Academic Writing - Transitional Words and Phrases


1 Why use transitional words and phrases?

Transitional words and phrases (e.g. however , or , finally , before ) contribute to the unity (cohesiveness) of a text. Indeed, without these words or phrases, a text will most likely seem disorganized and will often be difficult to understand. When used they provide greater organisation within a text and lead to greater understanding and enjoyment on the part of the reader.

Grammatically, such words and phrases fall under a number of categories:

•  Conjunctions: but, provided, and, although

•  Prepositional phrases: in addition to, in conclusion

•  Adverbs: also, however, nevertheless


Transitional words and phrases can be placed in various places in a text. This might be:

•  between paragraphs

•  between sentences

•  between sentence parts

•  within sentence parts


For example, you could write:

Mexican immigration has recently been the subject of much discussion within US political circles. However, most ordinary Americans know little of this burning issue.

The word 'however' contributes to greater unity or cohesion between sentences.

Or you could write:

Mexican immigration has recently been the subject of much discussion within US political circles but most ordinary Americans know little of this burning issue .

The word 'but' contributes to greater cohesion within a sentence.


2 Different functions of transitional words and phrases


2.1 Functions

Each transitional word or phrase can be given a different function , for example:

Time : then, now, first, second, next, before, after, today, tomorrow, at that point, subsequently, eventually, in the past, in the future

Sequence : at first, secondly, thirdly, to begin with, at the same time, the next step, later on, next, then, simultaneously, in conclusion

Many transitional words or phrases express a logical connection between elements in a text. For this reason they are often referred to as 'logical connectors', for example:

Addition : and, also, then, besides, furthermore, in addition, additionally, moreover, again

Contrast and comparison : conversely, not only…but also, nevertheless, by the same token, likewise, on the one hand, on the other hand, similarly

Purpose : in order to, so that, to this end, for this purpose, for that reason

Consequence : accordingly, as a result, as a consequence, hence, so so then, therefore, thus

Summarizing or concluding: all things considered, briefly, in conclusion, in short, in summary, in the final analysis, to sum up, finally

Reason : because, due to the fact that, for, since, on account of

Generalizing : as a rule, for the most part, generally speaking, usually

Restatement : in other words, namely, that is, that is to say, to put it differently

Emphasising : obviously, in fact, indeed, absolutely, positively, surprisingly, unquestionably, without a doubt, certainly, in particular, especially

Illustration : for example, e.g., for instance, that is, specifically, in particular, for one thing, an instance of this


Note that some words can have more than one function given to them (e.g. then ).

2.2 Exercise: Functions of Transitional Words & Phrases

(i) Can you think of other words and phrases that have these functions?

(ii) Can you think of any other functions that have not been included in the above list?


3 Exercises: Transitional Words & Phrases

3.1 Reading: Mexican Immigration to the US

Finally, it is likely that overall migration and migration from Mexico in particular will continue at roughly current levels. Thus, the United States can anticipate the entry of another 14 million immigrants between 2000 and 2010 with net migration of at least 400,000 Mexicans per year. Consequently, the foreign-born population would increase from 31 million in 2000 to about 40 million in 2010, to represent 13 percent of the total population. The Mexican-born population would grow from about nine million in 2000 to almost 13 million in 2010; at that point, more than 10 percent of the Mexican-born population would be in the United States with less than 90 percent in Mexico.

Adapted from Passel, J. Mexican Immigration to the US: The Latest Estimates

3.1.1 Identify any transitional words and phrases, give them a function and find an equivalent for them.


Transitional words and phrases




Summarising / Concluding

In conclusion



















3.2 Reading: Immigration & Poverty

Looking at rates of poverty is very important it provides a good deal of insight into Mexican immigration's impact on the United States. Poverty rates have wide-ranging implications for the immigrants themselves for society in general. Mexican immigrants are finding it difficult to obtain a middle-class income, it implies that a significant proportion of immigrants are unable to succeed in the modern American economy, it implies significant fiscal costs to the country. Persons who live in or near poverty are, by design, eligible for a wide range of means-tested programs. the progressive nature of payroll and other taxes, those with low incomes pay relatively little in taxes. by consuming scarce public resources, an increase in the size of the low-income population immigration may hinder the ability of the nation to help those with low incomes already here.


Adapted from Camarota, S.A. Immigration From Mexico: Assessing the Impact on the United States


3.2.1 Put the following transitional words and phrases back into the text:




not only…but




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