We have studied the abilities of different transactivation domains to stimulate the initiation and elongation (postinitiation) steps of RNA polymerase II transcription in vivo. Nuclear run-on and RNase protection analyses revealed three classes of activation domains: Sp1 and CTF stimulated initiation (type I); human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Tat fused to a DNA binding domain stimulated predominantly elongation (type IIA); and VP16, p53, and E2F1 stimulated both initiation and elongation (type IIB). A quadruple point mutation of VP16 converted it from a type IIB to a type I activator. Type I and type IIA activators synergized with one another but not with type IIB activators. This observation implies that synergy can result from the concerted action of factors stimulating two different steps in transcription: initiation and elongation. The functional differences between activators may be explained by the different contacts they make with general transcription factors. In support of this idea, we found a correlation between the abilities of activators, including Tat, to stimulate elongation and their abilities to bind TFIIH.