CoherenceThe quality of a writing that is well-organized and where events make sense. Coherence occurs when the ideas in a passage or in an entire piece “stick together,” allowing the reader to make sense of the information. is an important element in good writing and happens when all the elements of an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. or paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. successfully work together to reinforce the main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about.. Coherent writing makes that piece of writing much easier for a reader to understand. In this lesson, you will learn how to use referentsThe noun or idea that different words or phrases stand for in a sentence or paragraph. For instance, in the following sentences, John is the referent for He. John was a good boy. He always walked his sister to school. and transitionsTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. to create coherence in your own writing.
One way that writers create coherence between sentences in a paragraph is by using referents in each sentence to connect it to the paragraph's main idea. A referent can be any number of words or phrases that refer back to the main idea. When you scatter references to your main idea throughout your writing, you remind readers what you are writing about. RestatementsUsing words or phrases to say something that has been said before in a different way., synonymsA word or phrase that has an identical or very similar meaning to another word. Example: tiny is a synonym for small., antonymsA word or phrase that has the opposite meaning from another word. Example: huge is an antonym for small., pronounsA part of speech that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. Examples include: I, he, you, they., and enumerationTo number or list things one after another. are all types of referents that you can use to keep the main idea fresh in readers’ minds.
A restatement is exactly what it sounds like—stating the main idea repeatedly with the same words. For example, if you are writing an essay that outlines the effects of childhood obesity, you might want to reuse the words "childhood obesity" and "effect" more than once because it reinforces the idea that you are discussing the effects of childhood obesity. This is a good technique to a certain point; however, you should not overuse it because readers can get tired of too much repetition.
To add variety in your writing, you can also utilize synonyms and/or antonyms of your main idea. In the example of writing about the effects of childhood obesity, you could use the words "result," "consequence," and "outcome" because they are synonyms for "effect." You could also use "juvenile" and "heaviness" or "unhealthy weight" to refer to childhood obesity. Also consider using antonyms like "healthy weight" or "slimness." These two techniques help you stay on topic as you write and assist your readers in clearly following your thoughts.
Pronouns are another way to refer back to your topic. A pronoun is a way to restate a noun.
Examples of Pronouns
In the example about the effects of childhood obesity, you could use pronouns to refer to the effects as "they" and childhood obesity as "it." Again, this breaks up the monotony that could occur by repeating "childhood obesity" multiple times.
The last major type of referent is enumeration. Enumeration is the process of listing where each sentence in the list relates back to the topic. Such lists use transitional words like "first," "second," and "third," and often use restatements as a companion strategy. For example, when writing about the effects of "childhood obesity," you could state that there are three main effects of obesity in childhood and then describe those effects in order.
Example of a paragraph lacking sufficient referents
Childhood obesity has a number of very negative effects. The first effect of childhood obesity is physical. Obese children are at a much higher risk for diabetes, and some children are so obese that the children are experiencing heart disease, a condition normally associated with adults. The second effect of childhood obesity is social. Obese children can be made fun of by their classmates and excluded from activities. The last effect of childhood obesity is psychological. Obese children tend to have much lower self-esteem than their peers. This affects them not only in their childhood, but adults who were obese as children generally are less happy. To avoid these effects, parents and teachers need to help children avoid obesity.
The paragraph above works to a certain extent. It certainly discusses the effects of childhood obesity, but it is very repetitive, which bores readers, and also lacks nuanceSubtle differences in meaning and style of expression.. Now look at the same paragraph that uses referents and see how it is even more coherent.
Example of a paragraph using sufficient referents
Childhood obesity has a number of dire consequences. To begin with, kids who are even moderately overweight are at a much higher risk for diabetes, and some children are so heavy that they are experiencing heart disease, a condition normally associated with adults. In addition to the physical effects, heavier kids are also impacted socially. They can be made fun of by their classmates and excluded from activities. Lastly, kids who can't reach a healthy weight suffer psychologically. Obese children tend to have much lower self-esteem than their peers. This affects them not only in their youth, but also as adults. Those who had an unhealthy weight as children generally are less happy even if they are able to become more fit later in life. To avoid these effects, parents and teachers need to help children reach and maintain a healthy weight.
