Transition Phrases

In traditional essays, we typically use transition words such as these:

These words alert your reader that you're now going to talk about something new: A different (but still somewhat related) topic or argument.

In narrative writing, we use transition words such as these:

These words alert your reader to a shift in the setting of your narrative. These phrases are important—but remember, they're never enough. You also need a paragraph break, placed immediately before these transition words, in order to give the reader a proper "heads up."

To improve as a writer, you need to become hyper-aware of such phrases. Each time you use one, let it remind you that you should now be in a new paragraph. Train yourself to start a new paragraph, every time you jump forward in time, or jump to a different place.


Every rule has exceptions, and this one is no different. Of course there are exceptions—but the exceptions are rare, and they generally occur when a writer is trying to sum up a long period of time in a single paragraph. Here are few quick examples.

The following year was a hard one. The winter months were bitter cold, and the ground didn't thaw until May. By the time Henry finished the plowing, it was almost June, and then the ground dried up and it didn't rain again until September. The harvest was pathetic; it barely filled one wagon. By Christmas the family was starving.

Obviously, it wouldn't make sense to start a new paragraph for each new season. But that's because this paragraph is organized according to a different principal. It's a topic sentence paragraph. Each sentence supports the topic sentence (the first sentence). In this particular example, each sentence supports the assertion that "The following year was a hard one".

Here is one more example.

The tour was a hectic blur. We played 36 cities in two months. I hardly remember Paris, or Rome, or London. Each concert was the same: sold-out arenas packed with screaming fans, with hardly anything to distinguish the crowds in LA from the crowds in Berlin. And there's nothing much different about a hotel in Moscow or one in New York City. But I do remember Tokyo. Tokyo was different.

Again, it wouldn't make sense to start a new paragraph each time the action moves to a different city, because it's not that kind of paragraph. In this paragraph, each sentence supports the topic sentence: "The tour was a hectic blur."

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.