11 Alternatives To “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly” In Writing

“Firstly,” “secondly,” and “thirdly” are all ways to list things out in writing. It gives a structure or order to events, and that’s great in many cases. However, there are better alternatives that it’s worth knowing about. This article will share the best ones with you.

What Can I Say Instead Of “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly” In Writing?

To help you get better at writing out lengthy lists, you might be interested in trying one of the following alternatives:

  • First of all
  • One example is
  • Another example is
  • The last example is
  • One reason is
  • Another reason is
  • Most importantly

alternatives to firstly secondly thirdly

The preferred version is “first of all,” which would go on to be “second of all” and “third of all.” We can use them when we want to list things in order, and they all work much better in writing than “firstly,” “secondly,” and “thirdly.”

First Of All

“First of all” works well when we continue the list with “second of all” and “third of all.” These are useful because it allows us to number our examples specifically. In writing, this flow helps many readers to understand how different things connect with each other.

We can use these forms in both formal and informal writing. That’s what makes them so useful to us, and we recommend you get used to using them. They are much more suitable formally than “firstly” and their counterparts.

Here are some examples to show you how it works:

  • First of all, one of you needs to tell me where to find the key for the chest.
  • Second of all, once I have opened the chest, we will follow the map that it contains to the treasure.
  • Third of all, we will locate said treasure, dig it up, and split it amongst ourselves.

“First” also works well when we drop “of all.” We can continue the list with “second” and “third,” which again are associated with the numbers one, two, and three, respectively. It’s helpful to use a phrase like this in many written formats.

Just like “first of all,” “first” is a great choice for formal writing. Some people prefer it without the “of all” ending, which is why we thought it should be placed high on this list.

  • First, I would like to discuss the matter that surrounds the pollution in our lakes.
  • Second, I would like to try and find some common ground that will allow us to figure out the solution.
  • Third, I would like to see evidence that new legislation has been put in place to correct the pollution problems.

One Example Is

“One example is” works well when we want to start a list. It can act like “first of all,” where we want to start a list. However, using “one example is” does not always have to begin a list, which is why it can work quite well in written cases.

Sometimes, we might just want to use “one example is” to list an example of something we spoke about before. Once that example has been stated, there might not be a reason for us to continue listing more examples.

Here are some examples:

  • One example is that many chimps do not get the same diets like the ones in the wild.
  • One example is that there are plenty of different ways for us to help the oceans by binning our plastics.
  • One example is the theory that everything comes from nothing and how perplexing that is.

Another Example Is

“Another example is” would be the continuation from “one example is.” We can use it when we want to list a second example, which might add to the list. However, we can also stop the list after this second “example.” It does not always need to come in threes.

Here are some examples of how you might use it:

  • Another example is that other zoos are not as eco-friendly as they would like the people to believe.
  • Another example is that we should be working a lot harder to clean up our local parks.
  • Another example is that there are plenty of ways people would tackle the trolley problem, but none of them are honest solutions.

The Last Example Is

“The last example is” would be the third installment of the “example” list from above. We can use it when we want to close out the list because we use “last” to show that no further examples will be spoken of.

You might benefit from reading through these examples to see how it works:

  • The last example is that there are never enough free-roaming spaces for many of the animals in our zoos.
  • The last example is that billionaires do not seem to care about the current state of the world.
  • The last example is that philosophy presents problems that no one really wants to solve.

“To begin” is a great way to start a list. It’s much more open-ended than the other choices in this article. If we were going to continue on this list, we would use a phrase like “continuing on” to show that there is more to our train of thought.

These examples should help you to make more sense of it:

  • To begin, I would like to discuss all the matters that we raised in the previous meeting.
  • To begin, it would be wise if you told me what the problems were and how you have remedied them.
  • To begin, I would like to divert your attention to the figure below, as what it contains might shock you.

One Reason Is

“One reason is” is another great way to start a list. However, just like “one example is,” it does not have to begin a list at all. We can simply use it to state a single “reason,” which we then clarify and move on to our next point.

If we wanted to continue “one reason is,” we would do so in the same way as “one example is.” They are almost identical, though “reasons” are usually explanations of a previous point, while “examples” simply show what we are talking about.

Here are a few examples to help you with it:

  • One reason is that people have stopped caring about their neighbors, and the world seems further apart than ever.
  • One reason is that many people are scared to go out to local supermarkets anymore.
  • One reason is that the government was never designed to be a trustworthy organization.

Another Reason Is

“Another reason is” would allow us to continue the list of “one reason is.” We could also use “the last reason is” if we wanted to close the list. These phrases work well when we want to show how different reasons might impact the things we are writing about.

Here are some examples to help you understand them:

  • Another reason is that the age of technology has made it even harder to socialize and make friends.
  • Another reason is that online shopping just happens to be a more lucrative thing to do these days.
  • Another reason is that people have become naturally more untrusting since they gained access to the news.

“Finally” works when we want to finish any list. It allows us to share our “final” point, which is usually one of the most important ones. The more important we can make the final point, the more potent our writing tends to be.

Here are a few good examples:

  • Finally, I would like for you to consider why you are even reading this article if you do not care.
  • Finally, I would like to know why so many people pretend that the world is fine.
  • Finally, we have to figure out how to fix these issues before it’s too late .

Most Importantly

“Most importantly” is another way we can end a list. It works well to replace the final item in a list when we know it is the “most important” of all to mention. It’s a superlative phrase, which considers the final item as the one the readers should focus their attention on.

Here are a few ways we can use this one correct:

  • Most importantly, I think we should all start caring a little more about each other.
  • Most importantly, someone is out there right now thinking about the same thing you are.
  • Most importantly, it’s not all about you, and you need to give a little back to the world.

“Lastly” is another great way to close a list. It can replace a word like “thirdly” if there are only three items. Again, we typically want our “lastly” point to be the most important, but this does not always need to be the case, depending on what you are writing about.

Here are a few examples to show it to you:

  • Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read this message.
  • Lastly, I think it’s important that we do not forget our roots.
  • Lastly, I believe that someone else will be continuing on my efforts, so at least they weren’t in vain.

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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here .

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English Recap

12 Alternatives to “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly” in an Essay

synonyms for first essay

Essays are hard enough to get right without constantly worrying about introducing new points of discussion.

You might have tried using “firstly, secondly, thirdly” in an essay, but are there better alternatives out there?

This article will explore some synonyms to give you other ways to say “firstly, secondly, thirdly” in academic writing.

Can I Say “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly”?

You can not say “firstly, secondly, thirdly” in academic writing. It sounds jarring to most readers, so you’re better off using “first, second, third” (removing the -ly suffix).

Technically, it is correct to say “firstly, secondly, thirdly.” You could even go on to say “fourthly” and “fifthly” when making further points. However, none of these words have a place in formal writing and essays.

Still, these examples will show you how to use all three of them:

Firstly , I would like to touch on why this is problematic behavior. Secondly , we need to discuss the solutions to make it better. Thirdly , I will finalize the discussion and determine the best course of action.

  • It allows you to enumerate your points.
  • It’s easy to follow for a reader.
  • It’s very informal.
  • There’s no reason to add the “-ly” suffix.

Clearly, “firstly, secondly, thirdly” are not appropriate in essays. Therefore, it’s best to have a few alternatives ready to go.

Keep reading to learn the best synonyms showing you what to use instead of “firstly, secondly, thirdly.” Then, we’ll provide examples for each as well.

What to Say Instead of “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly”

  • First of all
  • One reason is
  • Continuing on
  • In addition

1. First of All

“First of all” is a great way to replace “firstly” at the start of a list .

We recommend using it to show that you have more points to make. Usually, it implies you start with the most important point .

Here are some examples to show you how it works:

First of all , I would like to draw your attention to the issues in question. Then, it’s important that we discuss what comes next. Finally, you should know that we’re going to work out the best solution.

2. To Begin

Another great way to start an essay or sentence is “to begin.” It shows that you’re beginning on one point and willing to move on to other important ones.

It’s up to you to decide which phrases come after “to begin.” As long as there’s a clear way for the reader to follow along , you’re all good.

These examples will also help you with it:

To begin , we should decide which variables will be the most appropriate for it. After that, it’s worth exploring the alternatives to see which one works best. In conclusion, I will decide whether there are any more appropriate options available.

