A document that is well-written and reasonably easy to follow should have the qualities of cohesion and balance. What do we mean by these two terms?
Cohesion in writing
In an academic context, ‘cohesion’ means that a text hangs well together. It is clear, the writer’s point of view (or argument) follows logically, and the text displays a sense of balance. A sense of balance is enhanced when the ideas presented seem to follow logically and are supported by evidence. This does not happen by accident. It requires careful planning, a clear idea of one’s argument or line of thinking, and the use of cohesion techniques which enhance clarity and meaning.
This is why it is important to read widely when preparing for academic writing. A clear case needs to be made for the topic you are exploring and researching. As a result of your reading, you will present your line of reasoning or ‘argument’. You will use cohesion techniques to help you make your case and convince your reader. Your attention to cohesion means that sentences and paragraphs hang well together and cohesion devices are used. Such devices include the following:
- repetition of key nouns or phrases
- use of transition signals
- consistency (eg in the use of pronouns)
- use of connectors
- logical development of ideas (‘flow’).
Repetition of key nouns or phrases
Although teachers will often tell students to avoid repetition in academic writing, there are some instances where repetition can be very effective. Repetition in the same sentence should be avoided. However, repetition in the same paragraph can often aid cohesion and make a stronger case. Think of the excellent example of the ‘I have a dream’ speech of Martin Luther King, where the repetition helps the rhetorical thrust of his speech and makes it very powerful.
Use of transition signals
Transition signals usually help the reader to follow your argument. If I am making a point and then I use the phrase ‘on the other hand’, this would signal to the reader that I am going to present an opposing view, just as I would if I wrote ‘however’. If, on the other hand, I wrote ‘moreover’, this would signal to the reader that I am going to provide more evidence to support what I have already said. These transition signals thus serve to help the writer elaborate the argument he/she is making. They are very prevalent in academic writing.
Consistency (eg in the use of pronouns)
Consistency in the use of certain terms also contributes to cohesion. For example, if you are writing about a company called Brookes, you need to consider whether you are going to refer to the company as ‘it’ or ‘they’. Thus, in the following example, you would need to decide how you are going to refer to the company and then be consistent in your usage.
Brookes has carried out a thorough survey of customer preferences. It will now introduce a new product which it feels will have a very good chance of success in the market (consistent use if singular ‘it’).
The above could just as easily be written as follows:
Brookes have carried out a thorough survey of customer preferences. They will now introduce a new product which they feel will have a very good chance of success in the market (consistent use if plural ‘they’).
The best choice of expression will depend on your context – the important thing is to ensure consistency in use of singular or plural.
Use of connectors in writing
Connecting expressions help a text to hang well together and keep the reader connected to the writer’s argument. Connectors include such phrases as: ‘as was indicated earlier’; ‘the next section will explain’; and ‘another example could be’. These keep the reader focussed on the bigger picture and the overall argument you are making. Again, such terms are prevalent in academic writing.
Logical development of ideas (‘flow’)
It should be noted that what is considered ‘logical’ in presenting an argument may vary from one style of writing to another or indeed one cultural framework to another. Research indicates, for example, that some cultures use a more circular style in presenting information than others. This can make the style seem too wordy and detailed. Academic English, especially in more recent times, tends to be fairly direct and indeed lends itself to the frequent use of bullet points that is becoming more visible in academic language.
In conclusion, what you present to the reader should hang well together – be logically developed, have a clear line of thought or argument, gradually develop the points that are being made and be supported by relevant research and information. The latter is what gives academic language its strength and special qualities. Cohesion leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction when an argument or line of reasoning is carefully developed, well expressed and ‘logically’ concluded.