Coherence in Writing



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Coherence in Writing


Coherence is product of many different factors, which combine to make every paragraph, every sentence, and every phrase contribute to the meaning of the whole piece. Coherence in writing is much more difficult to sustain than coherent speech simply because writers have no nonverbal clues to inform them if their message is clear or not. Therefore, writers must make their patterns of coherence much more explicit and much more carefully planned. Coherence itself is the product of two factors — paragraph unity and sentence cohesion.
Paragraph Unity
To achieve paragraph unity, a writer must ensure two things only. First, the paragraph must have a single generalization that serves as the focus of attention, that is, a topic sentence. Secondly, a writer must control the content of every other sentence in the paragraph's body such that (a) it contains more specific information than the topic sentence and (b) it maintains the same focus of attention as the topic sentence.
In short:

one paragraph

Check the above “paragraph requirements” in the following example paragraph:

The story of King Lear and his daughters was an increasingly popular tale during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. At least a dozen different versions by various authors had become available by the time Elizabeth died. The story’s characters, though, were totally undeveloped in all of these variations. Which made the story a simple narrative that stated an obvious moral. Now, when Shakespeare began to work on Lear – he must have been familiar with most of the available versions at the time – his achievement was to turn mere stock figures of legend into credible human beings with complex motives. This change has created an unsurpassed highly dramatic and deeply tragic final version of the tale.

Which of the following sentence cohesion techniques can you discover in the above paragraph?
1. Repetition. In sentence B (the second of any two sentences), repeat a word from sentence A.
2. Synonymy. If direct repetition is too obvious, use a synonym of the word you wish to repeat. This strategy is call 'elegant variation.'
3. Antonymy. Using the 'opposite' word, an antonym, can also create sentence cohesion, since in language antonyms actually share more elements of meaning than you might imagine.
4. Pro-forms. Use a pronoun, pro-verb, or another pro-form to make explicit reference back to a form mentioned earlier.
5. Collocation. Use a commonly paired or expected or highly probable word to connect one sentence to another.
6. Enumeration. Use overt markers of sequence to highlight the connection between ideas. This system has many advantages: (a) it can link ideas that are otherwise completely unconnected, (b) it looks formal and distinctive, and (c) it promotes a second method of sentence cohesion, discussed in (7) below.
7. Parallelism. Repeat a sentence structure. This technique is the oldest, most overlooked, but probably the most elegant method of creating cohesion. (e.g. “in for a penny, in for a pound”)
8. Transitions. Use a conjunction or conjunctive adverb to link sentences with particular logical relationships:


  1. Identity. Indicates sameness.

that is, that is to say, in other words, to put it this way,


  1. Opposition. Indicates a contrast.

but, yet, however, whereas, in contrast, rather, contrary to (expectations / what had been said / everybody’s beliefs), unlike (many, the majority, his opponant),



  1. Addition. Indicates continuation.

and, too, also, furthermore, moreover, in addition, besides, in the same way, again, another, similarly, a similar, the same, ...


  1. Cause and effect.

therefore, so, consequently, as a consequence, thus, as a result, hence, it follows that, because, since, for, on account of, due to, owing to,


  1. Indefinites. Indicates a logical connection of an unspecified type.

in fact, indeed, now, ...


  1. Concession. Indicates a willingness to consider the other side.

admittedly, I admit, true, I grant, of course, naturally, some believe, some people believe, it has been claimed that, once it was believed, there are those who would say, although, even though; (introducing main clause:) and yet, still, nevertheless, nonetheless


  1. Exemplification. Indicates a shift from a more general or abstract idea to a more specific or concrete idea.

for example, for instance, after all, an illustration of, even, indeed, in fact, it is true, of course, specifically, to be specific, that is, to illustrate, truly, in particular, particularly


  1. Introducing more detailed account (e.g. exact numbers) of the same:

as a matter of fact, in point of fact, actually, in actual fact

Critical questions to yourself as you re-read your essay:

- Are my ideas clear enough?


- Do my examples work?
- Have I put in enough / too much evidence or illustration?
- Do I seem too personal (in the pro-cons part)?
- Is my English ‘all right’?







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