Transition words: why and how to use them

The Yoast SEO readability check provides feedback on your use of transition words. But what are they? Why are they so important? And how should you use them?

What are transition words?

Transition words are words like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’ and ‘because’. They show your reader the relationship between phrases or sentences. Transition words make it easier for your readers to understand how thoughts and ideas are connected. They also prepare your reader for what’s coming. 

Let’s consider an example.

I pushed the domino. As a result, it fell over.

When you start a sentence with ‘as a result’, your reader will immediately know two things:

  1. What happened in the first sentence caused something;
  2. The second sentence is going to describe the effect.

By using the phrase ‘as a result’ here, you show that the two separate sentences are actually part of one process. Without having even read the rest of the sentence, your reader can already guess what’s coming. In a way, transition words are the glue that holds your text together. Without them, your text is a collection of sentences. With them, the individual parts come together to form one whole.

Transition words don’t always have to be placed at the beginning of a sentence. Consider the following examples.

He’s a very nice guy. He took us out to dinner yesterday, for instance.

In this example, ‘for instance’ is placed at the end of the sentence. Nonetheless, it still provides the reader with information as to how the two sentences are related.

I enjoy his company because he always tells interesting stories.

In this example, ‘because’ doesn’t connect two sentences, but two clauses. Transition words can connect anything from short phrases to entire paragraphs.

Types of transition words

Transition words can be divided into several categories, based on the type of transition you want to make. There are often several words available for one transition. Sometimes they mean exactly the same, sometimes there are slight differences. If you’re not a native speaker or struggle with language in general, you’ll have to study and practice these transition words. That’s the only way to understand which transition words fit which situations.

Transition Example word/phrase Example sentence
Cause and effect Therefore, as a result, so, consequently I’m tired. Therefore, I’m going to bed.
Clarification That is to say, in other words, to clarify We’re letting you go. In other words, you’re fired.
Contrast But, however, on the other hand I am not fond of fruit. However, I do like bananas.
Example For example, for instance In the evening, I like to relax. For instance, I enjoy watching TV.
Emphasis Above all, most importantly, certainly There are many reasons to exercise regularly. Above all, it keeps you healthy.
Enumeration Firstly/secondly, further, and, moreover, in addition Today, I’m going to write a post. In addition, I’m recording some video lessons.
Time Meanwhile, during, subsequently, after that I’ll start by telling you what transition words are. After that, I’ll tell you why you should always use them.
Similarity Likewise, similarly, in the same vein She tried really hard to entertain her guests. Similarly, he put all his heart and soul in cooking a great dinner.
Summarize/conclude In conclusion, to sum up, in short In conclusion, transition words are an important aspect of SEO copywriting.

Table 1: transition words with example sentences

Why are transition words important for SEO?

Transition words make it easier to read and understand a text. And readability is very important for SEO. Although transition words don’t influence your SEO directly, they are one of the key factors to readability.

Let’s explore the power of transition words with an example. Text A contains no transition words. Text B is the exact same, only we’ve added transition words to make it easier to read.

Text A
I’m going to discuss a few reasons why practice is important to learning skills. The only way to truly master a skill is by actually doing what you’ll have to do in the real world. I think practice can be a fun way of putting in the necessary hours. There are some people who will disagree. It is said that people tend to remember only 10-20% of what they’ve heard or read. That number rises to as much as 90% when you put theory to practice. Following up explanation with practice is key to mastering a skill.

Text B
In this paragraph, I’m going to discuss a few reasons why practice is important to mastering skills. Firstly, the only way to truly learn a skill is by actually doing what you’ll have to do in the real world. Secondly, I think practice can be a fun way of putting in the necessary hours. There are, however, some people who will disagree. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is said that people tend to remember only 10-20% of what they read or hear. Moreover, that number rises to as much as 90% when you put theory to practice. In conclusion, following up explanation with practice is key to mastering a skill.

Text A is not a terrible paragraph. However, the differences are clear as day. Text B does a better job of showing there are three separate arguments to support the statement with a definite conclusion. The reader never has to wonder whether a sentence still belongs to the previous argument or to a new one. Moreover, it even shows the relationship between sentences within one argument. Therefore, people are going to find it easier to read this text and will stay on the page longer. And this is just one short, conveniently arranged paragraph!

Learn more about this check in Yoast SEO in our explanation of the transition words assessment

What can I do to improve?

There are several reasons why you may be able to improve your transition game. Let’s start with the good news: everyone uses transition words in some way. There are very few authors who never use the words ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, and the like. Using them correctly or frequently enough, however, doesn’t come natural to everyone. Using transition words correctly requires a couple of things. You have to:

  1. Know the transition words, obviously;
  2. Have a clear idea of the relationships between separate thoughts and ideas within your text;
  3. Know how to apply transition words properly and in context;

1. Know your transition words

Actually knowing the transition words is most commonly a problem for non-native speakers. However, many native speakers could also benefit from studying the less frequent transition words. In any case, it is easy to do. You simply look up a list of transition words and study their definitions. Don’t underestimate it either, though! Transition words are often quite nuanced and really depend on context, as we’ll explore later.

2. Be aware of how your thoughts and ideas relate to each other

In the blog post assignments people hand in for feedback in our SEO training courses, we see a clear pattern. People who have a better idea of the structure of their text also use more transition words, and do it more effectively. Too often, people just start writing and then basically just see what happens. Break your text down into an introduction, body and conclusion, and make sure you know what goal every paragraph serves. Then, survey your text on a sentence level. Find opportunities to make transitions that make sense. If you struggle with this, try reading texts by other authors and see how they use transition words.

3. Know how to apply transition words accurately in context

Knowing when to use which transition word can be quite difficult. We often see people using transition words incorrectly, even after they’ve read up on the theory. Honestly, the key to mastering this is practice, practice, practice. Write sample sentences in which you connect two sentences with each other using transition words. Do the gap-fill exercises our SEO copywriting course provides. And if you really want to be sure you’re doing the right thing, hand in the blog post assignment you’ll find in the same training and get real-time feedback on your use of transition words!

Conclusion

Transition words are very important for the readability of your text. However, many people struggle with them. If you do, study them and make sure you practice a lot. Our SEO Copywriting training can help you with that. In addition, make sure you’re aware of the structure of your text. In this way, it will be easier to pick the best transition words available.