What is a transition?
Transitional words and phrases are like little bits of logical padding that show how different subjects are connected.
Examples of transitional words:
- in essence
- in conclusion
- for instance
- in particular
- in truth
- as a result
. . .plus a zillion more. You get the idea.
The challenge factor
If you are having difficulty in your writing with including enough transitional material, one of the best approaches is to take a bit of time to practice this single aspect of language.
By repeating a technique like an athlete doing a drill or a musician playing scales over and over again, you can effectively internalize the technique. That way, the knowledge will be there when you need it later.
At the bottom of this article is a freewriting exercise. Think of it like a game or a challenge for weaving in as much transitional phrasing as possible.
The value of repetition
When you’re learning something new, repetition is key for helping what you learn stick.
Otherwise it’s totally possible to learn new things and not to remember that you know them. Basically, to nod your head, fully understanding what someone is saying. Seconds later, you don’t remember what was said.
Repeat it to yourself and you’re likely to remember it.
When learning someone’s name, it can help to simply repeat their name aloud after they say it.
“Hi, I’m Stephen.”
“I’m Shonna, nice to meet you.”
“Shonna. Good to meet you too.”
Maybe you have had the experience reading a book — maybe late at night, maybe with an especially boring book — where your eyes follow the words, lines and paragraph go by… except… you’re not really reading. Your eyes are moving, but you aren’t comprehending what they are seeing.
If an actor wants to memorize lines, is it enough to read through the script a single time?
Memorization is helped by repetition.
If you’re learning a new language, it can feel artificial to simply say the new vocabulary word once and expect that you will remember it. You have to repeat it over and over to be able to effectively internalize it.
When we have habits we want to adopt, it isn’t sufficient to simply try it once and expect it will automatically come easy the next time and the time after that.
When life throws a curve ball, which habits are we going to stick with?
The ones we have really internalized.
So, with some intentionality, you can use this freewriting exercise to play around with and experiment with a facet of language you want to explore and get better at.
Explore transitional phrases
Of course you already know how to transition between one thing and another.
But what will happen if you actively bring in this stuff and weave it in with a writing exercise?
Musicians can play scales and practice that way.
Unfortunately, writers don’t generally take advantage of warmups or similar activities.
Because we use words, and words convey literal meaning. We are so so attached to the things we say needing to add up and having literal meaning
What will happen if you are willing to let yourself play and explore and experiment?
Try this freewriting exercise to experiment with transitional phrases.
Exercise: Transitional phrases
Transitional phrases are like the connective tissue of sentences. If two sentences are like two different bones, using transitional words and phrases adds tendons and cartilage and ligaments. Before long, rather than a pile of bones, your writing has a bonafide skeleton. A frame. It feels cohesive. Ideas flow from one to the other in a way that feels fluid and natural.
Consult a list of transitional words and phrases. Pick out a section of them you want to use.
Here are some useful lists of transitional phrases:
Option 1: Timed Exercise
Freewrite for twenty minutes or so, squeezing in transitional phrases and words as you write. No need to make perfect sense. The main thing is to squeeze in transitional phrases. As with learning a language, the more you have fun and mess around, the better.
Option 2: Completion Exercise
Freewrite, integrating transitional words and phrases into what you write. Start at the top of a list of transitional phrases and work your way down to the bottom. Keep writing without stopping until you reach the end of the list.
You are free to write about anything. It can make perfect sense. It can be nonsense. The main requirements:
- Enjoy yourself
- Write without stopping
- Use all the transitional words and phrases
After she waded through the mangrovy section of beach she grew tired. Thus, her pace much slowed, lurking animals, such as the alligator, perked up at the sound of her splashing feet.
.. . . and on and on.