Coherence

Learning Objectives:

  • Use referents to create coherence in writing.
  • Use transition words to create coherence in writing.

LESSON
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.

Referents
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

Transitions
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.

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