Transition words

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Using a Variety of Transitions

Teacher Tips

Goal: To introduce variety into students’ use of transitions, including the type of transition, the location of the transition in the sentence, and the structures used with each type of transition.

To the Instructor: This activity would be helpful to introduce before peer review. Students will likely come up with however, on the other hand

The structures will vary according to the category of the transition. However and on the other hand, as transition phrases (also called linking adverbials) do not affect the clause structure. This is part of why they are moveable in the sentence.
Although is a subordinating conjunction, which starts a finite subordinate clauses (followed by a subject and a verb) and requires a main clause. Despite requires a noun phrase or a clause that is acting as a noun phrase (Despite the fact that…)

Part I. Frequent Transitions

Likely, you’ve learned a lot of transition words already in your writing (or English) classes. List some common ones that you think you use in your writing:

Now we’re going to look at some of the frequencies of use in the literacy narrative of these words:

Search queryInstances in matching texts ⓘNormed (per 1 million) ⓘTexts containing term
Table 1. Frequency Table of Transition Words from Crow

As you can see from Table 1, many students chose “However,” at the beginning of the sentence. Although this is a popular transition word in academic writing for sure, there are other ways to create coherence that do not involve such transition words. Using a variety of transition strategies can help your readers stay focused and engaged in your writing.

Part II. Other Methods of Transition

Take a look at the examples of “However” used as a transition below, in Literacy Narratives.

Now, answer the following questions about examples in the concordance lines above:

  1. First, what do you notice about where “however” is in each sentence?
  2. Can it be moved from the beginning of the sentence?
  3. If so, how does the punctuation change?

Here are two other methods of transition that can help you vary your transitions:

1) Adverbial clauses (e.g., clauses beginning with “Although”)

2) Prepositional phrases (e.g., “On the other hand”, “Despite her best efforts”)

Both of these perform the same functions as the phrase “However” but add variation in the beginning of the sentence. Take a look below at the concordances with “However” and with these other types of transitions.


  1. Now, take a look at “on the other hand”, another popular transition. Does it have to be at the beginning of the sentence? If not, how does the punctuation change?


  1. Take a look at the patterns with “Although”. How are they different from “However” and “on the other hand”?
  2. What do you notice about the sentence structure?


Finally, examine the concordance lines using “Despite”.

  1. What do you notice about the grammatical structures that come after “despite” (use the “sort by the word after function”) in comparison with those above? 
  2. Are there any structures that you see as uncommon in academic English? If so, how would you revise them?

Part III. Revising Transitions

Take a look at the following excerpt from a 107 student’s Literacy Narrative. What suggestions would you make to the author to revise their paragraph to include a variety of transitions?

Fast reading also offers me more chances to check errors in the examinations. There were mainly was section in Chinese exams in China, basic test, reading and writing. To be honest, reading section is really difficult. If I read the whole writing, then I would not finish the test on time. However, if we do not read the whole writing, we could not get the purpose and find the answers which are hidden in the writing. Because Chinese writing is much different from American writing. American writing likes to place the main points at the first sentences of every paragraph which is very clear and straight to readers. However, Chinese writing likes to take advantage of some skills to make the writing prettier, like foreshadowing. Therefore, students are supposed to read every sentence carefully. Due to my speed reading, I always had enough time to read the given writings for several times to double check my answers. In this way, it improved my accuracy in exams effectively.

An excerpt from student text in Crow