ESL: Coherence and Cohesion

From the ESL Student Handbook by Young Min, PhD
Coherence means the connection of ideas at the idea level, and cohesion means the
connection of ideas at the sentence level. Basically, coherence refers to the “rhetorical” aspects
of your writing, which include developing and supporting your argument (e.g. thesis statement
development), synthesizing and integrating readings, organizing and clarifying ideas. The
cohesion of writing focuses on the “grammatical” aspects of writing.
One of the practical tools that can help improve the coherence of your writing is to use a
concept map. The concept map is also known as “reverse outline” since you make an outline
of your paper after you have finished the main ideas of your paper. Write down the main idea of
each paragraph—which is called a topic sentence—on a blank piece of paper. Check to see if
the topic sentences are connected to the thesis statement of your paper or if you have strayed
from your main argument. As you repeat this process, it will help you become more aware of
how to develop your argument coherently and how to organize your ideas effectively. Here is a
concept map template you can use.
Cohesion is also a very important aspect of academic writing, because it immediately affects
the tone of your writing. Although some instructors may say that you will not lose points because
of grammatical errors in your paper, you may lose points if the tone of your writing is sloppy or
too casual (a diary-type of writing or choppy sentences will make the tone of your writing too
casual for academic writing). But cohesive writing does not mean just “grammatically correct”
sentences; cohesive writing refers to the connection of your ideas both at the sentence level
and at the paragraph level.
Here are some examples that illustrate the importance of connecting your ideas more
effectively in writing.
The hotel is famous. It is one of the most well-known hotels in the country. The latest
international dancing competition was held at the hotel. The hotel spent a lot of money to
advertise the event. Because the hotel wanted to gain international reputation. But not many
people attended the event. (The connection of ideas is not very good.)

what are some practical ways to teach coherence and cohesion? Thank Sumber: http://www. not many people participated in the competition. PhD ykmin@uwb. A text is coherent if it makes sense. Although the event was widely advertised.) Created by Young-Kyung Min. however. What's the difference between coherence and cohesion? Also.washington. The hotel spent a lot of money on advertising the event since it wanted to enhance its international reputation. It should be clear that these are not the same thing. wanted to promote its image around the world by hosting the latest international dancing competition.The hotel. which is one of the most wellknown hotels in this region. Hall Houston Very briefly: a text is cohesive if its elements are linked together. That is. a text may be . (The connection of ideas is better than in the first example.) The latest international dancing competition was held at the hotel. it failed to attract many people. which is one of the most well-known hotels in this Methodology: Coherence and cohesion By Scott Thornbury Type: Reference material Can a cohesive text be incoherent? Is coherence subjective? Scott Thornbury takes a look at the difference between coherence and cohesion and suggests some practical ways that we can teach both in an EFL context. (The connection of ideas is better than in the first example.

A text may be coherent to you. linked together).e. but incoherent to me. Each sentence is notionally linked to the one that precedes it. a text which is basically poorly organised is not going to be made more coherent simply by peppering it with moreover. so. it is the extent to which the reader (or listener) is able to infer the writer's (or speaker's) communicative intentions. A: Good. The following (much quoted) exchange. Nevertheless. but incoherent (i. however. it is often the case that some form of linking.that is to say. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It is coherent because we can easily imagine a context in which it would make sense. meaningless).g. Here is one such (invented) text: I am a teacher. however. then: cohesion is a formal feature of texts (it gives them their texture).cohesive (i. But it wasn't. A: OK. but the text is ultimately senseless . using both lexical and grammatical means. B: I'm in the bath. cohesion is objectively verifiable. Just as (albeit with more ingenuity perhaps) we can imagine a context in which the following would make sense: A: Whose hands are these? B: They're your hands. The exact relationship between cohesion and coherence is a matter of contention. even though there are no obvious links between its parts: A: There's the phone. Class rhymes with grass. however and notwithstanding. Thus. While it is true that a sequence of unlinked utterances can make sense. is coherent to most people. Put simply.e. e. with cohesive devices such as and. The teacher was late for class. can make it easier for the reader (or listener) to process and to make sense of what they read (or hear). Ann Raimes) is an example of a text that is "over- . The following text (devised by the writer on me anyway (and I wrote it!). while coherence is more subjective. while coherence is "in the eye of the beholder" . but.

to return to the second part of the question. (For a comprehensive list.but) are just one. Then. see Chapters 2 and 3 of my Beyond the Sentence. Coherence is more elusive but it has a lot to do with the way that the propositional content of texts is organised. and then answering them. the use of synonyms and hyponyms. 2005). both lexical and grammatical. Finally. of which linkers (and. Macmillan. that he must go to work. he decided not to go to work.[i] So. and words from the same lexical field . but. what are some practical ways to teach cohesion and coherence? The way that textual cohesion is achieved is best learned through paying close attention to the way sentences are linked in texts. Good writers are able to "keep their reader in mind". when he went out the door. and of the intended readership. also a useful way of alerting learners to the key role that lexis has in binding a text together. This means that it is important that. More important still. see the entry under cohesion in An A-Z of ELT. he sat down to enjoy his newspaper. Therefore. repetitions.egged" with cohesive markers. and academic writing.that is. he went out the door and walked to the bus stop. (For more ideas on how to teach both cohesion and coherence. Macmillan. he saw the snowstorm was very heavy. This means that learners can be helped to write coherent texts through the analysis of the generic features of particular text types. he realized his boss might get angry because he did not go to the office. This has long been the approach to teaching business. but it would seem to be a prerequisite. technical. and which is typical of the kind of texts that many students produce as a result of an over-emphasis on linking devices at the expense of other ways of making texts cohesive (of which probably the most important is lexis): Louie rushed and got ready for work. . it is more likely to achieve its communicative effect. he made another decision. students have a clear idea both of the purpose of the text. when doing writing tasks. I am fond of using short articles from children's encyclopedias. So. Cutting (short) texts up and asking learners to order them is a good way of drawing attention to the way that they are linked. is second-guessing the intended reader's questions. Keeping your reader in mind does not guarantee coherence. so . Identifying lexical chains in texts . There are a variety of cohesive devices. If the content of a (written) text is organised in such a way that it fulfills the reader's expectations. 2006).

http://www. Learning to write: First language/second language.). 1983. Anguish as a second language? Remedies for composition .[i] Raimes. I..onestopenglish. Pringle. A. Longman. J. In Freedman.. and Yalden. A. (Eds.