In the above paragraph, notice the various referents that make it richer and more interesting to read.
Restatements: Childhood obesity and effects
Synonyms: heavy, overweight, unhealthy weight, kids, youth
Antonyms: healthy weight, fit
Pronouns: they, this
Enumeration: To begin, In addition, Lastly
In addition to using referents, writers can also include transitions to guide readers from one idea to the next. Without transitions, readers have difficulty navigating through an essay. Here are a few examples of transitions.
Examples of Transitions
The last example paragraph used a number of transitions. Read through the version below and notice how it is more difficult to read when the transitions are removed.
Example of a paragraph lacking transitions
Childhood obesity has dire consequences. Kids who are even moderately overweight are at much higher risk for diabetes, and some children are so heavy that they are experiencing heart disease, a condition normally associated with adults. Heavier kids are impacted socially. They can be made fun of by their classmates and excluded from activities. Kids who can't reach a healthy weight suffer psychologically. Obese children tend to have much lower self-esteem than their peers. This affects them in their youth, but also as adults. Those who had an unhealthy weight as children generally are less happy even if they are able to become more fit later in life. Parents and teachers need to help children reach and maintain a healthy weight.+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
When you are explaining to a friend how to get somewhere, coherence is the difference between good directions and bad directions. Good, coherent directions are easy to follow, anticipate the confusing parts of the trip, and make your friend confident that he will get to where you want him to go. Bad directions that lack coherence tend to end up with a phone call from your friend telling you that he is lost.
The same is true in your writing. If you write an email or cover letter when applying for a job and that writing lacks coherence, the potential employer will get lost, stop reading what you have written, and look for another candidate. On the other hand, if your writing is coherent, the potential employer will look favorably on your application and consider you for an interview or possibly even the job itself.
Following is an example of a brief paragraph showing coherence:
Teachers have several expectations for their students. One of these includes being on time while another expectation is bringing the necessary materials. An additional requirement is reading the assigned chapters. Instructors also require class participation. In the end, a student who meets these expectations is likely to be a successful student.
What is the main idea here?
Teachers and their expectations of students.
Does the writer use referents?
Yes. restatement: expectations; synonyms: requirement, instructors, require; antonyms: none; pronouns: these; enumeration: One of these, An additional, also
Does the writer use transitions?
Yes. One, additional, In the end
Now, notice how the use of referents and transitions connects the following sentences together into a coherent paragraph.
Giving an oral report can be challenging. It requires preparation and practice. Doing these can help the speaker sound intelligent and credible. In fact, many speakers find it is easier to give oral reports after they have built confidence by speaking in public for awhile. In addition, listeners seem to respond better to a confident speaker. In the end, the most important elements in giving successful oral reports are practice and professionalism.
Answer the questions about how the following paragraph shows coherence:
One of the most important parts of the college experience that is often overlooked is socializing. It not only helps students have a good time while at school, but making new friends also contributes to their overall success. Studies show that students who socialize with classmates are more likely to do well in their classes and graduate with a degree than students who stick to themselves. Therefore, every new student should make an effort to connect with someone in each of their classes or join a student group during their first year; it may make the difference between having "some college" experience and actually getting a degree.
What is the main idea here?
The importance of making friends in college.
Does the writer use referents?
Yes. restatement: socialize, students; synonyms: making new friends, classmates; antonyms: stick to themselves; pronouns: it, these; enumeration: none
Does the writer use transitions? If so, list them.
Now, use referents and transitions to connect these sentences together into a coherent paragraph.
Texting while driving has become a major hazard facing many motorists today. Recent studies show that people who are texting while driving are more distracted and have worse response times than those who are intoxicated. This makes it imperative that people put their phones down and focus on driving when they are behind the wheel. In addition, laws should be passed making it illegal to use a cell phone while driving. Taking these two steps will help make the roads safer for everyone.
What types of transitions do you like to use in your writing and how do they help build coherence?
I like to use, "first, second, third" to mark my supporting details and this helps connect one sentence to another, giving the paragraph unity.
If a paragraph does not contain transitions and/or referents, readers may find that it reads choppy, or jumpy, and they may not be able to find the focus of the paragraph.
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