Coherence in Writing
Chances are, if you’ve ever written an essay for class, your teacher has left a note on your paper saying “You need to stay on topic.” Staying on topic is a skill that any writer can struggle with. As you’re writing and letting ideas flow, your original idea can easily get lost or mixed in with a bunch of other ideas so it becomes hard for the reader to pick it up. With longer texts especially, it can be difficult to make sure all our points and ideas hold a balance between being clear and distinguishable and also being connected. In these situations, cohesion and coherence are important. Today we’ll go in depth about what these two concepts are and how to utilize them when writing.
First, let’s figure out what the difference is between cohesion and coherence. Cohesion describes togetherness or a seamless connection between 2 or more things so that they flow well together. When a DJ transitions from one song to another in a seamless and appealing way, it’s cohesive. Just like in music, ideas in writing can be cohesive as well. When you’re making multiple points to support your thesis, you want to make sure the ideas flow together; you don’t want it to sound like several different narratives in one text.
Coherence, on the other hand, has more to do with the overall understanding of the text. Is the main idea easy to understand? Can readers make out your supporting points? Does your writing make sense? A coherent text answers yes to all these questions. For example, let’s say I want to talk about my last job as a waitress:
“I didn’t like the uniform for waiting tables. All of the servers wore a stiff, ugly polo shirt with a lot of people coming in. Sometimes a person you know would come in and the shirts were itchy sometimes. Now I work somewhere else.”
Yikes! The ideas here are all jumbled together and not very coherent. Coherent writing needs points that are not only full, complete thoughts, but that also appear in an order that makes sense. Here’s a better way to write this:
“I didn’t like the uniform we had to wear when we waited tables. All of the servers wore an ugly, stiff polo shirt that was often itchy and uncomfortable. With the amount of people coming in, there was bound to be someone you knew who would see you in your ugly uniform. I quit that job and work in an office now.”
Now, that’s a lot more coherent. The thoughts are all fleshed out and are in an order that makes sense. It’s clear to the reader exactly what all of the main ideas are.
For a paragraph or paper to be fully coherent and cohesive, it’s important to connect points not just from sentence to sentence but to connect points throughout large sections of the text that make the main idea clear and understood by the reader. Let’s look at ways to execute this in our writing.
The first way is by using repetition. Repetition is not only a good way for us to learn and retain information; in writing it helps readers, and you the writer, remember what your main idea is about. Here’s a brief example.
“Cohesion is an important and useful tool in academic writing. Cohesive writing flows naturally from one point to another. Your readers will better understand your points if you keep cohesion in mind as you compose your texts.“
Here, the writer uses the repeated use of words like cohesion and writing to let the reader know what the main topic is about. This use of repetition helps the sentences flow from one to the next. Though repetition is useful, we don’t want to sound redundant and use the same words too much; that can make reading the text pretty boring. Using synonyms or pronouns to refer back to main ideas is a great way to keep the text cohesive and still stimulating to read.
Cohesion is an important and useful tool in academic writing. This form of writing flows naturally from one point to another. Your readers can better understand your points when you keep this concept in mind as you write.
Here, we know that the writer is still talking about cohesive writing, but instead of repeating the word cohesive multiple times like before, they use phrases to replace the word that still shows we are talking about the same subject.
Referring back to a previous statement is also a useful tool of cohesion. Here’s an example:
“As mentioned earlier, cohesive writing has many benefits for the readers and writer. Making sure your text is cohesive makes it easy to understand, especially if it is very long.”
Here, the writer refers back to a previous statement as they reintroduce it later in the text by starting with as mentioned earlier. When making references in your writing, make sure to always reintroduce the old idea first so the reader knows what you’re recalling, then introduce the new idea afterwards to connect the two different ideas together. Doing this helps keep the reader’s mind focused not just on the main idea but about the next point you are about to make.
Transition words are also a useful device to add cohesion to your writing. Words like first or lastly let the reader know you are making points that will be chronological. This helps the reader keep track of your ideas if they were to refer back to those points later. Transition words like in contrast let the reader know that the next point you’ll make will counter the idea previously mentioned. Here’s an example:
Dogs are great for many reasons. First, they have been known for generations as “man’s best friend”. In addition, they are great support animals and are very friendly creatures. In contrast, some may argue that dogs can be aggressive.
In this example, every point the author made segued to the next by using a transition word like first, in addition, and in contrast.
Like I mentioned before, cohesion and coherence tend to go hand in hand in writing. Making a coherent text means incorporating tools of cohesion to create something that can be understood in its entirety. Here is an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
In this excerpt, King repeatedly uses the phrase now is the time to connect the beginning of each sentence together. This is called a parallel. In each sentence, Dr. King mentions changes he wants to see in America. He starts the paragraph by talking about the urgency of making change, then ends the paragraph stating clearly that it’s time for justice for all. This is a great example of a text that is both cohesive and coherent.
We’ve covered a lot in this video, so let’s do a quick test to see what you remember.
Which of the following is not a method for cohesive writing?
- Transition words
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!
- “Cohesion & Coherence.” n.d.
- “Coherence – Examples and Definition of Coherence.” 2016. Literary Devices
- “Cohesion and Coherence.” n.d. The Writing Center
- “‘I Have a Dream,’ Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom | the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute.”