Coherence refers to logical connections between sentences and paragraphs. An essay with coherence problems is (at least in places) missing those connections so that the reader cannot see how to get from one sentence to the next. I imagine moving through an essay like trying to cross a river by leaping from stone to stone; with coherence problems, the stones are too far apart for me to make the jump.

On paper drafts I mark coherence problems with a wiggly vertical line and the words (usually) “What’s the connection here?” or simply “Connection?”

These three strategies may help with coherence:

  • Look at the order of your sentences. What’s the logic that governs this order? Could sentences be rearranged to more closely follow this logic? (For example, if your paragraph is narrative, events could be arranged chronologically, i.e., in the order that they happened. If a paragraph jumps around in time, it can be made more coherent by rearranging the order of the sentences.)
  • Sometimes the idea that connects two sentences is so clear in your mind that you don’t put it on the page, and making that connection explicit by adding material may improve coherence.
  • To make more clear the meaning relationships between sentences, consider adding transitional elements like “on the other hand,” “for example,” “similarly.”

Here are some links that may help you improve coherence.

Coherence: transitions between ideas (from Capital Community College’s Guide to Grammar and Writing)

UNC video on flow

Transitions (from UNC)

Exercise (optional, unless it has been specifically assigned):

Read the two paragraphs here. Select one of the two paragraphs to revise for focus and coherence. Decide what the main idea of paragraph is, and make that the topic sentence. Include only those sentences that connect to that main idea (so you do not need to include all of the information that is in the original). Consider order of sentences, position of ideas within each sentence, and use of transitions to improve the coherence of paragraph.

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