Navigating a Reading Passage with Transitions

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  • 0:01 Transitions
  • 0:44 Types of Transitions
  • 3:22 Using Transitions
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

In this lesson, you'll get some tips and advice for using transitional words or phrases to navigate a reading passage and find the main point. Then, you can practice yourself in the quiz.


Have you ever started reading a paragraph and gotten confused because you just weren't sure how each sentence was relevant to the next? Or, have you struggled to follow the argument in a longer passage and lost track of the main point halfway through? Knowing more about transition words is a great way to avoid exactly that kind of confusion.

Transitions are words or phrases that guide you from one part of the passage to the next. Understanding how authors use transitions can help you navigate a passage and follow the logic of the author's argument. In this lesson, you'll get a look at how transitions work and how to use them to help you identify the main argument of a passage.

Types of Transitions

Let's start by briefly looking at three different types of transitions. The first type of transitions are transitions that signal continuity: the part after the transition will somehow build on, support, or follow the part before. For example, look at these two sentences:

…as I've shown in this paragraph, cats are better pets than dogs because they are quieter.

Moreover, cats are also better pets than dogs because they do not need to be walked…

'Moreover' and 'also' are transition words that guide you from the first paragraph to the second. They let you know that the second paragraph will somehow complement the first one. The first paragraph gave one reason why the author thinks cats are better pets; the second paragraph gives another. Here's another example:

Cats are quieter than dogs. Because of this, they are better pets.

Here, the transition phrase 'because of this' tells you the relationship between the two sentences: the first is the cause of the second. Other examples of transitions like this include 'and,' 'therefore,' 'so,' and similar words.

The second type of transitions are transitions that signal contrast. These transitions tip you off to a contrast or even a contradiction between two parts of the passage. For example, look at these two sentences:

Some people think that cats are better pets than dogs because cats are quieter.

However, this is a myth: dogs can also be trained to be quiet.

You can see here that 'however' signals to the reader that a change is coming: the second sentence explains why the opinion in the first sentence is wrong. Here's another example:

Dogs can easily be trained to be quiet.

Despite this, many people still assume that they will be noisy pets.

Here, 'despite this' is a transition signaling a contrast between the first sentence and the second. In this case, the first sentence describes what the author thinks is true, while the second describes what the author thinks is an incorrect assumption. The transition alerts the reader to watch out for the contrast. Other transitions that signal contrast include 'although,' 'nevertheless,' 'but,' and similar words.

Finally, transitions can also simply signal where you are in the passage. For example, if an author has three main points, she might signal with 'first,' 'second,' 'third' to help you keep track of where you are in the passage. It's also common to begin the last paragraph with a transition like 'finally' or 'in conclusion.'

Using Transitions

Now you know the types of transitions, but how can they help you on the test? Watching for reading transitions can help you figure out the main point of the passage and the relationships between pieces of information in the passage. It's very rare to have a topic where the truth is completely obvious and there are absolutely no counterpoints or pieces of evidence suggesting otherwise. More often, there's a debate, and an author writing about the topic has to acknowledge opinions and evidence from both sides of the debate.

When an author is discussing multiple points of view or pieces of evidence, she'll use transition words to signal where and how she's discussing these conflicting ideas and what her own opinion is. Understanding how those transition words work will help you figure out what the main point of the passage is and where the author is quoting contrary opinions. For example, look at this paragraph:

[1] Why do superheroes fascinate Americans so much? [2] Theories vary widely, from their pure entertainment value to their position as aspirational idols for children, just as the Homeric heroes presumably were for children in ancient Greece. [3] However, an alternate theory explains much more about hero culture: superheroes are the expression of distinctly American cultural anxieties about power, masculinity, and politics.

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