Session 3: Using Transitions

Like a fitness boot camp, each week builds on the previous weeks’ work. So, by this point you’re probably good at spotting long sentences and shortening them. You should also be used to crafting solid paragraphs.

This session we turn our attention to using transitions – words and phrases like: “as a result”, “in fact”, “but”, “even so”, and so on. Transitions help readers understand how the ideas set out in the paragraphs are connected. They express relationships between ideas and signal how the author’s ideas flow. Think of them as the mortar between the paragraph building blocks.

Business writers are sometimes reluctant to use transitions because they think the ideas they’re writing about are obvious. In other words, they believe the reader doesn’t need help making the mental connection. Writers who’ve been working on a document for some time are more likely to come to this mistaken conclusion. They forget the poor reader is new to the information and don’t realize readers appreciate it when connections are clear.

Another excuse writers sometimes give for not including transitions is they want to be concise. While striving to be concise is good, making things easy for readers by adding a few words is just as important.

Generic transitions

Generic transitions are cues that keep readers on track. They signal contrast (“on the other hand”), comparison (“similarly”), emphasis (“in fact”), conclusions (“in short”), cause and effect (“therefore”), and so on. Choose transitions carefully because they carry subtly different meanings. For example, “earlier” and “since” both convey timing, but they mean very different things.

Substantive transitions

Substantive transitions provide connection and new content. With these, the author usually reiterates or refers to a point previously made and then adds to it. Here’s an example:

The trainer’s methods were complicated and involved a lot of equipment. Though the methods yielded results, no one signed up for the advanced camp.

The italicized transition refers back to an idea in the first sentence but the rest of the sentence then offers a contrast.

Because transitions are cues for readers, the best place to put them is at the point of connection. Here’s an example:

The participants were tired and frustrated. As a result, they all quit.

There’s no reason for not using transitions generously. After all, they help readers follow your line of thinking, which is the goal of all business writing.

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