“First” is much better than “firstly” in every written situation. You can include it in academic writing because it is more concise and professional .

Also, it’s somewhat more effective than “first of all” (the first synonym). It’s much easier to use one word to start a list. Naturally, “second” and “third” can follow when listing items in this way.

Here are a few examples to help you understand it:

First , you should know that I have explored all the relevant options to help us. Second, there has to be a more efficient protocol. Third, I would like to decide on a better task-completion method.

4. One Reason Is

You may also use “one reason is” to start a discussion that includes multiple points . Generally, you would follow it up with “another reason is” and “the final reason is.”

It’s a more streamlined alternative to “firstly, secondly, thirdly.” So, we recommend using it when you want to clearly discuss all points involved in a situation.

This essay sample will help you understand more about it:

One reason is that it makes more sense to explore these options together. Another reason comes from being able to understand each other’s instincts. The final reason is related to knowing what you want and how to get it.

“Second” is a great follow-on from “first.” Again, it’s better than writing “secondly” because it sounds more formal and is acceptable in most essays.

We highly recommend using “second” after you’ve started a list with “first.” It allows you to cover the second point in a list without having to explain the flow to the reader.

Check out the following examples to help you:

First, you should consider the answer before we get there. Second , your answer will be questioned and discussed to determine both sides. Third, you will have a new, unbiased opinion based on the previous discussion.

6. Continuing On

You can use “continuing on” as a follow-up to most introductory points in a list.

It works well after something like “to begin,” as it shows that you’re continuing the list reasonably and clearly.

Perhaps these examples will shed some light on it:

To begin, there needs to be a clear example of how this should work. Continuing on , I will look into other options to keep the experiment fair. Finally, the result will reveal itself, making it clear whether my idea worked.

Generally, “next” is one of the most versatile options to continue a list . You can include it after almost any introductory phrase (like “first,” “to begin,” or “one reason is”).

It’s great to include in essays, but be careful with it. It can become too repetitive if you say “next” too many times. Try to limit how many times you include it in your lists to keep your essay interesting.

Check out the following examples if you’re still unsure:

To start, it’s wise to validate the method to ensure there were no initial errors. Next , I think exploring alternatives is important, as you never know which is most effective. Then, you can touch on new ideas that might help.

One of the most effective and versatile words to include in a list is “then.”

It works at any stage during the list (after the first stage, of course). So, it’s worth including it when you want to continue talking about something.

For instance:

First of all, the discussion about rights was necessary. Then , it was important to determine whether we agreed or not. After that, we had to convince the rest of the team to come to our way of thinking.

9. In Addition

Making additions to your essays allows the reader to easily follow your lists. We recommend using “in addition” as the second (or third) option in a list .

It’s a great one to include after any list opener. It shows that you’ve got something specific to add that’s worth mentioning.

These essay samples should help you understand it better:

First, it’s important that we iron out any of the problems we had before. In addition , it’s clear that we have to move on to more sustainable options. Then, we can figure out the costs behind each option.

Naturally, “third” is the next in line when following “first” and “second.” Again, it’s more effective than “thirdly,” making it a much more suitable option in essays.

We recommend using it to make your third (and often final) point. It’s a great way to close a list , allowing you to finalize your discussion. The reader will appreciate your clarity when using “third” to list three items.

Here are some examples to demonstrate how it works:

First, you need to understand the basics of the mechanism. Second, I will teach you how to change most fundamentals. Third , you will build your own mechanism with the knowledge you’ve gained.

11. Finally

“Finally” is an excellent way to close a list in an essay . It’s very final (hence the name) and shows that you have no more points to list .

Generally, “finally” allows you to explain the most important part of the list. “Finally” generally means you are touching on something that’s more important than everything that came before it.

For example:

First, thank you for reading my essay, as it will help me determine if I’m on to something. Next, I would like to start working on this immediately to see what I can learn. Finally , you will learn for yourself what it takes to complete a task like this.

12. To Wrap Up

Readers like closure. They will always look for ways to wrap up plot points and lists. So, “to wrap up” is a great phrase to include in your academic writing .

It shows that you are concluding a list , regardless of how many points came before it. Generally, “to wrap up” covers everything you’ve been through previously to ensure the reader follows everything you said.

To start with, I requested that we change venues to ensure optimal conditions. Following that, we moved on to the variables that might have the biggest impact. To wrap up , the experiment went as well as could be expected, with a few minor issues.

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12 Other Ways to Say “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly”

synonyms for first essay

Essays are hard to write, and it’s only natural for you to have questions.

Right now, you’re probably wondering what to say instead of “firstly, secondly, thirdly” to mix up your essay and academic writing.

Luckily, we’re here to help! This article will explore other words you can use to help keep things fresh.

Other Ways to Say “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly”

  • To start with
  • One reason is
  • Following from that
  • The next reason is
  • The last reason is


  • “Firstly, secondly, thirdly” are correct and formal, though they are overused and can sound repetitive.
  • Try combining “to begin, following from that, finally” to mix things up when listing multiple points as sentences.
  • “To start with, after that, lastly” is great to use as another option that sounds more conversational.

There are plenty of great options, and it would help to know the best ways to combine them in your writing. Keep reading to learn more about the best formal and informal combinations to order your sentences.

You can also go to the final section to learn more about “firstly, secondly, thirdly.” We’ve written whether it’s correct to use them in your formal essays.

To Begin, Following On From That, Finally (Formal)

“To begin, following from that, finally” is one of the best formal synonyms you can use here. It works well in academic writing when you’re trying to list points in a specific order.

You’ll mainly find a use for this combination in essays when explaining your thought process. It clarifies an order for the reader, allowing them to follow your train of thought as they go.

“Firstly, secondly, thirdly” and “to begin, following on from that, finally” are both effective in essays. You can switch between the two to ensure you don’t use any repetitive words.

Here are some ordered examples to show you how it looks:

To begin , I would like to discuss the matters at hand. It is very important to go through these.

Following on from that , the variables must be clearly defined. This is integral to ensuring the experiment goes well.

Finally , the experiment can begin. Only then will the information be clear.

To Start With, After That, Lastly (Informal)

“To start with, after that, lastly” is an excellent synonym that works both formally and informally. Typically, you’ll use this one in essays to impress the reader and keep them engaged.

You don’t have to use this group of words in academic papers. That’s what makes it slightly less formal than the other options. Still, it’s a great variation and works well when writing to inform.

“To start with, after that, lastly” still gives you a great alternative to “firstly, secondly, thirdly.” While we don’t encourage it in fully academic papers (as there are better options), it still works well in many formal essays.

Check out some of these examples to give you more information:

To start with, I would like to demonstrate my methods. It’s good for us to be on the same page.

After that , there needs to be a brief window of downtime. Otherwise, the team might get overwhelmed.

Lastly , I’ll put everything to the test. That way, I’ll find out if my methods were successful.

Is It Correct to Say “Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly”?

“Firstly, secondly, thirdly” is correct and formal. You can absolutely use the three words in academic writing to list things in order of importance.

Generally, “firstly, secondly, thirdly” is overused . Many writers use them when they can’t think of anything else to write. For that reason, it’s not always wise to include them in an essay , as they could make you sound repetitive .

Technically speaking, you could even continue the list based on how many points you want to raise. To do this, you would write:

However, things get a little jarring once you get past three points. While it still makes logical sense, you shouldn’t use “fourthly” and “fifthly” if you can avoid them.

You can also drop the “-ly” ending from any of the adverbs. The following are both correct:

  • Firstly, I would like to discuss my plans.
  • First , I would like to explore these options.

The “-ly” is not necessary to the sentence. However, you must stay consistent depending on which word you use.

You must either say “firstly, secondly, thirdly” or “first, second, third.” Don’t mix the two.

You can always come back here to remind yourself of the best ways to list your sentences. That way, you’ll always have something new and fresh to use in your writing.

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  • 40 Useful Words and Phrases for Top-Notch Essays

synonyms for first essay

To be truly brilliant, an essay needs to utilise the right language. You could make a great point, but if it’s not intelligently articulated, you almost needn’t have bothered.

