Using Transitions and Structure in Your TOEFL Essay

Even a well thought out essay with great arguments and support can score low if it lacks “flow.” You need to connect your ideas in a way that guides the reader through your essay. In addition to making your argument seem stronger to the reader, good use of transitions and structure will just make your essay more pleasant to read. Let’s talk about how you can use structure and transitions to make your essay as convincing as possible.



Your essay should begin by engaging the reader (making them care about what you have to say) and stating your thesis. After that, you need to support your thesis with specific examples, details, and information intended to inform and/or convince the reader. Finally, you need to restate your thesis and tell the reader why it matters. On the paragraph level, transitions can be used to smooth your writing out and make the jump from one paragraph to the next less jarring.



To decide what transition to use in a given situation, first look at your essay as a whole. How is it organized? If you present arguments that build on each other, use transitions listed under “Similarity” below. Or maybe you present one idea and then the opposite opinion. If so, you will find that transition words of contrast help. And if you list your examples, transition words of sequence will make this relationship clear.


Common transitions

SIMILARITY: similarly, like, as, likewise, in the same way, in addition, plus

CONTRAST: nevertheless, yet, still, on the other hand, despite, although

TIME/LISTING: First, second, etc…; next, then; at first; after that; currently; simultaneously

EMPHASIS: actually, even, indeed, especially, in fact

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, finally, therefore, thus

Different grammatical structures

Although two words/phrases from any one category above might have similar meanings, they are not all the same grammatically. You must learn how each word or phrase is used. A good dictionary with example sentences will help.



You can practice some of these words by combining each pair of sentences below; you can change the order of the sentences or rephrase them slightly if you want. How many different transitions can you use for each pair? How does the choice of transition affect the meaning of the sentence?

  • My family has always lived in the same house.  We travel often.
  • Most people who have pets prefer either dogs or cats. I have a pet elephant.
  • I study anthropology. My sister is interested in anthropology.
  • We built a raft. We went on an adventure.


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  • Kate Hardin

    Kate has 6 years of experience in teaching foreign language. She graduated from Sewanee in 2012, where she studied and taught German, and recently returned from a year spent teaching English in a northern Russian university. Follow Kate on Google+!