How to Make Your Paper Flow: Coherence

Introduction 

          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. 

Conclusion 

          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!