Developing the language skills to build an argument and to write persuasively is crucial if you’re to write outstanding essays every time. In this article, we’re going to equip you with the words and phrases you need to write a top-notch essay, along with examples of how to utilise them.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and there will often be other ways of using the words and phrases we describe that we won’t have room to include, but there should be more than enough below to help you make an instant improvement to your essay-writing skills.

If you’re interested in developing your language and persuasive skills, Oxford Royale offers summer courses at its Oxford Summer School , Cambridge Summer School , London Summer School , San Francisco Summer School and Yale Summer School . You can study courses to learn english , prepare for careers in law , medicine , business , engineering and leadership.

General explaining

Let’s start by looking at language for general explanations of complex points.

1. In order to

Usage: “In order to” can be used to introduce an explanation for the purpose of an argument. Example: “In order to understand X, we need first to understand Y.”

2. In other words

Usage: Use “in other words” when you want to express something in a different way (more simply), to make it easier to understand, or to emphasise or expand on a point. Example: “Frogs are amphibians. In other words, they live on the land and in the water.”

3. To put it another way

Usage: This phrase is another way of saying “in other words”, and can be used in particularly complex points, when you feel that an alternative way of wording a problem may help the reader achieve a better understanding of its significance. Example: “Plants rely on photosynthesis. To put it another way, they will die without the sun.”

4. That is to say

Usage: “That is” and “that is to say” can be used to add further detail to your explanation, or to be more precise. Example: “Whales are mammals. That is to say, they must breathe air.”

5. To that end

Usage: Use “to that end” or “to this end” in a similar way to “in order to” or “so”. Example: “Zoologists have long sought to understand how animals communicate with each other. To that end, a new study has been launched that looks at elephant sounds and their possible meanings.”

Adding additional information to support a point

Students often make the mistake of using synonyms of “and” each time they want to add further information in support of a point they’re making, or to build an argument . Here are some cleverer ways of doing this.

6. Moreover

Usage: Employ “moreover” at the start of a sentence to add extra information in support of a point you’re making. Example: “Moreover, the results of a recent piece of research provide compelling evidence in support of…”

7. Furthermore

Usage:This is also generally used at the start of a sentence, to add extra information. Example: “Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that…”

8. What’s more

Usage: This is used in the same way as “moreover” and “furthermore”. Example: “What’s more, this isn’t the only evidence that supports this hypothesis.”

9. Likewise

Usage: Use “likewise” when you want to talk about something that agrees with what you’ve just mentioned. Example: “Scholar A believes X. Likewise, Scholar B argues compellingly in favour of this point of view.”

10. Similarly

Usage: Use “similarly” in the same way as “likewise”. Example: “Audiences at the time reacted with shock to Beethoven’s new work, because it was very different to what they were used to. Similarly, we have a tendency to react with surprise to the unfamiliar.”

11. Another key thing to remember

Usage: Use the phrase “another key point to remember” or “another key fact to remember” to introduce additional facts without using the word “also”. Example: “As a Romantic, Blake was a proponent of a closer relationship between humans and nature. Another key point to remember is that Blake was writing during the Industrial Revolution, which had a major impact on the world around him.”

12. As well as

Usage: Use “as well as” instead of “also” or “and”. Example: “Scholar A argued that this was due to X, as well as Y.”

13. Not only… but also

Usage: This wording is used to add an extra piece of information, often something that’s in some way more surprising or unexpected than the first piece of information. Example: “Not only did Edmund Hillary have the honour of being the first to reach the summit of Everest, but he was also appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.”

14. Coupled with

Usage: Used when considering two or more arguments at a time. Example: “Coupled with the literary evidence, the statistics paint a compelling view of…”

15. Firstly, secondly, thirdly…

Usage: This can be used to structure an argument, presenting facts clearly one after the other. Example: “There are many points in support of this view. Firstly, X. Secondly, Y. And thirdly, Z.

16. Not to mention/to say nothing of

Usage: “Not to mention” and “to say nothing of” can be used to add extra information with a bit of emphasis. Example: “The war caused unprecedented suffering to millions of people, not to mention its impact on the country’s economy.”

Words and phrases for demonstrating contrast

When you’re developing an argument, you will often need to present contrasting or opposing opinions or evidence – “it could show this, but it could also show this”, or “X says this, but Y disagrees”. This section covers words you can use instead of the “but” in these examples, to make your writing sound more intelligent and interesting.

17. However

Usage: Use “however” to introduce a point that disagrees with what you’ve just said. Example: “Scholar A thinks this. However, Scholar B reached a different conclusion.”

18. On the other hand

Usage: Usage of this phrase includes introducing a contrasting interpretation of the same piece of evidence, a different piece of evidence that suggests something else, or an opposing opinion. Example: “The historical evidence appears to suggest a clear-cut situation. On the other hand, the archaeological evidence presents a somewhat less straightforward picture of what happened that day.”

19. Having said that

Usage: Used in a similar manner to “on the other hand” or “but”. Example: “The historians are unanimous in telling us X, an agreement that suggests that this version of events must be an accurate account. Having said that, the archaeology tells a different story.”

20. By contrast/in comparison

Usage: Use “by contrast” or “in comparison” when you’re comparing and contrasting pieces of evidence. Example: “Scholar A’s opinion, then, is based on insufficient evidence. By contrast, Scholar B’s opinion seems more plausible.”

21. Then again

Usage: Use this to cast doubt on an assertion. Example: “Writer A asserts that this was the reason for what happened. Then again, it’s possible that he was being paid to say this.”

22. That said

Usage: This is used in the same way as “then again”. Example: “The evidence ostensibly appears to point to this conclusion. That said, much of the evidence is unreliable at best.”

Usage: Use this when you want to introduce a contrasting idea. Example: “Much of scholarship has focused on this evidence. Yet not everyone agrees that this is the most important aspect of the situation.”

Adding a proviso or acknowledging reservations

Sometimes, you may need to acknowledge a shortfalling in a piece of evidence, or add a proviso. Here are some ways of doing so.

24. Despite this

Usage: Use “despite this” or “in spite of this” when you want to outline a point that stands regardless of a shortfalling in the evidence. Example: “The sample size was small, but the results were important despite this.”

25. With this in mind

Usage: Use this when you want your reader to consider a point in the knowledge of something else. Example: “We’ve seen that the methods used in the 19th century study did not always live up to the rigorous standards expected in scientific research today, which makes it difficult to draw definite conclusions. With this in mind, let’s look at a more recent study to see how the results compare.”

26. Provided that

Usage: This means “on condition that”. You can also say “providing that” or just “providing” to mean the same thing. Example: “We may use this as evidence to support our argument, provided that we bear in mind the limitations of the methods used to obtain it.”

27. In view of/in light of

Usage: These phrases are used when something has shed light on something else. Example: “In light of the evidence from the 2013 study, we have a better understanding of…”

28. Nonetheless

Usage: This is similar to “despite this”. Example: “The study had its limitations, but it was nonetheless groundbreaking for its day.”

29. Nevertheless

Usage: This is the same as “nonetheless”. Example: “The study was flawed, but it was important nevertheless.”

30. Notwithstanding

Usage: This is another way of saying “nonetheless”. Example: “Notwithstanding the limitations of the methodology used, it was an important study in the development of how we view the workings of the human mind.”

Giving examples

Good essays always back up points with examples, but it’s going to get boring if you use the expression “for example” every time. Here are a couple of other ways of saying the same thing.

31. For instance

Example: “Some birds migrate to avoid harsher winter climates. Swallows, for instance, leave the UK in early winter and fly south…”

32. To give an illustration

Example: “To give an illustration of what I mean, let’s look at the case of…”

Signifying importance

When you want to demonstrate that a point is particularly important, there are several ways of highlighting it as such.

33. Significantly

Usage: Used to introduce a point that is loaded with meaning that might not be immediately apparent. Example: “Significantly, Tacitus omits to tell us the kind of gossip prevalent in Suetonius’ accounts of the same period.”

34. Notably

Usage: This can be used to mean “significantly” (as above), and it can also be used interchangeably with “in particular” (the example below demonstrates the first of these ways of using it). Example: “Actual figures are notably absent from Scholar A’s analysis.”

