Cohesive writing is prose that is clear and easy to understand, with all ideas presented in an orderly manner and tied together in a logical way. When writing is cohesive, every element is connected, allowing ideas to flow in a sensible way. Reading it feels natural, with the entire thing moving fluently from one item to the next.
Without cohesion, writing can feel choppy in parts, as if you’re reading a piece of text with blanked out passages. It puts the reader in a position of having to work harder to grasp concepts, apart from making the writing a whole lot less enjoyable to read through.
Focus On It During Editing
Your best chance at achieving cohesion happens during the revision phase. Worrying about it while you draft can drag the whole process, extending it for unnecessarily longer. Suffice to say, second-guessing yourself after every sentence or paragraph is far from efficient if you want to get work done.
During writing, all you need to focus on in terms of cohesion is whether the stuff you’re putting down makes sense to the reader you have in mind. As you write it and consider the target reader, can you see them following your train of thought? If you feel they are, then you’re doing fine. You can worry about the nitty-gritty of the thing later.
Cohesion and Coherence
These two are often confused with each other, especially as they relate to writing. While both are elements of well-written prose, they are different things. A text may be cohesive but not coherent, just as another may be coherent but not necessarily cohesive.
Coherence is a quality of writing that allows it to make sense to the reader. Cohesion, on the other hand, concerns itself with the use of explicit techniques to indicate the relationships among different parts of the text.
Writing Flowing Sentences
While cohesion helps smoothen the flow of writing, it’s also important to focus on coherence, especially when you’re writing at the sentence level. Keep the following in mind while you’re writing and coherence should not end up an issue:
- Vary your sentence lengths and structures. Too many look-alike simple sentences will make your paragraphs sound choppy and stilted. Variations don’t just sound better, they make reading your paragraphs easier, too.
- Correct your punctuation. Make sure you use correct punctuation throughout your sentences, especially with the use of commas, as they’re too frequently a culprit at obscuring the meaning you’re attempting to convey.
- Broaden your language choices. Use pronouns, synonyms, figurative speech and polysyllabic words to add variety to your language choices. Just make sure to take some care, though: there’s a fine line between using a wide vocabulary and making the reader consult a dictionary every other sentence. The former is good, the latter is bad.
These are short words and phrases that explicitly link sentences and paragraphs to each other, indicating the relationships that exist among different ideas. They usually appear at the beginning of the sentence, allowing the reader to establish the link with the previous idea before going into the rest of the message.
Common examples of these types of transition relationships include:
- Addition (additionally…)
- Cause-Effect (for this reason…)
- Elaboration (furthermore…)
- Comparison (by the same token…)
- Contrast (on the contrary…)
- Time Transitions (at the same time…)
- Restatement (in other words…)
Repeating Key Words
Using key words is another effective way of tying ideas together. If the same term appears across three sentences, for instance, it immediately implies some form of relationship among them. This is especially helpful when you don’t want to explicitly state the relationship, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. Be wary, however, of excessive repetition — it can lead to awkward-sounding sentences.
The greatest value of key word repetition is that it focuses the reader towards specific elements of your text, whether it is an action, an event or the main subject itself. It gives you the power to control, to a degree, what they are able to derive from a statement, turning their attention towards those elements that link your sentences and paragraphs to each other.
Repeating Sentence Structures
Using the same sentence structure with the same keywords is another powerful technique employed to emphasize ideas. There are two primary ways people do this:
- Repeating the same sentence structure and keyword combination in successive sentences. Often, this is done in threes.
- Repeating the same sentence structure and keyword combination in separate paragraphs.
Often, this is employed as a rhetorical technique for effect, rather than cohesion. However, the parallel sentence structures highlight the similar patterns in the sentences, helping establishing the relationship between them at the same time.
Cohesive text is often also consistent. That is, there’s a clear running theme throughout the entirety of the discussion. The best way to do this is to establish the same theme at every paragraph beginning and work towards staying on the same path until the end.
Sequence Information From Old To New
One of the best ways of ensuring cohesion is to organize the information in your writing from old to new. That is, you consciously start every sentence and paragraph with information that establishes context for what you’re going to write next. Doing so prevents any confusion on the reader’s part, ensuring they have knowledge of all the background details needed to comprehend the succeeding discussion.
This type of cohesion strategy is applicable at almost every level in any type of writing: sentences, paragraphs, sections and chapters can all be benefited using this type of structure. This can be especially useful when writing about complex subjects — the act of establishing context before revealing new data makes them a lot easier to digest for the readers, regardless of level.
How does this differ from using transitions? Unlike transitions, you don’t just use an expression to denote relationship with the previous idea. Instead, you present it clearly. You can be referencing something four paragraphs out or something you haven’t covered in previous paragraphs but is needed to establish context for the new information.