The Importance of Coherence
Say you’re reading a piece of academic writing – maybe a textbook. As you read, you find yourself drifting off, having to read the same sentence over and over before you understand it. Maybe, after a while, you get frustrated and give up on the chapter. What happened?
Nine times out of ten, this is a symptom of incoherence. Your brain is unable to find a unified argument or narrative in the book. This may become frustrating and often happens when a book is above your current level of understanding. To someone else, the writing might seem perfectly coherent, because they understand the concepts involved. But from your perspective, the chapter seems incoherent. And as a result, you don’t get as much out of it as you otherwise would.
How can you avoid this in your own writing? How can you make sure that readers don’t misunderstand you (or just give up altogether)? The answer is to work on coherent writing. Coherence is perhaps the most important feature of argumentative writing. Without it, everything falls apart. If an argument is not coherent, it doesn’t matter how good the evidence is, or how beautiful the writing is: an incoherent argument will never persuade anyone or even hold their attention.
How to Create Coherence
- Keep your reader in mind. Coherence is a matter of perception, so you have to write in a way that your reader will understand. Make sure you use terms that the reader will understand. Also, use lines of reasoning that the reader can follow. In school assignments, the reader is your teacher or professor, so this is the person you need to keep in mind as you write.
- Repeat key terms. Many writers are afraid to repeat words because they don’t want their writing to become “monotonous.” That’s a good instinct, but actually it’s helpful to repeat words – as long as they’re the right words! Look again at the example in §2: it uses the term “credit card” in nearly every sentence. But it’s OK, because “credit card” is a key term. You should use key terms frequently, but use variety in non-key terms.
- Define your terms. In complex arguments, it may be necessary to define a term for your reader. This is especially important when you’re using a word that has multiple meanings for different people (such as “democracy,” “morality,” “utilitarianism,” or “God”).
- Craft smooth transitions. Make sure that each paragraph flows naturally into the next one. If you shift topics abruptly, your readers will probably find your writing incoherent.
- Check for self-contradictions. Once you’ve made a statement, you have to stick to it! Take care that your later sentences don’t contradict or undermine what you’ve said before.