35. Importantly

Usage: Use “importantly” interchangeably with “significantly”. Example: “Importantly, Scholar A was being employed by X when he wrote this work, and was presumably therefore under pressure to portray the situation more favourably than he perhaps might otherwise have done.”


You’ve almost made it to the end of the essay, but your work isn’t over yet. You need to end by wrapping up everything you’ve talked about, showing that you’ve considered the arguments on both sides and reached the most likely conclusion. Here are some words and phrases to help you.

36. In conclusion

Usage: Typically used to introduce the concluding paragraph or sentence of an essay, summarising what you’ve discussed in a broad overview. Example: “In conclusion, the evidence points almost exclusively to Argument A.”

37. Above all

Usage: Used to signify what you believe to be the most significant point, and the main takeaway from the essay. Example: “Above all, it seems pertinent to remember that…”

38. Persuasive

Usage: This is a useful word to use when summarising which argument you find most convincing. Example: “Scholar A’s point – that Constanze Mozart was motivated by financial gain – seems to me to be the most persuasive argument for her actions following Mozart’s death.”

39. Compelling

Usage: Use in the same way as “persuasive” above. Example: “The most compelling argument is presented by Scholar A.”

40. All things considered

Usage: This means “taking everything into account”. Example: “All things considered, it seems reasonable to assume that…”

How many of these words and phrases will you get into your next essay? And are any of your favourite essay terms missing from our list? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch here to find out more about courses that can help you with your essays.

At Oxford Royale Academy, we offer a number of  summer school courses for young people who are keen to improve their essay writing skills. Click here to apply for one of our courses today, including law , business , medicine  and engineering .

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  • first and foremost

adverb as in mainly

Strong matches

  • principally

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  • essentially
  • in the main
  • most of all
  • on the whole
  • predominantly
  • substantially
  • to the greatest extent

adverb as in primarily

  • at the start
  • from the start
  • in the first place
  • primitively

adverb as in principally

Strongest matches

  • importantly
  • particularly

Strong match

  • before anything else
  • first of all
  • for the most part
  • fundamentally
  • preeminently
  • prevailingly
  • prevalently
  • superlatively
  • to a great degree
  • universally

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adverb as in for the most part

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On this page you'll find 65 synonyms, antonyms, and words related to first and foremost, such as: chiefly, primarily, principally, above all, essentially, and generally.

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Synonyms of firstly

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  • to start with
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Donald Trump trial updates: Man sets himself on fire at Manhattan courthouse

Editor's note: This file recaps the news from Donald Trump's criminal trial on Friday, April 19. For the latest news from Trump's hush money trial , please read our live updates for Monday, April 22 .

NEW YORK — A man threw conspiracy pamphlets into the air and set himself on fire Friday outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump's hush money trial is taking place, critically injuring himself and horrifying onlookers.

Police identified him as Max Azzarello, 37, of Florida. The victim was seen dousing himself with a liquid around 1:35 p.m. in a park across the street from the Manhattan courthouse, witnesses told USA TODAY.

The shocking incident took place in full view of news cameras shortly after a full panel of 12 jurors and six alternates was seated for his hush money trial . Witnesses said the victim tossed the flyers into the air before dousing himself and setting himself ablaze with what appeared to be a lighter. Six first responders suffered minor injuries trying to put out the fire and provide medical attention, the New York City Fire Department said.

Keep up with USA TODAY's live updates from inside and outside the Manhattan courthouse:

Prep for the polls: See who is running for president and compare where they stand on key issues in our Voter Guide

Manifesto shows Max Azzarello was mired in conspiracy theories before setting himself on fire outside Trump trial

In a post on a Substack newsletter called "The Ponzi Papers," Max Azzarello said he had burned himself alive to draw attention to the U.S. political and economic system.

"My name is Max Azzarello, and I am an investigative researcher who has set himself on fire outside of the Trump trial in Manhattan," the post says.

Azzarello's manifesto took aim at Trump, President Joe Biden, cryptocurrency, and the federal government.

"To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you," he wrote.

Witness saw it coming: 'I'm going to see something bad here'

A bystander who asked to be identified by only his first name, Dave, told USA TODAY he watched the victim's actions with a growing sense of panic before the man went up in flames.

"I heard this clap, and this fellow was throwing these papers into the air," the 73-year-old Manhattan resident said. "He had a can and he poured fluid all over himself, at which point I thought, 'Oof, I'm going to see something bad here.'"

"And sure enough, he pulled out a lighter. And he set himself on fire."

One person blasted the burning man with a fire extinguisher as a New York emergency medical technician joined the fray.

By the time the flames were doused, "his face was completely black," another witness, Julie Berman, told reporters.

−Aysha Bagchi

'Don't interrupt me,' judge scolds Trump lawyer. 'Have a seat'

With court back in session, Judge Merchan arrived and the prosecution raised an issue about restricting access to information tied to Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and a potentially key witness in the case. Merchan engaged in a back-and-forth with Trump lawyer Emil Bove when the judge scolded the lawyer.

"Don't interrupt me," Merchan said. "I'm not interrupting you," Bove shot back. "You are. Have a seat," Merchan instructed.

New York Supreme Court Justice Marsha Michael denied a request Friday from Trump’s attorneys to halt the criminal trial. Another motion to move the case out of Manhattan is still pending.

Opening statements in Trump’s trial are slated to begin Monday morning.

– Aysha Bagchi

Trump: Judicial system in New York 'an outrage'

If Donald Trump testifies at his New York hush money trial, prosecutors want to introduce evidence about other his other legal disputes. Trump harshly criticized judges in other cases as he left the criminal trial.

New York Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump to pay $454 million in a civil fraud trial for exaggerating the value of his real estate. Trump is appealing.

“Engoron is a whack job,” Trump said. “What he did was a disgrace.”

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan presided over a trial where columnist E. Jean Carroll won $83 million in a defamation lawsuit for denying that he assaulted her in a department story changing room in the 1990s. Trump appealed that verdict, too.

“I had no idea who this person was,” Trump said of Carroll.

“What’s happening with the judicial system is an outrage,” Trump added.

Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the criminal trial, said he would rule Monday on what additional evidence prosecutors can introduce if Trump testifies.

– Bart Jansen

Trump's historic trial now has a full slate of 12 jurors and 6 alternates

The chosen alternate jurors have been were sworn in after two more were chosen.

They swore to try the case "in a fair and impartial manner." Judge Merchan told the jurors he expects to begin the trial proceedings on Monday. He advised them proceedings will end at 2 p.m. ET on Monday and Tuesday and will run through lunch on those days.

Trump legal team opposed information from E. Jean Carroll trials

The Trump "Sandoval hearing" this afternoon is going into whether the prosecution can introduce multiple negative outcomes for Trump from past legal cases to undermine his credibility if he chooses to testify in his New York criminal case.

Those negative outcomes include Trump's losses in two civil cases against New York writer E. Jean Carroll, where Trump was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming her. The former president was ordered to pay her $88.3 million in damages.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove argued that bringing in information from the Carroll trials is inappropriate because it "pushes the salaciousness" onto another level.

Merchan asked why not just keep out the allegations and just allow the findings in the cases to be introduced in the trial. Bove said that would still allow for inappropriate evidence.

'Egomaniacal' and 'the devil': Another potential alternate struck by judg e

Another potential alternate juror was struck for impartiality concerns after the defense brought social media posts to the judge's attention that they believed were from an account belonging to the man.

On questioning, the potential juror didn't recall making certain posts he was shown (which were not shown to reporters). Some posts included descriptions of Trump as "egomaniacal" and "the devil."

Asked by Judge Merchan if the man believed Trump is the devil, the man replied: "At that time, yeah, I may have felt that."

Judge advises Trump defense to stop flooding court with filings

Judge Juan Merchan is addressing additional issues with prosecutors and Trump's defense team after wrapping up the Sandoval hearing." Merchan advised Trump's defense that they need to accept his rulings at a certain point. He complained that the defense was targeting individual court decisions "one by one by one" and submitting filings challenging them.

Social media comes back to haunt yet another potential juror

Defense attorney Susan Necheles asked Judge Merchan to strike another potential alternate based social media posts she showed to the judge (the posts weren't shown to reporters).

