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Coherence and cohesion

Coherence: The property of unity in a written text that stems from the relationship between its underlying ideas, and from the logical organisation and development of these ideas. A paragraph has good coherence when ideas are arranged in a logical order.

Cohesion: The property of flow and connection in a written text that stems from the linguistic links among its surface elements. A paragraph has good cohesion when each sentence is clearly linked to the next through language.

Coherence and cohesion mean that all of the parts are connected logically and linguistically to form a whole.

Coherent order

Paragraphs may be organised according to a sequence of time (chronological order), space (describing something from top to bottom or foreground to background) or arranging information in order of importance. Another common way of ordering information in a paragraph is to present the most general information first and then move on to focus on the more detailed, specific information.

Cohesive devices

Individual sentences can have connections within them. A word that connects parts of a sentence is called a conjunction. The common coordinating conjunctions are: ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘yet’, ‘nor’. There are also subordinating conjunctions. These establish the relationship between a dependent clause and the rest of the sentence. A few common examples are: ‘as’, ‘because’, ‘whereas’, ‘in order that’, ‘since’, ‘although’.

Sentences within a paragraph may also be linked together. There are various ways of linking one sentence to another:

  • repetition of important words
  • substitution of pronouns eg ‘this’, ‘it’, ‘these’
  • substitution by synonyms (words with nearly the same meaning)
  • using linking words or phrases which show the relationship between ideas, eg ‘however’ indicates a contrast, ‘in addition’ gives more information
  • using grammatical words, especially articles, eg ‘the’ may refer back to a specific noun previously mentioned.

The linking words such as ‘however’, ‘moreover’, ‘nevertheless’, ‘consequently’, ‘as a result’ are used to express complex relationships between ideas.

Table of linking words

Here is a table of the more common linking words organised into broad categories of meaning. Also, some of these words appear in more than one category, and not all words in the same category are interchangeable.

cause and effect therefore, thus, consequently, hence, as a result of
addition also, and, and then, equally important, finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in fact, in the first place, last, moreover, next, second
comparison also, in the same way, likewise, similarly
contrast and concession and yet, at the same time, even so, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of this, instead, nevertheless, on the other hand, yet
emphasis certainly, indeed, in fact
example or
illustration
for example, in conclusion, in other words, namely, specifically, that is, to illustrate, thus
summary in brief, in other words, in particular, in summary, in short, on the whole, that is, therefore
time sequence eventually, finally, in the first place, in the past, last, next, second, simultaneously, so far, subsequently, then, thereafter, until now

Below, we have two paragraphs which deal with dating advertisements. The first paragraph is about the present popularity of such advertisements, and the second is about why they may be a useful area for sociological research.

The bold words show the connections between and within sentences, and between the two paragraphs.

Example

In spite of the recent increase in divorce and the dramatic rise in single person households, contemporary society still privileges couples and espouses the virtues of ‘family values’. The plight of single adults who are without partners, however, remains largely ignored. Those in paid work spend long hours either furthering a career or merely hanging on to an existing job, whilst those without work are frequently debarred from normal participation in social life through lack of money and sufficient opportunities for sociability. Hence the notion that ‘boy meets girl’ with relative ease is, perhaps, an enduring aspect of social mythology. Nevertheless, so many people now resort to advertising in newspapers, magazines, and a range of electronic media for the purpose of meeting a partner, that such methods have become a well-established and socially acceptable procedure.

Although dating advertisements are currently very popular, they remain an under-researched area, especially within sociology. Little is known, therefore, about those using such means to establish new relationships nor what they say when producing descriptions of themselves for selective consumption by others in the dating market place. Yet dating advertisements can be a revealing site for examining the social construction of identities, and they can provide clear insights into advertisers’ idealisations of themselves, for example, in terms of physical attributes, age, personalities and interests.

Here is another, longer example of a well-structured text. Again, the bold words show the connections between sentences and between the paragraphs.

Example 2

We need to ask, though, how important this relationship is for explaining patterns of poverty in the United States and for guiding policy. Should we conclude, as development economists conclude when they look at poverty and economic development across countries, that per capita income differences among states or other political entities are essentially the whole story of poverty? Should we conclude, as they do, that attention to development will solve poverty problems? There are three ways of approaching the problem that suggest that this conclusion would not be correct.

A first approach is to look at the relationship between the number of poor in a state and its per capita income. The largest number of poor in any state is found in California, which ranks 14/51 in per capita income. Half the poor in the US are found in eight states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia. With the exception of Texas, which ranks 33 in per capita income, all these states are in the top half of the per capita income distribution; indeed six of the eight are in the top quarter of the per capita income distribution. This finding reflects both a high level of inequality and thus relatively high poverty rates in rich states like New York and California. It also reflects the fact that many of the richer states are quite large, so that even with average or below poverty rates—as in Illinois and Michigan—they are home to large numbers of poor.

Another way of looking at these relationships is to ask what proportion of the poor live in poor states as defined by per capita income. For this calculation we ranked the states by per capita income, and then examined the group of low income states whose cumulative population numbers came to about a quarter of the country. In the US this procedure identified twenty states, ranging from Mississippi with a per capita income of $15,853 to Iowa with a per capita income of $19,674.7 (The US average in 2000 was $21,587.) The group includes states in the deep south, Maine, and some mountain, plains and mid-western states, for example, the Dakotas and New Mexico. These twenty US states included 24 percent of the population and 29 percent of the poor. In other words, the percentage of the poor living in poor states is not much higher than the overall percentage of the population (or of the non-poor) living in those states. It is also worth noting that while 29 percent of the US poor live in these poor states, 71 percent do not.

A third approach is to examine two important historical divisions in income and poverty and ask what has happened to them over time: between rural and urban areas, and between the south and the rest of the country. In 1959 …

The text above contains relatively few of the common linking words given in the previous table (‘also’, ‘in other words’), relying more on such devices as repetition of important words (‘conclude/conclusion’; ‘per capita income’; ‘number of poor’; ‘state/states’); pronoun substitution (‘they’, ‘it’); and phrases that refer back to previous sentences (‘this conclusion’; ‘all these states’; ‘this finding’ ‘these relationships’; ‘this calculation’; ‘this procedure’; ‘these twenty US states’. The links between the four paragraphs are clear but simple: ‘three ways of approaching’; ‘A first approach’; ‘Another way’; ‘A third approach’.