WHAT IS COHERENCE?
HOW CAN YOU CREATE COHERENCE?
COHERENCE VOCABULARY
PRACTICAL STEPS FOR COHERENCE
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

 


WHAT IS COHERENCE?

Coherence is the unifying element in good writing. It refers to the unity created between the ideas, sentences, paragraphs and sections of a piece of writing. Coherence is what gives a piece of writing its flow. It also gives the reader a sense of what to expect and, therefore, makes the reading easier to follow as the ideas appear to be presented in a natural, almost automatic, way.

When writing lacks coherence, the reader is forced to stop and reread. Occasionally, the reader may just give up out of frustration.

 

HOW CAN YOU CREATE COHERENCE?

Coherence is created in a number of ways. The following are some important ways that coherence can be created within your writing:

  1. Organise information in a logical manner. Depending on the kind of information you need to present, this could mean following organisational patterns that emphasise a time sequence, a spatial arrangement, a cause and effect relationship, or a hierarchy, etc. Think about what organisation pattern will be most appealing to your reader.
  2. Use appropriate transition words/phrases and conjunctions (co-ordinating and subordinating) to connect ideas within sentences and between sentences and paragraphs. (See page 3-4 Transition Words.)
  3. Use referents, words or phrases that stand for previously mentioned words/ideas (e.g., pronouns, restatements) to create a natural flow of information for the reader to follow.
  4. Use consistent and appropriate verb tenses and time words.
  5. Use parallel structures to create balance and progression within your writing. Parallelism in writing refers to the repetition of structural elements in order to create a balance in the writing. This balance contributes to coherence. For example, in the following sentence, gerunds (verb+ing) contribute to the overall ease in understanding the writing.
The government has a number of responsibilities including, maintaining public order and safety, providing educational services, developing and servicing the city’s infrastructure, and collecting taxes.

Parallel structures can also be used among a series of sentences or paragraphs to enhance the coherence and balance of the writing. For example, when a writer begins each section of a report by asking a question he/she is creating coherence between the different sections.

It is best to start writing with coherence in mind; however, sometimes when you are writing a first draft you may forget to do so. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to revise your drafts for coherence.

For some practical steps in revising your writing to improve coherence see page 5. For additional resources on this subject, see page 6 of this handout.

COHERENCE VOCABULARY

You may find this partial list of transitions and conjunctions helpful. Conjunctions are words that link ideas within sentences. (Co-ordinating conjunctions link two equal ideas or components within a sentence e.g., and, but, yet. Subordinating conjunctions, subordinate one idea in relationship to another with a sentence e.g., although, even though, whereas, since, before, during, because.)

There are many words that have not been included in each category. Can you think of any other words?

Transitions which signal a time relationship

Before

During

After

While

Since

At the moment

By then

First

Next

Then

Transitions which signal an example or additional information

For example

Generally speaking

In most cases

Occasionally

Especially

For instance

Specifically

Frequently

Sometimes

Moreover

Transitions that signal a contrast

On the contrary

On the other hand

However

Unlike

Nonetheless

Nevertheless

Whereas

Even though

Although

But

Yet

Regardless

Transitions that signal a similarity

Similarly

Likewise

Once again

Transitions that signal a cause/effect

Therefore

Consequently

Then

In other words

Because

Since

As a result

Due to

Thus

Practical Steps for Coherence

Ask yourself the following questions when revising:

  1. Are your organisational strategies appropriate for the kind of information you are presenting? If not, revise.
  2. Are transition/conjunction words used appropriately? If not, revise.
  3. Are verb tense and time words used appropriately? If not, revise.
  4. Can each sentence be link to the sentence that follows or one that follows shortly thereafter? In order to answer this question, do the following:

These links may look something like this:

When the link is unclear or not there, it may be because there is a break in the coherent flow of your writing. If this happens, you will need to revise. This may involve:

  1. Adding or changing a transition or conjunction;
  2. Repeating a key term or phrase;
  3. Making a referent clearer;
  4. Creating parallel structures; and
  5. Changing tenses and time words.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For more help with coherence, the following materials are recommended:

Heffernan, James A.W. and John E. Lincoln (1997) Writing: A Concise Handbook New York: W.W. Norton.

Reid, Joy (1988) The Process of Composition 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Smalzer, William R. (1996) Write to Be Read: Reading Reflection, and Writing Cambridge, England: CUP. (Unit 4)


Last revised: 17 September 1998

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