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Study Skills

Cohesion

Cohesive writing is easy to read; it flows like a river.

Cohesion is an essential quality for good academic writing. Writing that lacks cohesion may be disjointed, repetitive and difficult for readers to follow. This section will help you to write assignments that flow. 

This page will help you to:  

  • learn six techniques for creating greater cohesion in your writing 

  • recognise each technique in academic texts. 

reflection icon

Before you continue, reflect on your previous writing experiences. How would you rate your ability in the following essay writing skills? Rate your ability from ‘good’ to ‘needs development’. 

Reflect on your answers. Congratulations if you feel confident about your skills. You may find it helpful to review the materials on this page to confirm your knowledge and possibly learn more. Don't worry if your skills need development. All students have had to learn academic skills. These materials will help. 

Introduction to cohesion

Cohesion is just as important as accurate grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. It makes your written assignments easier to follow and understand. 

Cohesion part one.

Watch the video Cohesion Part One to learn more about this important element of writing. 

Stop and reflect on what you’ve just learned. Write down three things you want to remember. 

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Now, check your understanding. 

Cohesion part two

Watch the video Cohesion Part two to learn about three more techniques. 

Stop and reflect on what you’ve just learned. Write down three more things you want to remember. 

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Now, check your understanding. Compare these paragraphs.  

  • Which one seems more cohesive? 

  • Which of the six cohesive devices from the video can you identify? 

Text 1

Digital marketing strategies are a competitive advantage tool (Appel et al., 2020). Using social media for promotion enables business owners to accrue high revenue and returns. Making information about products and services readily available to the target market is sustainable, cost-effective, and creates efficiency. In 2020, more than 3.6 billion people used social media, and the number is projected to rise to about 4.41 billion by 2025 (Statista Research, 2021).  Customers will be unreachable for small enterprises without a campaign on platforms like Facebook. This means serious falls in income (Wilfred, 2016). 

Text 2

Stiff competition in small and medium enterprises (SME) has prompted many entrepreneurs in this sector to adopt digital marketing strategies as a competitive advantage tool (Appel et al., 2020). Digital marketing enables entrepreneurs to accrue high revenue and returns. It is sustainable, cost-effective and efficient because it enables SMEs to make information about their products and services readily available to the target market. In fact, in 2020, more than 3.6 billion people used social media, and the number is projected to rise to about 4.41 billion by 2025 (Statista Research, 2021). Thus, SMEs without a digital marketing strategy will soon be unable to reach their target market and this inability may result in serious falls in revenue (Wilfred, 2016). 

Check your thoughts by clicking on the hotspots. 

Six techniques for better cohesion

This section will focus on six different techniques you can use to make your writing more cohesive. 

Paragraph structure

Clear cohesive paragraphs that are sequenced well help your readers follow your argument. One method for clearly organising your paragraphs is TEEL/C. 

Topic sentence: a sentence that signals the topic and controlling idea and links to the thesis or aim in the introduction. 

Support for the idea presented in the topic sentence: explanation, elaboration, evidence, example 

L/C 

Link to the next paragraph or conclusion. 

Visit Paragraphing for further practice.

Parallel sentences

Sentences that are parallel use the same grammar structure – or the same pattern of words – to express ideas that are: 

  • in a list 

  • performing the same function 

  • similar in importance. 

Example 1:  

The attributes of successful students include an ability to communicate well, think critically, and time management. 

This is not a parallel structure because it uses: 

  • two verb phrases: communicate well and think critically 

  • one noun: time management 

The attributes of successful students include effective communication, critical thinking, and time management. 

This is more cohesive because all nouns are used. 

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Identify the sentences that use parallel structure.

Old before new information

Establishing a clear connection of ideas within paragraphs is important to help your reader follow the text. One way to do this is to put old – or familiar – information close to the beginning of your sentences.  

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  1. Read the following sentences. 
  2. Choose the best sentence to follow each. 
Key word repetition

Many students believe that good academic writing means using a lot of long words and showing off their extensive vocabulary. This is wrong.  

Good academic writing is clear and easy to follow. Your writing will be more cohesive if you repeat key words. Carefully chosen synonyms can help make your writing flow; however, you should use synonyms only when they improve cohesion, not to display your range of vocabulary. 

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Read this paragraph and find unnecessary synonyms.

This/these + noun

This/these + a noun can be used to establish a good old-new flow of information. The noun refers to the idea in a previous sentence. It may summarize the idea or repeat a key word. 

Be careful. An unsupported this can stop flow as your reader may not understand what this is referring to. Use these sparingly. 

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Which summary words could you use in these sentences? More than one answer could be correct. 

