How to Make Your Paper Flow: Coherence


          Hello, Marauders! Welcome back to another info session! Today we’re talking about how to make our paper flow. Maybe you’ve heard your professor say, “Make sure your paper flows well!” What does that mean? Two important concepts that help increase the “flow” of a paper are coherence and cohesion. First, let’s define what these three terms mean. 

        • Flow “refers to how easily a reader can get into the text. That is to say, how easily the reader moves past the text and into a reading experience where she or he [or they] is connecting with the ideas presented within the text” (Flow in Scholarly Writing). 
        • Coherence is when the reader can see that everything–ideas, evidence, argument, etc–is logically connected (The University of Auckland). 
        • Cohesion is the quality of sentences and paragraphs to “hang together” in a pleasing and clear way. 

          When your paper has coherence and cohesion, it flows. It’s organized, it’s logical, and most importantly, it’s easy to follow and understand. This week, we’ll talk about coherence. Next week, we’ll look at cohesion. So, let’s take a look at coherence and how we can achieve it. 

Coherence: The Topic Chain  

          A great strategy to help you determine if you’re using coherence or not is something called the topic chain. BYU Writing Center offers some great insight into what the topic chain is and how to use it. 

        1. Topics are crucial because they focus a reader’s attention on a particular idea toward the beginning of each clause. 
        2. These ideas provide thematic signposts that focus your reader’s attention on a set of well-defined of connected ideas.
        3. If a sequence of topics seems coherent, that sequence will move your reader through a paragraph from a coherent point of view. 
        4.  But if your topics shift randomly, then your reader has to begin each sentence out of context, from no coherent point of view. 

          For example, take a look at the paragraph below, taken from David Herbert Donald’s book Lincoln. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Word Works: Learning through Writing at Boise State University. Number 97, March 1999. Published by the BSU Writing Center. 

 [1] Returning to Indiana, Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings to his father, but he began to spend more and more time away from home. [2] The village of Gentryville lay about a mile and a half away, and he liked to go there and occasionally help out at James Gentry’s store or work with John Baldwin, the local blacksmith. [3] All the young men who were about to come of age and were restless in the narrow society of southern Indiana gathered about him, because he was always full of talk and plans and jokes and tricks. 

          This is not hard to read, but it is harder than it should be. Notice how the beginning of each sentence pulls the reader’s attention off to a different topic: “Lincoln handed over his earnings,” “The village of Gentryville,” “All the young men.” The reader has to wait to find out what sentences 2 and 3 have to do with the theme of Lincoln’s restlessness, the theme being set up in sentence 1. When this happens, your reader will feel dislocated, disoriented, and out of focus. 

          Abe Lincoln should be the topic of each sentence. By rewriting, we get: 

[1] Returning to Indiana, Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings to his father, but he began to spend more and more time away from home. [2] He liked to go to the village of Gentryville, about a mile and a half away, where he occasionally helped out at James Gentry’s store, and he worked sometimes with John Baldwin, the local blacksmith. [3] As always, he was full of talk and plans and jokes and tricks, and he gathered about him all the young men who were about to come of age and were restless in the narrow society of southern Indiana. 

          Notice that Abe Lincoln is now the topic of each sentence: “Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings,” “He liked to go to the village,” “He was full of talk…”. Every sentence is connected logically to one another by the subject, Abe Lincoln. Readers no longer have to wait to find out what sentences 2 and 3 have to do with sentence 1. BYU Writing Center states that you must provide your readers with a coherent point of view, with a logical continuity that will guide them not only through individual sentences but through whole paragraphs. 


          I hope that helps clarify what coherence is and how to achieve it! For overall coherence, all of your main points and ideas should make logical sense and connect to one another. The topic chain helps focus the reader’s attention on a particular topic throughout the entire paragraph and keeps your paper organized throughout. As always, feel free to stop by the Writing Center (Mon-Thurs 1-9 PM and Friday 1-4 PM) for more help! Happy writing!

The Difference Between Editing and Revising



          Hello, Marauders! Welcome back to another info session. Picture this: You’ve just finished writing a paper. What do you do then? Do you simply turn it in and be done with it? Maybe. Or do you go back and edit it? Reread it? Look it over to check for any mistakes or things you missed or need to add? Picture this: You submit your paper, but then you get feedback that tells you to edit and revise your paper. Are those things the same or different? What is editing and what is revising? Today we’ll be talking about the difference between editing and revising. These are two major steps in the writing process that are very important to distinguish! 


          So, what is revising? Basically, it’s when you look at your paper after you’ve finished a draft and you think, “What can I do to improve this? Does anything need to be changed? Does anything need to be eliminated?” MIT Global Studies and Languages states that when you revise, you are “re-seeing your paper in a new way.” 

          Think of it as big-picture stuff. Imagine the contents of your paper: your introduction, your thesis, your body paragraphs, your conclusion, etc. When you revise, you look at these sections more critically and analytically. You have all the information written down, so now you just need to refine it and flesh it out even more. You can ask yourself things like: 

        • Is my paper structured and organized in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow and understand? 
        • Does my introduction give an adequate background or summary of the overall purpose/goal of my paper?
        • Is my thesis statement clear and concise? Or is it too broad or too vague? 
        • Do my body paragraphs and evidence support my thesis? 
        • Do I need to expand on certain ideas? 
        • Is this information important/relevant to my topic or do I need to cut it because it doesn’t fit within the scope of my paper? 
        • Does my conclusion summarize the main points of my paper and end with a strong concluding statement? 

          In short, revising focuses on improving the ideas and organization of your paper. When I’m revising, I always like to look back over the rubric to see if I’ve met all the major requirements. Have I answered all the prompts? Does my paper include all the necessary components (introduction, body, conclusion, etc.)? It’s also helpful to have someone read over it to help you find places where the paper works and where it doesn’t, like if it flows well, if it’s well-organized, and if it’s easy to follow and understand. 


          Now, what about editing? Whereas revising is big-picture stuff, editing is small-picture stuff. Editing is when you go through your paper and look for sentence-level issues, such as

        • Punctuation, grammatical, and spelling errors  
        • Sentence clarity 
        • Proper citations 

          Editing is getting nitty-gritty with your paper on a much smaller scale. At this stage of the writing process, you might be exhausted and ready to be done. I always like to advise people to read their paper out loud; it helps to catch places where it doesn’t flow as well, or if there’s a place you need another comma, or if you accidentally missed a word. Again, it doesn’t hurt to have someone else look over your paper–a fresh pair of eyes can catch things you missed even if you did read your paper out loud, and they might even have other suggestions on how to improve your writing.


           So, just to recap: Revising is looking at your paper as a whole and searching for ways to improve your ideas and organization. Editing is looking at your paper at the sentence level, searching for errors, and asking yourself if your sentences make sense. Please visit the Writing Center any time from 1 pm – 9 pm on Mondays through Thursdays, and on Fridays from 1 pm – 4 pm for editing and revising help! I hope this helps clarify the difference between these two important writing steps! Happy writing!