Transitional Phrases: Helping Your Reader “Get There”

Readers are creatures of habit. As an author, you’ll form your own voice and technique—your habits—and your reader will learn to pick up on these. But, if you get into the practice of choppy writing, your audience will also notice that pattern and may lose interest before you can communicate anything important. That’s why it’s important to have a few tools in your back pocket, like transitional phrases. These phrases can help you move smoothly from one topic to another and keep an unfocused reader interested and engaged.

What is a transitional phrase?

You may already know the most common transitional words, like however, because, and nevertheless, but transitional phrases can be a little more subtle and inviting; they tell your reader to stay with you, that there’s more information, and hint that the next paragraph will be as interesting as this one. But, knowing that you need to warn your audience of movement before it happens is just the first part; you also need to know what kind of movement you’re planning.

Transitional phrases in writing; girl reading

To pick the right phrase…

Identifying your transition is simple; just ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve.

Do you want the reader to keep reading?

Are you hoping to reveal an important insight?

Is your goal a moment of epiphany?

Once you know your aim, it’s definitely easier to choose a phrase that will fit your thoughts together.

Types of Transitional Phrases

There are many types of transitional phrases, but here are some of their most common objectives:

  • Clarify information or relationships.

Sharing information can sometimes be an eyeful for a reader. Slow down and say, “Let me explain,” “You might understand,” or “To clarify…” There’s nothing wrong with saying something twice, especially if it helps your reader understand complex information.

  • Reveal an obstacle.

The “big reveal” is a transition that can be used to grab the attention of your reader. You can write this shift with phrases like, “You’d never guess,” “If only I’d known,” and “That’s not even the half of it….”

  • Share a discovery.

Some transitional phrases move the reader from a stagnant situation to a realization of value: “What I learned next,” “It finally became clear,” or “What actually happened….” This is also a great strategy you can use to grab and keep attention.

  • Pose a question.

One way to keep a reader’s attention while moving through your writing is to create a conversation between them and yourself. By asking a question like, “How amazing is…?” “Why is it important to…?” or “How could you know…?” you still achieve activity, and the reader feels recognized.

Practice Makes Perfect!

Becoming a writer who can move from thought to thought without any gaps or jolts is something many writers struggle with—but shouldn’t! Achieving a clear and even voice is simple with a little thought and practice. Pay attention to transitions in your next readings; try to pick up on the methods of the writers—good or bad. Pretty soon, you’ll start to appreciate the grace and flow of an excellent transition. You might even tuck a few into that back pocket of yours, ready to use at a moment’s notice.