After bringing the man in for questioning, Merchan said he found the prospective juror credible − adding that he didn't know that the sentiments in the posts were anti-Trump. But Merchan said he was concerned that one of the photographs that was featured included text describing "a massive anti-Trump rally." 

Too many people have worked too hard to get the case this far, Merchan said. "I'm going to grant the challenge for cause."

More: How Donald Trump's hush money trial team is using social media to weed out New York jurors

Third and fourth alternate jurors chosen

Two more alternate jurors have been chosen, making four alternates at this point. One is a man who is an audio professional. He earlier said he believed Trump is being treated fairly. The other is a woman who is active in a school parents' association.

Dismissed juror number 4 speaks out: 'I feel sorry for the other jurors'

USA TODAY Network had an exclusive interview Thursday with Herson Cabreras , who was chosen for the jury on Tuesday but kicked off two days later, after the prosecution raised questions about whether he accurately described his background.

The kerfuffle over his jury service arose after prosecutors raised the issue of a 1991 incident in which Cabreras and an associate were accused of tearing down political campaign signs in Harrison, New York.

"I feel sorry for the other jurors," he said, expressing concern about other jurors potentially being dragged into the center of a fiercely contested legal battle.

- Asher Stockler

Judge strikes Women's March attendee from alternate juror contention

Judge Merchan struck a potential alternate juror based on impartiality concerns. 

"I don't believe she's being disingenuous. I do believe that she's credible," Merchan said. However, leaning on the side of caution and "looking at her answers as a whole," he said he thought the safer course is to grant the defense's challenge for cause.

Trump team trying to get woman who attended Women's March struck by judge

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles is arguing that a woman who attended the Women's March protest after Trump's presidential election should be struck by the judge based on impartiality concerns. Necheles said the potential juror made statements such as that Trump enabled racist and homophobic comments.

The potential alternate said earlier she didn't know what Trump's rhetoric is, but she is familiar with people who made homophobic and racist comments and cited Trump.

The potential alternate has been brought in for additional questioning. She echoed her previous comments, but also told the judge she can be fair and impartial.

Second alternate juror chosen

A second alternate juror, a woman who said she doesn't watch news, was chosen after neither side used a challenge to strike her. She will be the second alternate juror. The first alternate was chosen on Thursday.

Trump lawyer's questioning of potential jurors ends. We could have more alternates soon

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles ' questioning of potential alternate jurors has ended. The judge has given the lawyers some time to confer and review their notes before they will go through any challenges they have to the alternate juror candidates.

Potential juror says his opinion on Trump is neutral, leaning hostile

Pressed by Trump lawyer Susan Necheles about his opinion on Trump, a potential juror said he likes Trump's tax policy, but doesn't like where the Republican Party is when it comes to women's rights over their bodies. The man said his opinion on Trump is neutral, leaning hostile.

Alternate juror candidate says Trump's base 'can feel enabled by his rhetoric'

A potential juror who attended the Women's March protest after Trump's presidential election said Trump's base can sometimes "feel enabled by his rhetoric." But she also said she didn't know what his rhetoric is. She said she was familiar with people who made homophobic and racist comments and cited President Trump.

Necheles asked if the potential juror would hold Trump responsible for that, and the woman said no. She said she thought of it as an issue at the ballot box, not in the court room.

Potential juror questioned about attending Women's March

Trump defense attorney Susan Necheles asked a potential juror about having attended the Women's March protest after Trump was elected president in 2016. Asked if there was strong anger toward Trump, the potential juror said she remembered the event as being about women's solidarity. 

Another potential juror is excused after saying she was feeling anxiety

A woman being considered for the remaining alternate juror spots spoke up as questioning continued between potential jurors and Trump lawyer Susan Necheles. She said she has started to feel anxiety and asked to approach the judge's bench. After a brief private conversation, Judge Merchan announced she was excused.

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles begins questioning potential jurors

Trump defense lawyer Susan Necheles has begun questioning the potential alternate jurors.

"Biases color the way that we look at the world," she tells them. She asks them to continue to do the best they can "to really be honest."

Hoffinger asking potential jurors about issue that may tie to Michael Cohen

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger is asking potential jurors how they would feel about the testimony of someone who has pleaded guilty to a crime in the past. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is a potential witness in the case and has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, including lying to Congress. 

Everyone said they would keep an open mind.

Woman who said father is a lifelong Chris Christie friend gets emotional, is excused from jury duty

A prospective juror who earlier in the day said her father is a lifelong friend of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – a one-time Trump ally who broke publicly with Trump after the former president refused to accept the 2020 election results and ran against him in the 2024 Republican primaries – has now been excused.

During individualized questioning by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, the potential juror suddenly said she thought she "could do this," but it is more stressful than she expected. The woman was emotional, her voice cracking as she spoke.

The judge held a private conversation at his bench, and then stated the woman is excused.

Potential juror disqualified. 'Good luck,' she said as she left

A potential juror who earlier described having a criminal history and doubted she was allowed to serve as a juror has now been formally disqualified. The woman was the 21st potential juror to speak today, and she spoke emotionally about having been incarcerated, at one point mentioning some charges related to drugs. The judge still had her respond to the full jury questionnaire. 

The woman said she is a firm believer that when people do something they should be accountable for their actions. In response to one question about following the judge's instructions on the law, she said, "I promise to follow your instructions, sir."

After the break, the judge said the woman was disqualified because she needs a particular certificate to be able to serve. He added that, depending on the nature of her charges, she may be able to serve in the future

"Okay, thank you," the woman said as the judge dismissed her. "Good luck," she added. It wasn't clear to whom she directed that last comment.

Court proceedings resume

Court proceedings resumed around 11:37 a.m. ET.

Court takes 10-minute break

The judge announced a 10-minute break. The potential jurors who spoke today and weren't excused still need to be directly questioned by attorneys for the prosecution and defense. Trump was especially attentive yesterday as potential jurors responded to his lawyer's questioning about their opinions of him.

Potential juror participated in Women's March

We are nearing the end of this batch of potential alternate jurors responding to the jury questionnaire. The current potential juror speaking was born in India and grew up in Minnesota. She said she participated in the Women's March, a protest after Trump was elected president in 2016.

Potential juror's father is lifelong friend of Chris Christie

The 17th potential juror to speak today said her father is a lifelong friend of former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie was a strong supporter of Trump during the 2016 general election and most of Trump's presidency, but he broke with Trump after Trump refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

14th potential juror volunteered for Clinton campaign

The 14th potential juror to speak today may not be someone the Trump legal team wants as an alternate. He said he volunteered for the Clinton campaign. That appears to be the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. The juror questionnaire asks if the jury candidates have ever attended a campaign event for any anti-Trump group or organization.

The man said he gets his news from The New York Times. He doesn't watch much TV, but his television news would be from MSNBC, he said.

Third potential alternate juror excused over impartiality concerns

A third potential juror was excused at the get-go of her time to speak today. She said after reading the 42 questions on the jury questionnaire yesterday, she doesn't think she can be impartial. Judge Merchan released her.

Trump awake, alert again for past several potential jurors

After appearing to be sleepy and struggling to stay awake as potential jurors responded to the jury questionnaire earlier this morning, Trump has been fully awake through the past several potential jurors speaking.

We are on the eleventh potential juror to speak this morning.

Trump Media stock price

At open on Thursday April 19, Trump Media & Technology Group Corp's share price rose to $36.95, up 11.33% from Wednesday April 18's close.

– Kinsey Crowley

Another potential juror says she doesn't think she can be impartial

A woman was excused after she said, upon learning of the questions posed to potential jurors, she doesn't think she can be impartial.

Trump continues to appear sleepy

Trump's eyes have often been closed for extended periods – dozens of seconds at a time – as the third potential juror to respond to the jury questionnaire this morning is speaking.

At one point, his mouth went agape for seconds as his eyes were closed. He just opened his eyes as the jury candidate said she might have read his book, "Trump: The Art of the Deal," when she was younger.

Trump appears sleepy

Trump's eyes have been closed almost entirely for more than two minutes as the second potential juror to be questioned this morning is speaking.

His head dropped down at least three times before he lifted it back up. After the third time, he opened his eyes and said something to his lawyer, Emil Bove. He is now looking around.

