Definition and Examples of a Transition in Composition

suspension bridge
A transition is a bridge between two sentences or paragraphs.

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In English grammar, a transition is a connection (a word, phrase, clause, sentence, or entire paragraph) between two parts of a piece of writing, contributing to cohesion.

Transitional devices include pronouns, repetition, and transitional expressions, all of which are illustrated below.

Pronunciation: trans-ZISH-en

From the Latin, "to go across"

Examples and Observations

Example: At first a toy, then a mode of transportation for the rich, the automobile was designed as man's mechanical servant. Later it became part of the pattern of living.

Here are some examples and insights from other writers:

  • "A transition should be short, direct, and almost invisible."
    Gary Provost, Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 1988)
  • "A transition is anything that links one sentence—or paragraph—to another. Nearly every sentence, therefore, is transitional. (In that sentence, for example, the linking or transitional words are sentence, therefore, and transitional.) Coherent writing, I suggest, is a constant process of transitioning."
    (Bill Stott, Write to the Point: And Feel Better About Your Writing, 2nd ed. Columbia University Press, 1991)

Repetition and Transitions 

In this example, transitions are repeated in the prose:

  • "The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself." (Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 2006)

Pronouns and Repeated Sentence Structures

  • "Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return." (Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 2006)
  • "When you find yourself having difficulty moving from one section of an article to the next, the problem might be due to the fact that you are leaving out information. Rather than trying to force an awkward transition, take another look at what you have written and ask yourself what you need to explain in order to move on to your next section."
    (Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Mentor, 1972)

Tips on Using Transitions

  • "After you have developed your essay into something like its final shape, you will want to pay careful attention to your transitions. Moving from paragraph to paragraph, from idea to idea, you will want to use transitions that are very clear—you should leave no doubt in your reader's mind how you are getting from one idea to another. Yet your transitions should not be hard and monotonous: though your essay will be so well-organized you may easily use such indications of transitions as 'one,' 'two,' 'three' or 'first,' 'second,' and 'third,' such words have the connotation of the scholarly or technical article and are usually to be avoided, or at least supplemented or varied, in the formal composition. Use 'one,' 'two,' 'first,' 'second,' if you wish, in certain areas of your essay, but also manage to use prepositional phrases and conjunctive adverbs and subordinate clauses and brief transitional paragraphs to achieve your momentum and continuity. Clarity and variety together are what you want." (Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester, The New Strategy of Style. McGraw-Hill, 1978)

Space Breaks as Transitions

  • "Transitions are usually not that interesting. I use space breaks instead, and a lot of them. A space break makes a clean segue whereas some segues you try to write sound convenient, contrived. The white space sets off, underscores, the writing presented, and you have to be sure it deserves to be highlighted this way. If used honestly and not as a gimmick, these spaces can signify the way the mind really works, noting moments and assembling them in such a way that a kind of logic or pattern comes forward, until the accretion of moments forms a whole experience, observation, state of being. The connective tissue of a story is often the white space, which is not empty. There’s nothing new here, but what you don’t say can be as important as what you do say." (Amy Hempel, interviewed by Paul Winner. The Paris Review, Summer 2003)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of a Transition in Composition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of a Transition in Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of a Transition in Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).