Improving cohesion

This guide will help you make your academic writing more cohesive and communicate your message more effectively. It includes advice on how to analyse and improve your own writing for elements of cohesion.

What is cohesion?

Cohesion refers to the way we use vocabulary and grammatical structures to make connections between the ideas within a text. It provides flow and sequence to your work and helps make your paragraphs clear for the reader.

Cohesive devices are words and expressions that show relationships between parts of text and ideas, such as cause and effect, time, addition, or comparison and contrast.

Watch the video to learn how to make your ideas link together and your narrative flow.

Examples and tips of cohesive, critical and interpretive writing.

How can I create cohesion?

Let’s look at types of cohesive devices.

Linking words

Academic writing usually deals with complex ideas. To enable the reader to follow your thoughts, they need to be clearly and smoothly linked. To join ideas and sentences, we use a number of connecting words and phrases. For example:

  • and – to add information
  • however – to show contrast
  • therefore – to show cause and effect
  • although – to qualify
  • because – to show cause and effect
  • whilst – to signal concurrency

Although the government was elected for a three-year term, the Prime Minister decided to hold an early election. At the same time, the opposition parties, which had anticipated this move, had been planning their own election campaigns.

Referring backwards

To avoid repeating words and phrases many times, we use cohesive devices to make references to other parts of a text, such as:

  • Pronouns: it, he, she, his, her, they, their
  • Demonstratives: this, that, these, those
  • Articles: a, the
  • Adverbs: previously, subsequently

The Australian prime minister has called an early election. The date was selected to coincide with the start of the Olympic Games. This decision was based on the views of his ministerial advisors, who predicted that voter confidence in the government’s policies would be strong at this time. As previously mentioned, decisions on the timing of elections are based on predictions of voter confidence in the existing government.

In the example above:

  • The date - refers back to the election date
  • This decision - refers to the prime minister calling an early election
  • His - refers to the Australian prime minister
  • this time - refers to the start of the Olympic Games
  • As previously mentioned - refers to all of the earlier information about the selection of election dates

Looking forward

We often use words and phrases to highlight new information for the reader. This helps make a smooth transition from one point to another. Such phrases include: the following, as follows, below, next, subsequently.

The following dates have been proposed for the forthcoming election: September 8, September 15 and 3 October.

The next issue to be discussed is the influence of the media on voter confidence in the government.

Synonyms

To emphasise attention on a part of text, we sometimes repeat the same word or phrase. However, this technique can make the writing start to sound repetitive if it is used too often. To avoid this, we can use words and phrases with similar meaning to refer back to an earlier concept.

In the following example, the word ‘campaign’ repeated in the second sentence continues the topic of the first. Replacing ‘commenced’ with ‘beginning’ adds variety, but also keeps a focus on the topic.

The government’s election campaign commenced with a media blitz outlining a series of election promises. This beginning to the campaign sparked numerous media commentaries.

Strategies to improve cohesion

  1. Select a piece of writing, preferably from a textbook or journal article, from your area of study.
  2. Choose a paragraph and underline or highlight all the different forms of cohesion used, such as using linking words, referring backwards, looking forwards or adding synonyms.
  3. Which forms are the most common?
  4. Choose a couple that you think are effective and practice using them in your own writing.
  5. Try to use a variety of ways to show the relationship between your ideas.

Final Tip

Using the work of other writers as a model for stylistic and cohesive features is one way to improve style and cohesion in your own writing.

It is plagiarism, however, if you copy another writer’s information or ideas and present them as your own.

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