First potential alternate juror excused

The first potential juror to be questioned this morning was quickly excused. She raised at the get-go her anxiety about participating in the trial. She said she worried people in her life would figure out she was on the jury over time, even without her telling them, and that could prevent her from being fair and impartial.

Judge Merchan excused her.

Potential jurors arrive and receive questionnaire

The potential alternate jurors who will be questioned to start off the morning have arrived and been passed a copy of the 42-question jury questionnaire.

– Aysha Bagch i

Judge Juan Merchan arrives

Judge Juan Merchan just arrived. One lawyer from each side introduced those at their table, including Trump. The judge said generally, "Good morning," and continued his common practice of greeting Trump directly: "Good morning, Mr. Trump."

Trump enters the courtroom

Former President Donald Trump just entered the courtroom and took a seat at the defense table in between defense lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove. Prosecutors are also seated at their table in the courtroom.

What is Trump on trial for?

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels that was designed to unlawfully interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The payment was made by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and violated federal campaign finance laws, according to prosecutors. They say Trump authorized the payment to help his presidential campaign, and falsified records to cover up the checks he sent to reimburse Cohen for the hush money.

Who are Donald Trump's lawyers?

Trump's defense team is led by Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles .

Blanche was a federal prosecutor for nine years in the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan. As a prominent white-collar defense lawyer he has defended Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn and Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Necheles is ranked among the top criminal defense lawyers in New York by the legal rating and head-hunting firm Chambers and Partners. She was also a  former counsel to Venero Mangano , the former Genovese crime family underboss known as Benny Eggs..  

– Josh Meyer

Who is Juan Merchan?

Juan Merchan is the New York judge presiding over Donald Trump's hush money trial, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president in history.

He was appointed to a family court by Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006 and appointed to the felony court a few years later.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Merchan, calling him biased because Merchan's daughter works for a marketing firm with Democratic politicians as clients, but an ethics committee has not found grounds to question Merchan's objectivity.

Merchan has ruled against Trump in the past when he presided over a 2022 tax-fraud trial of two parts of the Trump Organization.

So far in this trial, Merchan has imposed a gag order against Trump commenting on witnesses, court staff or prosecutors, expanded it to prohibit comments on family members of himself and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and refused Trump's request to delay the trial

– Kinsey Crowley & Bart Jansen

Will the Trump trial be televised or live streamed?

New York court rules  state that audio-visual coverage of trials is not permitted unless a representative of the news media submits an application and the judge allows it, which has not happened for this trial.

– Kinsey Crowley & Aysha Bagchi

What is a Sandoval hearing?

The judge said he could hold a "Sandoval hearing" today. That's a hearing where the judge would consider what kind of evidence the prosecution may introduce on Trump's prior "bad acts" if he chooses to testify.

Trump said last week he plans to testify, although he also said he would testify when the defense had a chance to put on witnesses in his civil fraud trial, only to back out the day before he was scheduled to take the stand.

According to March court filings , the prosecution wants to question Trump about several legal determinations, including a civil jury's finding that Trump sexually abused New York writer E. Jean Carroll.

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A photo illustration of a bison smiling.

How Do We Know What Animals Are Really Feeling?

Animal-welfare science tries to get inside the minds of a huge range of species — in order to help improve their lives.

Credit... Photo Illustration by Zachary Scott

Supported by

By Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

Bill Wasik is the magazine’s editorial director and Monica Murphy is a veterinarian and writer.

  • April 23, 2024

What makes a desert tortoise happy? Before you answer, we should be more specific: We’re talking about a Sonoran desert tortoise, one of a few species of drab, stocky tortoises native to North America’s most arid landscapes. Adapted to the rocky crevices that striate the hills from western Arizona to northern Mexico, this long-lived reptile impassively plods its range, browsing wildflowers, scrub grasses and cactus paddles during the hours when it’s not sheltering from the brutal heat or bitter cold. Sonoran desert tortoises evolved to thrive in an environment so different from what humans find comfortable that we can rarely hope to encounter one during our necessarily short forays — under brimmed hats and layers of sunblock, carrying liters of water and guided by GPS — into their native habitat.

Listen to this article, read by Gabra Zackman

This past November, in a large, carpeted banquet room on the University of Wisconsin’s River Falls campus, hundreds of undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students silently considered the lived experience of a Sonoran desert tortoise. Perhaps nine in 10 of the participants were women, reflecting the current demographics of students drawn to veterinary medicine and other animal-related fields. From 23 universities in the United States and Canada, and one in the Netherlands, they had traveled here to compete in an unusual test of empathy with a wide range of creatures: the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest.

That morning in the banquet room, the academics and experts who organize the contest (under the sponsorship of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the nation’s primary professional society for vets) laid out three different fictional scenarios, each one involving a binary choice: Which animals are better off? One scenario involved groups of laying hens in two different facilities, a family farm versus a more corporate affair. Another involved bison being raised for meat, some in a smaller, more managed operation and others ranging more widely with less hands-on human contact.

Then there were the tortoises. On screens along the room’s outer edge, a series of projected slides laid out two different settings: one, a desert museum exhibiting seven Sonoran specimens together in a large, naturalistically barren outdoor enclosure; the other, a suburban zoo housing a group of four tortoises, segregated by sex, in small indoor and outdoor pens furnished with a variety of tortoise toys and enticements. Into the slides had been packed an exhausting array of detail about the care provided for the tortoises in each facility. Only contestants who had prepared thoroughly for the competition — by researching the nutritional, environmental, social and medical needs of the species in question — would be able to determine which was doing a better job.

“Animal welfare” is sometimes misused as a synonym for “animal rights,” but in practice the two worldviews can sometimes be at cross purposes. From an animal rights perspective, nearly every human use of animals is morally suspect, but animal-welfare thinkers take it as a given that animals of all kinds do exist in human care, for better or worse, and focus on how to treat them as well as possible. In the past half century, an interdisciplinary group of academics, working across veterinary medicine and other animal-focused fields, have been trying to codify what we know about animal care in a body of research referred to as “animal-welfare science.”

The research has unlocked riddles about animal behavior, spurred changes in how livestock are treated and even brought about some advances in how we care for our pets: Studies of domestic cats, for example, have found that “puzzle feeders,” which slow consumption and increase mental and physical effort while eating, can improve their health and even make them friendlier. The discipline has begun to inform policy too, including requirements for scientists receiving federal grants for their animal-based research, regulations governing transport and slaughter of livestock, accreditation standards for zoos and aquariums and guidelines for veterinarians performing euthanasia.

Contest organizers hope to help their students, who might someday go into a range of animal-related jobs — not just as vets but in agribusiness, conservation, government and more — employ data and research to improve every aspect of animal well-being. Americans own an estimated 150 million dogs and cats, and our policies and consumption patterns determine how hundreds of millions of creatures from countless other species will live and die. The Animal Welfare Assessment Contest tries to introduce students to that enormous collective responsibility, and to the complexity of figuring out what each of these animals needs, especially when — as in the case of reptiles living in a shell — their outlook differs radically from our own.

The effort to improve the lives of America’s animals began more than 150 years ago. As it happens, a hundred or so turtles figured in one of the most important events in the early history of animal activism in America. It was May 1866 — the heyday of turtle soup, a dish so beloved at the time that restaurants in New York would take out newspaper ads, or even maintain special outdoor signage, declaring the hour at which the day’s batch would be ready. And so this group of unlucky sea turtles, after being captured by hunters in Florida, was brought to New York upside down on a schooner. To further immobilize them, holes were pierced through their fins with cords run through them.

The turtles would have assumed a tranquil, passive demeanor under such conditions, perhaps making it possible for the ship’s crew to believe that the creatures weren’t suffering. But there is every reason to believe they were. Evolution has equipped the marine turtle for a life afloat, with a large lung capacity filling the space beneath the shell, to enable long dives. When the turtles were on their backs, the weight of their organs would have put pressure on these lungs, forcing their breathing to become deliberate and deep.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals started up the month before. Its president and founder, a Manhattan shipbuilding heir named Henry Bergh, spent its early weeks focusing on domestic species — above all, horses, the rough treatment of which in 19th-century streets was the main inspiration for his activism. But when he became aware of these suffering sea turtles for sale at Fulton Market, he decided to extend his campaign to a wildlife species that then barely rated more consideration than a cockroach, if not a cabbage.

