases:

In contrast to [transition phrase] F.D.R., who maintained an ever-vigilant watchfulness over the Manhattan project [previous topic + reference to overall thesis], Truman took over the presidency without any knowledge of the atomic bomb or its potential power [new topic].

The overall structure of an essay with transitions may look something like this:

*Note how transitions may come at beginning or end of paragraphs, but either way they signal movement and change.

You can learn more about essay structure HERE.

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Transition Resources

Here are a couple of good sites with extensive lists of transition words and phrases:  

 Academic Phrasebank