Signpost language

Just as a signpost gives directions to a driver, signpost language guides your reader through your text. This language shows the direction of your argument. 

Download the Useful Signpost Language document and use it as a guide when you are writing. 

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  1. Read each sentence and identify the relationship between the ideas. 
  2. Choose one word from the document to fill the gaps in the sentences. Pay attention to punctuation. 
  3. Refer to the Useful Signpost Language document to help you 

 

Using headings and subheadings

All reports have headings, and in some disciplines, essays use headings too. Headings are used to:

  • help organise the text and make it more cohesive
  • guide your reader through the development of your ideas.

This section will introduce you to some hints for writing clear headings. 

Writing useful headings

Before you begin to write your headings, answer these questions: 

  • Do you have a template or specific headings you must use? Check your task instructions. 

  • Have you written your plan for your assignment? This will help you categorise your information so you can divide it into sections and give them headings. 

Here are some hints for writing clear, helpful headings:

This is the thesis statement from an assignment introduction. The example headings below are for this assignment. 

To achieve success at university, all students must quickly become familiar with the expectations of the university, its modes of study, modes of assessment, and available support resources. 

Hints 	Use this heading	Don’t use this heading Use short headings   	University expectations 	What universities expect from students in the 21st century  Use the key words in your abstract or thesis statement.  	Modes of study 	Styles of study  Begin with the key word, where possible.  	Modes of study: an exploration 	Exploring different modes of study  Use parallel structure. 	2.1 Modes of study  2.2 Modes of assessment  	2.1 Modes of Study  2.2 How assessment works   Express the main point of the section

 

Organising your headings

Headings are a useful tool for making your text cohesive and easy to read. Always write your headings with your readers in mind. Ask yourself these questions.

If your readers have an interest in your topic and are likely to read it from beginning to end:

  • What headings will help them understand how my ideas develop and how they are related to each other?

If some of your readers are busy people who are reading your text for a specific purpose:

  • What headings will help them quickly locate the information they want?

    Compare these two contents pages. Which one has the most useful headings and sub-headings for the readers? 

    Example 1

    This shows a content page with clear, concise headings and sub headings that are numbered

    Example 2

    This shows a content page with no numbers and long convoluted headings

    If you thought example 1, many people would agree with you. Notice how the headings and sub-headings: 

    • provide a map of the text for the reader 

    • are organised in logical order that summarise the text

    • are numbered and formatted to give a visual outline of how the ideas relate to each other.

    Tip 1

    If you are working in MS Word, use the style function to set your headings and subheadings. 

    This is an image of the style functions in MS word. the extract shows the titles, headings and subheadings options.

    Tip 2

    When you begin your assignment, follow these steps to ensure your text - and your headings - are cohesive:

    1. Brainstorm your ideas and then group the ideas into categories.
    2. Give each category a name and put them into a logical order.
    3. Read the category names and rewrite them so they could be useful headings and sub-headings.
    4. Draft the headings and sub-headings into a document using the style function.
    5. Create a contents page. 
    6. Read the contents page and answer this question: do these headings provide a summary of my assignment? 
    7. If yes, start drafting your assignment into the document using the headings as a framework.
    8. If no, revisit the headings and consider whether they need to be reordered or rewritten.

    Apply your learning

    Reflect on what you have learned in this material and consider how you can use it in your own work. 

    Useful strategies

     

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    Try these tips for improving cohesion in your writing.  

    Reread an assignment you have previously written for one of your units.
    • Can you find examples of each of the six strategies for improving cohesion?
    • Can you find places where you could have used one of them?

     

    Read each paragraph of a draft you are writing and write the main idea in a one sentence summary. 

    • Compare each summary with each topic sentence. Does your topic sentence adequately introduce the main idea? 

    • Compare each summary with the outline in your introduction. Does your body follow the order you intended? 

    • Read each sentence in order. Are the ideas relevant and connected to each other? Do the ideas flow with good continuity? 

    Ask a peer to read your draft.

    • Ask your peer to draw a flow chart or a mind map to illustrate how the ideas in your draft are connected to each other.
    Take one short section of your draft and cut and paste sentences into another document out of order.
    • Ask a peer to try to put the sentences back into the correct order.
    • Put the document away for 24 hours and then you try to put the sentences back into order.
    • ThinK: If the sentences couldn't be correctly ordered, what cohesive strategies do you need to use so that your readers can follow your text?
    Next steps

      

    reflection icon

    Reflect on your learning. 

    Revisit the self-analysis quiz at the top of the page. How would you rate your skills now? 

    Remember that writing is a process and mistakes aren't a bad thing. They are a normal part of learning and can help you to improve. 

    If you would like more support, visit the Language and Learning Advisors page. 

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