Bergh made a case that the infliction of prolonged pain and distress upon sea turtles bound for the soup pot was illegal as well as immoral. As with other “mute servants of mankind” providing labor, locomotion, meat or milk to human beings, the turtle was entitled to be treated with compassion. But when Bergh hauled the ship’s captain in front of a judge, the defense argued (successfully!) that turtles were not even “animals,” but rather a form of fish, and thereby did not qualify under the new animal-cruelty law that Bergh succeeded in passing earlier that year.

A photo illustration of a rat smiling.

Still, the case became a media sensation — and signaled to New Yorkers that Bergh’s campaign on behalf of animals was going to force them to account for the suffering of all animals, not just the ones they already chose to care about.

It’s perhaps no accident that Bergh turned to activism after a failed career as a dramatist. There’s something irreducibly imaginative in considering questions of animal welfare, regardless of how much science we marshal to back up our conclusions. George Angell of Boston, his fellow titan of that founding generation of animal advocates, pirated a 13-year-old British novel called “Black Beauty” and turned it into one of the century’s best-selling books, touting it as “the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of the Horse” — though its real innovation was its use of an animal as a first-person narrator, thrusting readers into a working horse’s perspective and forcing them to contemplate how the equines all around them might see the world differently.

But how far does imagination really get us? The philosopher Thomas Nagel famously explored this problem in an essay called “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” which took up that question only to dramatize the impossibility of answering it to anyone’s satisfaction. “It will not help,” he wrote, “to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. Insofar as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves.”

In the case of chelonians like turtles — and their encarapaced brethren, the tortoises — we may know even less about how they experience the world than we do about bats. Take their vision, for example: Among those species that have been studied, scientists have found evidence of broad-spectrum color vision, sometimes including ultraviolet wavelengths invisible to the human eye. And while chelonians can see well beyond their pointed beaks, where edible vegetation or predators may await notice, their brains process these visual signals slowly — a quality of certain animal brains that might, some experts have theorized, result in a sped-up perception of time. (In chelonian eyes, do grasses wave frenetically in the breeze and clouds race across the sky?)

Next to vision, smell is probably the sense turtles and tortoises rely upon most. Their sensitive nasal epithelium, distributed between two chambers, can detect odors diffused in a warm desert breeze or dissolved in a cold ocean current. Chelonian ears are where you’d expect them to be, but buried beneath their scaled reptilian skin. They hear well at low frequencies, even if they don’t register the high notes of twittering birds, humming mosquitoes or the whistling wind. Some chelonians seem to have the power of magnetoreception, which means that somewhere in their anatomy — perhaps their eyes, or their nervous systems, or elsewhere — there are chemicals or structures that allow them to sense the earth’s geomagnetic field and navigate by it.

The chelonian sense of touch presents fewer mysteries. Specialized receptors in the skin and on the shell detect mechanical, temperature and pain stimuli and send messages to the nervous system — just as they do in humans and a wide variety of other species. Recognition of pain, in particular, is considered a primordial sense, essential to the survival of animals on every limb of the evolutionary tree. But even here, there are differences separating species: What does the nervous system do with signals from its nociceptors? Does the desert tortoise withdraw its foot from the scorpion’s tail only reflexively, or does it consciously register the pain of the sting? What suffering does a turtle endure when its shell is struck by the sharp edges of a boat propeller?

As Nagel argued, there is no way to meaningfully narrow the gulch in understanding that exists around “what it is like to be” such a creature. The strategy of animal-welfare science is to patiently use what we can observe about these other kinds of minds — what they choose to eat and to do, how they interact with their environments, how they respond to certain forms of treatment — looking for objective cues to show experts what imagination cannot.

Upstairs from the banquet hall, student competitors nervously milled around carpeted corridors. One by one they were called into conference rooms to face a judge, who sat at a table beside a digital chronograph. In one room, a neatly dressed young woman in owlish glasses took a breath as the display began counting up hundredths of seconds in bright red digits. Catherine LeBlond, a second-year student at Atlantic Veterinary College at Canada’s University of Prince Edward Island, began her presentation about the bison scenario.

She was allowed to refer only to a single 3-by-5 index card, which she had packed with information based on a “summary sheet” of takeaways that she and her teammates worked up together, with key phrases emphasized and sources cited, all of it broken down by category: social behavior (“Bison are a very social species with strong matriarchal divisions”), handling guidelines (“Prods should not be used to move bison unless safety is an issue”), facility design (“Ensure that there is a sufficient number of gates within facilities to slow the animals”), euthanasia (“The recommended euthanasia method of a bison is gunshot”) and more.

LeBlond began by declaring her choice: The wilder facility provided a more humane environment for its animals. She felt it was helping bison “live a more natural life”: The more spacious grounds would support wallowing behavior, she reasoned, and allow the animals to choose their social grouping, an important policy given bisons’ strong sense of social structure. She also praised the operation for enabling bison to avoid “aversive life events,” by using drones, rather than ranchers on horseback, to monitor the animals in the field, and also by slaughtering the animals on-site to avoid the distress they experience in transport. As she ran through her presentation, she took care to hit two important rhetorical notes that judges look for: “granting” some areas in which the other institution excelled and offering positive advice about how it might improve.

One way to think about her reasoning is through the lens of “the five freedoms,” a rubric that animal-welfare thinkers have long embraced to consider all the different obligations that humans have to the animals in their care. They are: 1. the freedom from hunger and thirst; 2. the freedom from discomfort; 3. the freedom from pain, injury or disease; 4. the freedom to express normal behavior; and 5. the freedom from fear and distress. In fact, it was arguably the articulation of these five freedoms — in the Brambell Report, a document put out by a British government committee in 1965 to assess the welfare conditions of the nation’s livestock — that inaugurated the whole field of animal-welfare science.

What made this list of “freedoms” so influential, in retrospect, was that it created a context for other, more targeted thinking about how a species might experience each freedom or its violation. What sort of environment will offer “freedom from discomfort” to a beef steer, on the one hand, and a freedom “to express normal behavior” on the other? Trying to answer such questions in a rigorous way involves considerations of veterinary medicine but also of evolutionary history, behavioral observation, physiology (scientists have begun using proxies like cortisol levels as an indication of animal stress), neuroscience and more.

In her bison presentation, by citing “a more natural life” and avoiding “aversive life events,” LeBlond was emphasizing Freedoms 4 and 5, the freedom to express normal behavior and the freedom from distress. In the scenario about tortoises, though, Freedoms 4 and 5 seemed to be at odds. When LeBlond addressed the judge for that category, she awarded the edge to the zoo — weighing its better health outcomes and stimulating enrichments over the more naturalistic setting at the museum. She zeroed in on the zoo’s visitor program, which gave the tortoises a novel method of choosing whether or not they wanted to interact with humans: Staff put out a transport crate, and over the course of 20 minutes, tortoises could decide to climb into the crate to be taken to the human guests, and later receive a special biscuit for their service.

And she linked this to a behavioral difference, illustrated by a set of charts comparing how readily each set of tortoises moved toward a “novel object” (like an enrichment toy) or a “novel person” in their midst. The numbers showed that the zoo’s tortoises were far more drawn to interactions with people. “This indicates that they have less fear of humans,” LeBlond pointed out, “which could be because they are given a choice about whether or not they get to participate in educational programs, and those that do are positively reinforced with high-value rewards.”

Most of the students followed a similar logic and chose the zoo. The judges, however, disagreed. As one of them explained later at the awards ceremony — at which LeBlond took second place among vet students — the facility may have seemed to be offering their tortoises a consensual choice, but it was more accurate to see it as heavy-handed operant conditioning, which lured them into submitting to human contact with the promise of a biscuit. In scenarios involving domestic animals, a documented comfort around humans is a sign of positive treatment, but when it comes to wild animals, the goal is the opposite: to acclimate them as little to human contact as possible. Another way of putting it is this: Biscuits might make a desert tortoise “happy,” insofar as we can even imagine what that means, but happiness isn’t ultimately what humane treatment is about.

