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Cohesion across paragraphs

Paragraphs must follow in a sequential and logical order. In other words, the information must be presented coherently. In good writing, the ideas in different paragraphs are also usually linked linguistically using cohesive devices. These include: use of synonyms, pronouns, verb tenses, time references, and grammatical reference.

The bold words and phrases in the following texts show how cohesion is achieved, both within paragraphs and between paragraphs. 

Example 1

Generally speaking, British people invest about the same amount of their identity in their gender as people in other parts of northern Europe do. On the one hand, society no longer overtly endorses differences in the public and social roles of men and women, and it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. On the other hand, people still (often unconsciously) expect a fairly large number of differences in everyday behaviour and domestic roles.

In terms of everyday habits and mannerisms, British society probably expects a sharper difference between the sexes than most other European societies do. For example, it is still far more acceptable for a man to look untidy and scruffy than it is for a woman; and it is still far more acceptable for a woman to display emotions and be demonstrably friendly than it is for a man to do so.

As far as roles are concerned, most people assume that a family’s financial situation is not just the responsibility of the man. On the other hand, they would still normally compliment the woman, not the man, on a beautifully decorated or well-kept house. Everyday care of the children is still seen as mainly the woman’s responsibility. Although almost as many women have jobs as men, nearly half of the jobs done by women are part-time. In fact, the majority of mothers with children under the age of twelve either have no job or work only during school hours. Men certainly take a more active domestic role than they did forty years ago. Some things, however, never seem to change. A comparison of child-rearing habits of the 1950s and the 1980s showed that the proportion of men who never changed a baby’s nappy had remained the same (40%)!

In general, the sharpest distinction between the expected roles and behaviour of the two sexes is found in the lower and upper classes. The distinction is far less clear among the middle classes, but it is still there.

These paragraphs are cohesive because: The first paragraph helps guide the reader by ending with a reference to ‘differences in everyday behaviour and domestic roles’ ie the subject of the next three paragraphs.

  • The first paragraph helps guide the reader by ending with a reference to ‘differences in everyday behaviour and domestic roles’ ie the subject of the next three paragraphs.
  • The second paragraph is connected to the first paragraph by the reference to ‘in terms of everyday habits and mannerisms’ and its examples of behaviour..
  • The third paragraph connects back to the ideas in the first paragraph by ‘as far as [everyday, domestic] roles are concerned’ and the paragraph also contrasts with the second paragraph’s comments on behaviour.
  • The final paragraph connects back by ‘in general’ as it is drawing a broader conclusion.

Example 2

Until the fourteenth century, those who were born with defective eyesight and the aged had no hope of being able to read or carry out any kind of work that demanded good vision, for until then spectacles were unknown. Although fundamentally very simple, no eyeglasses could be made before the discovery of a number of techniques. Apart from a basic understanding of optics and the behaviour of lenses, it was essential to be able to produce clear glass and to know how to grind the lenses to the correct curvature.

As early as the tenth century the Arabs had made a special study of optics and the diseases of the eye, always prevalent among desert-dwelling people. Of these Islamic scholars, the most outstanding was Ibn al-Haytham, who worked in Egypt. In about 1040, he produced a treatise on optics in which, for the first time, the true function of the cornea (or lens) of the eye was described. Al-Haytham not only studied the anatomy of the eye but also the path of light as it was affected by mirrors and glass lenses. Strangely, however, al-Haytham never hit upon the idea of using lenses to correct faulty eyesight.

By the late twelfth century, copies of al-Haytham’s treatise on optics were widely distributed throughout the libraries of Islam, most importantly in Spain, then under Arab rule. It was here that his works were translated into Latin, the common language of European scholars. Known to Europeans as Alhazan, al-Haytham’s treatise formed the basis upon which many scholars worked. In England, for example, Grosseteste at Oxford University and his most brilliant scholar, Bacon, improved on al-Haytham's theories.

At the same time, many outstanding Arab scholars were attracted to the court of Emperor Frederick II in Sicily. Here too, the works of al-Haytham were translated into Latin. Thus, by the middle of the thirteenth century, many European scholars. had become familiar with the basic theories of optics, and a small number were producing their own experimental optical equipment. The manufacture, however, of a limited number of lenses for this kind of work was a very different matter from the production of large numbers of lenses as would be required for the widespread use of spectacles.

In the previous example, on the early history of optics and spectacles, we can see that the connection between the paragraphs is indicated by periods of time.

  • The first paragraph explains why spectacles were unknown until the fourteenth century.
  • The second paragraph deals with tenth and eleventh century Arab treatises on optics, particularly that of Ibn al-Haytham.
  • The third paragraph explains that his treatise had become known to Europeans by the late twelfth century.
  • The final paragraph takes the story up to the middle of the thirteenth century with the early European production of lenses.

Also, if we consider the first paragraph, we can see the overall coherence of the text. The paragraph introduces both the idea of historical time periods, and the concepts of eyesight, spectacles/eyeglasses, optics, and lenses. All of these elements are referred to in the subsequent paragraphs.

Although a text can still be logical and coherent without a variety of cohesive devices, their use serves to make logical links explicit and to enhance flow.