Monday, May 19, 2014

Add Coherence to an Essay

When an essay has order and flow, the essay is said to have the quality of "coherence."  


There are several ways for writers to ensure their essays have coherence, including the addition of appropriate transitional words and phrases, a repetition of key words and synonyms, similarly structured topic sentences, and a planned, logical order of paragraphs and evidence.

All of these techniques help readers follow along with thought process of the writer.






Revising for Coherence




A Paragraph that Lacks Coherence



Notice that each individual sentence in this paragraph by Sherman Alexie from an essay called "Superman and Me" makes complete sense.  However, I moved things around a bit, and the sentences are now out of order.   That makes it difficult to understand how one idea flows to the next.  I've also deleted some words and phrases that help us follow his train of thought.

Words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose.  Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. I remember my father's books. I can see my changed family as an essay of seven paragraphs: mother, father, older brother, the deceased sister, my younger twin sisters and our adopted little brother. Words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember when I first understood the purpose of a paragraph. I didn't have the vocabulary to say "paragraph."  I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words.  This knowledge delighted me.  Words had some specific reason for being inside the same fence.   My family's house was a paragraph, distinct from the other paragraphs of the LeBrets, the Fords and the Tribal School. Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link each family member. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. 


A Paragraph with Coherence



Here is that same paragraph from Sherman Alexie's essay returned to its original form.  Notice that the details
Coherence is the quality of having order and flow.
are now in order, and the words that let us know more about his thought process help us move with him from one idea to the next.  Notice the order of the details in his explanation about paragraphs getting smaller and smaller in scope from "United States" to "little brother."  The paragraph, in its original form, is well planned and has a logical and smooth flow.


I can remember picking up my father's books before I could read. The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn't have the vocabulary to say "paragraph," but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family's house was a paragraph, distinct from the other paragraphs of the LeBrets to the north, the Fords to our south and the Tribal School to the west. Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. Now, using this logic, I can see my changed family as an essay of seven paragraphs: mother, father, older brother, the deceased sister, my younger twin sisters and our adopted little brother.


In conclusion, when your essays and paragraphs require a bit more order and flow, be sure you have chosen a logical order for your paragraphs and evidence, and make sure your readers can follow along with you by including transitional words and phrases, using key words and phrases about your main idea, and using a repetition of sentence structure.  


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Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the writer for permission to republish.

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