I just wrote a blog post, and then I went to publish it on our team blog. The Wordpress instance for the team has this "Yoast SEO" plugin. Among other things, it judges my writing style:

Yoast SEO: Readability score

I'm very happy to get feedback and suggestions on my writing, but I'd never heard of this transition words thing, so I looked it up. Yoast have written an article on why you should use them, including the following example:

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

But others seem to have the opposite opinion about whether to use them:

Instead of introducing that action is coming, then describing the action–take a shortcut. Simply describe the action. For the most part, transitional words and phrases are filler.

Is there value in intentionally adding transition words to my writing? Or should I instead just follow my natural voice (which clearly doesn't include too many such words) and not worry about it?


Avoid them.

I'm the kind of writer who advocates snapping on the gloves and doing the surgical method - that is, cutting out everything in your writing that is unnecessary and getting to the bone and tendons of the work. Adjective not needed? Cut it out. Passive verb taking up space? Kill it. Got a sentence that could work better with five words instead of eight? Shorten it.

As a result, I hate transition words. This includes phrases like "and then," "after that," "because of this," etc. In almost any case, you will not need them in your writing and they serve the same purpose as unnecessary clarifiers like "hit the ground." What else would you be hitting?

Take this bit of writing, for example, based on a real manuscript I had the pleasure of reading once:

She slowly laid down the knife. Then, after that, she took a deep breath. Then she walked into the room. It would be on Friday, then, and because of that, then, it would be the end of her life as she knew it.

Ugh. Blech. So many transition words. So many nasty little wastes of space. You see how it clutters up the writing? Cut them out. Kill them. Look at how much nicer and more suspenseful it is without them:

She slowly laid down the knife. Took a deep breath. Walked into the room. It would be on Friday, then, and it would be the end of her life as she knew it.

That's got a much better flow to it, without all those space-wasting words getting in the way. And now you've got more room to add details, and play with the structure of the passage.

Other opinions may vary, of course, but in my opinion all they do is bloat the writing and take up space. If your natural writing style already avoids them, then that's a good thing. Keep it that way!

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    I would agree. As a side note, the second example is known as staccato writing which is a style with short sentences with no transitions between them. mrs.praser.com/Rhetorical_Devices_files/7_Sentence_Length.pdf – Nai54 Feb 19 at 17:06
  • Thanks, this is exactly my feeling too. I'm a Hemmingway sort of writer. I'm always looking for opportunities to cut out pointless words. Thanks, I'm more comfortable now deciding that this Yoast plugin is just wrong. – Robin Winslow Feb 19 at 23:14
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    I think the example you gave (She slowly laid down the knife. Then, after that, she took a deep breath...) is a bit extreme. It overuses transition words which is why they come across as filler. If used well, transition words can help make the writing more clear and easier to comprehend. – Parag Feb 21 at 13:21

Transition words when used well reduce cognitive overload. However, when they are overused, they turn into unnecessary filler words.

Quoting from Yoast's article about why you should use transition words.

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.

Reducing cognitive overload does matter because we're living in times when almost everyone is dealing with way more information than they can consume. Having said that, everyone's mileage may differ. If you are writing for a specific audience, it might be a good idea to understand which style helps them comprehend the text better, and use that style.

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