Each year at the contest, competitors are asked to perform one “live” assessment: a situation with real animals in it. This time, the species of choice was the laboratory rat. We joined Kurt Vogel, head of the Animal Welfare Lab at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, on a tour of the scenario that he and a colleague, Brian Greco, had constructed in a warren of rooms a few buildings over from the competition site.

They had brought a great deal of brio to the task. In the first room, where several rats snoozed in containers, Vogel and Greco had left a panoply of welfare infractions for eagle-eyed students to find. One cage was missing a water bottle, while others housed only a single rat, a violation of best practices (rats prefer to be housed in groups). Feed bags sat on the floor with detritus all around, and a note in a lab journal indicated that pest rodents had been observed snacking on it.

In subsequent rooms, the horrors became more baroque. A euthanasia chamber had the wrong size lid on it, and a nearby journal described a rat escaping in the middle of its extermination. Paperwork in an office laid out the nature of the study being performed, which involved prolonged deprivation of food and water, forced swimming and exposure to wet bedding. Diagrams showed that the rats’ brains were being studied through physical implants, and students could see that the operating room was a nightmare, littered with unsterile implements and the researchers’ food trash (the remnants of Vogel’s bagel sandwich, deliberately left behind). None of the abuse was real — Vogel and Greco were even taking care to cycle the rats in and out of the fake scenario, in order to avoid undue stress from the parade of students who came through taking notes.

Happiness isn’t ultimately what humane treatment is about.

Rodents did not always play the role in labs that they do today. In the late 19th century, experiments were carried out on a whole host of species, including a high proportion of dogs — a fact that animal-welfare activists publicized to turn the “vivisection” debate into a political issue, to the point that even some prominent doctors became galvanized to restrict or ban the practice. In the 20th century, as research shifted to carefully bred rats and mice, optimized for predictability and uniformity, animal experimentation receded as an issue in the public discourse. Today animal-welfare advocates struggle to motivate their base on the matter of rodents: the Humane Society’s website illustrates its section on “Taking Suffering Out of Science” (which sits at the very end in its list of the group’s current “fights”) with a picture of a beagle in a cage, despite the fact that roughly 95 percent of all lab mammals are now rats or mice.

Lab rodents are maybe the most vivid example of a species whose suffering is hard to know how to weigh against the benefits it provides us. Studies using rat and mouse models have sought to answer basic scientific questions across diverse fields of inquiry: psychology, physiology, pathology, genetics. Look into any new advance in human health care, and you’re likely to find that it’s built on years of experimentation that consumed the lives of literally thousands of rodents. We may now be on the cusp of innovations that could allow that toll to be radically reduced — by essentially replacing animal models with some combination of virtual simulations and lab-grown tissue and organs — but it’s hard to imagine a world anytime soon where human patients would be subject to therapies that have never been tested on hundreds of animals. No one even reliably counts how many rodents are killed in U.S. labs every year, but the estimates range from 10 million up to more than 100 million.

This question of scale especially haunts the problem of livestock, which is an area where many of the contest’s student competitors will eventually find jobs. America is currently home to roughly 87 million cattle and 75 million pigs: populations that exceed those of dogs and cats in scale, but the welfare of which commands so much less of our moral attention.

When the practice of centralized, industrialized livestock management began in earnest after the Civil War, the treatment of the animals, especially during slaughter, could be barbaric. Pigs were simply hoisted up and their throats cut, and after some point were assumed to be dead enough to dump into boiling water so that the sharp bristles on their skin could be scraped away. There was little doubt that some of them were still conscious at the point that they were plunged into the water, as was reported in a broad exposé in 1880 by The Chicago Tribune: “Not infrequently,” the reporter noted, “a hog reaches the scalding-tub before life is extinct; in fact, they sometimes are very full of life when they reach the point whence they are dumped into the seething tub.”

After 1906, when Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed the industry’s unsanitary practices, a series of reforms did lead to significant improvements in the lives and deaths of American livestock. Thanks to the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, federal law now requires that animals be “rendered insensible to pain” before the act of killing; with pigs, this is generally done either with electrocution or by suffocation in a carbon-dioxide chamber, while with cattle, the method of choice is the captive-bolt gun. And since the 1970s, animal-welfare science has led to some considerable reforms. Perhaps the most transformational work has been done by Temple Grandin, the animal behaviorist whose research into how food animals experience and respond to their environment — particularly during transport and slaughter — has changed the way that meat and dairy producers operate.

Still, despite years of promises to end the practice, many sows are still kept almost permanently in 7-feet-by-2-feet “gestation crates,” too small to turn around in. And the rise of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has doomed millions of pigs, cattle and chickens to lives spent cheek to jowl in the stench of their own waste — waste that also threatens the health of nearby communities and ecosystems.

At the contest, many attendees were excited about the gains that artificial intelligence could bring to the animal-welfare field. Pilot studies have indeed shown great promise: For example, with A.I. assistance, 24-hour video surveillance can help pinpoint sick or injured animals much more quickly so they can be pulled out for veterinary care. Last year, a group of European researchers announced that based on 7,000 recordings of more than 400 pigs, they had made significant progress in understanding the meaning of their grunts. “By training an algorithm to recognize these sounds, we can classify 92 percent of the calls to the correct emotion,” one of the scientists remarked.

That well may be, but given what we know about pigs — specifically, their remarkable intelligence, which rivals (if not exceeds) that of a dog, to the point that a group of scientists recently trained some to play video games — there is no amount of A.I.-driven progress that can reconcile their short, crowded life as an American industrial food animal with any definition of what a “good” life looks like for such brainy creatures, all 75 million of them.

The laying hen, among the four species considered at the contest, is the one that lives among us in the largest numbers: There are an estimated 308 million of them in the United States alone, or nine for every 10 Americans. In a backyard flock, these hens could be expected to live six to eight years, but a vast majority of them toil in industrial operations that will slaughter them after only two to three years, once their productivity (six eggs a week) declines — and chickens, notably, are not covered by the Humane Slaughter Act. Poor air quality, soiled litter, nutritional stress and conflict with other chickens can contribute to dietary deficiencies, infectious diseases, egg-laying complications, self-mutilation, even cannibalism. And even in the best laying-hen operations, including the “cage-free” ones imagined in the contest scenario, these are short lives spent under 16 hours a day of artificial lighting in extremely close quarters with other birds.

More than in the other scenarios, the organizers had made the laying-hen choice a straightforward one. The corporate farm offered fewer amenities for the birds, which were also observed rarely to use the dirt-floored, plastic-covered “veranda” that was supposed to serve as a respite from their long hours laying in the aviary. The more commodious verandas of the family farm, covered with synthetic grass, proved more popular with their chickens, and in warm weather, its birds made use of a screened “garden” as well.

In her presentation, Catherine LeBlond correctly picked the family farm, for many of the same reasons that the judges did. Again, she “granted” some positive qualities of the corporate farm and offered it some advice — reflecting, after all, the values of the veterinary profession that she was training to enter, a field that takes on the advising of everyone who has animals in their care, not only the most conscientious.

Even so, at the very end, LeBlond briefly stepped back to ask a true ethical question, one that troubled the entire premise of a multibillion-dollar global industry: “whether or not it is ethical to keep these hens for the sole purpose of egg-laying, only to have them slaughtered at the end.” Among the scores of students we watched over the course of a weekend, LeBlond and her teammates from the Atlantic Veterinary College were the only ones who, in the final seconds of their talks, raised deep questions about the scenario’s entire premise — about whether, in the end, these fictional animals should have been put in these fictional situations in the first place.

It was a question that the judges of the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest had no doubt considered, but it also was one that seemed to lie outside the contest’s purview: In its either-or structure, the contest is helping train future professionals how to improve, rather than remove, the ties that bind animals into human society. Unless the day arrives when there is no need for laboratory rats, or poultry barns, or facilities to house desert tortoises and other captive wildlife, the animals of North America will be in the hands of veterinarians and animal scientists like LeBlond and her classmates, to help shape their situations the very best way they can.

Parts of this article are adapted from “Our Kindred Creatures: How Americans Came to Feel the Way They Do About Animals,” by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, published this month by Knopf.

Read by Gabra Zackman

Narration produced by Krish Seenivasan and Emma Kehlbeck

Engineered by Lance Neal

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