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How to Use Transition Words

A grammar expert offers tips about how to use transition words and choose better transition words for your sentences. Go beyond transition words like “first” and “next.”

By
Bonnie Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
June 17, 2010
Episode #226

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Today, Bonnie Trenga will help us choose better transition words.

This article could make you a tad hungry, because today we’re comparing the art of writing to the art of making a sandwich. In fact, just for today, we might need to change the name of the show to Gourmet Girl. In this episode, we’ll examine how to transition smoothly from point to point so that the flavors of your sandwich—your nonfiction writing—meld together subtly. 

How to Use Transition Words

Back in grade school, you learned the basics of writing. The normal structure of an essay was an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. You might say you learned to create a run-of-the-mill BLT. Two slices of bread surrounded three clearly separated components: bacon, lettuce, and tomato.

For example, in an essay that answers the question “What did you do this summer?” a grade-schooler might use a topic sentence like this: “The first thing I did on summer vacation was …” Then he’d move on to “The second thing I did was…” You can imagine how his third supporting paragraph might begin. For third-graders, BLT-type essays might be perfectly acceptable. Their teachers don’t expect them to be gourmet-sentence chefs just yet.

As students mature, though, we must fear for them. They may not learn how to write transitions that are more masterful. Raise your hands now, grown-ups. How many of you would write a sentence like “The last thing I did on summer vacation was x”? I can see some hands there. Many adults have not progressed past the BLT sandwich. We therefore need to create a new recipe so that we can deliver a more satisfying reading experience.

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