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Creating Coherence in Writing

June 3, 2021

In this series, we’re discussing the way your essays will be evaluated in English 101, Southern’s first-year writing course. The five elements are unity, coherence, content, style, and correctness.

After seeing how to make your essay unified through the use of a good title, an organic first line, a specific thesis, and an interesting closing, let’s go to the next key element of writing, coherence.

Coherence is the quality of an essay that makes it easier to read. The technique can be described with many vivid analogies.

Essays should show natural structure, connectedness, flow, bridge-building, plot, thread, and harmony. Each of these expressions mean the same thing. As they read your essay, readers should have a strong sense of anticipation and sequence. They should be drawn forward toward your conclusion.

A coherent essay is a single unit with a beginning, middle, and end in the same way that an animal “unit” has a beginning, middle, and end. The cheetah has a particular sort of head, body, and tail which makes it perfect for what it does—chase down its prey. It all works together to that end.

Instead of being a disconnected collection of sentences and paragraphs, coherent essays contain sentences and paragraphs that work together for a common purpose. Without cohesion, readers are forced to make the connections between apparently disconnected ideas. Readers have to “write” the essay. You don’t want readers to do your work!

There are many techniques for creating coherence. Any element of an essay that points backward and draws forward will do the job. You can use synonyms, pronouns, paraphrase, and repetition to point forward and backward in an essay. An example of paraphrasing: “The Super Bowl lasted for six hours. This time broke a record.”

The music analogy is particularly potent. To make music, we have to arrange notes harmoniously. Random notes are not the kind of music we usually like. A note is beautiful only in context of other notes. An essay is a “tune,” perhaps even a symphony.

When you read professional writing, note how authors create coherence. There are two ways to learn the principle of coherence. Practice it consciously and identify it in the writing of others. You too can become a fine author.