Cohesion in Texts, and in your Writing

April 8, 2021joelleva

Time flies when you’re having fun, and term 1 is already done. So is March, and the way that calendars work mean that it is now April, which also means that I am writing another article for your reading pleasure, and educational benefit. The educational benefit that this article aims to provide you with is to deepen your knowledge and understanding of cohesion, for the benefit of your own writing, and because you do analyse it in area of study 2 as a key feature of formal language.

I will discuss cohesion this month, and in May, you can expect an article about coherence.

In a sentence, cohesion is how a piece of discourse is bound. Where a piece of discourse is cohesive, various cohesive ties are used to help the piece to flow and bind different pieces of information together. Putting information flow aside (front focus, end focus, and Clefting), cohesion can be broken down into two main types, being syntactic and lexical. Lexical cohesion falls largely into the subsystem of semantics, and includes features such as:

  • Lexical repetition: the repetition of key content words throughout the text
  • Use of synonyms or near synonyms: For example, the officer instructed the driver to breathe in. She complied with the request and inhaled.
  • Lexicon from the same semantic field: After votes were cast in the 2020 United States election, attention immediately turned to the 2022 midterms, which will be the first elections after redistricting, which happens every 10 years. (American electoral politics is the semantic field).
  • Antonyms: Use of opposites to show contrast
  • Hyponyms: Show a relationship of inclusion within another word (There are mammals in this part of the zoo. For example, that is a gorilla) (Gorilla is the hyponym)
  • Hypernyms/superordinates: Shows a relationship with other words, but they fall within its meaning. (In the above example, mammal is the hypernym).

Lexical cohesive ties help to keep the text relevant to itself and allows the text to neatly flow.

Just because it likes to be a bit less confusing, syntactic/grammatical cohesion falls within the subsystem of syntax, and relate to how a text flows as a result of its grammatical construction. The main features of this are:

  • Anaphoric reference: A pronoun referring back to a noun used earlier. (Liam wrote this article, whilst he was contemplating how the 2022 United States midterms would go).
  • Cataphoric reference: Pronouns that refer to nouns used subsequently. (Whilst he was writing an analysis about North Carolina’s 2022 senate race, Liam remembered to write the article that his contract requires him to write.
    • For chemistry students, think anions (negative, back), and cations (positive, forward), to help remember which type of reference is which.
  • Substitution: Replacing a word with another, shorter word that helps the text to fit together by not being excessively wordy (somewhat of a colloquial explanation). For example: Saying, “I think so,” where so is substituted for something such as, ‘there is a significant chance of a federal election this year.’
  • Ellipsis: The omission of words, usually words which are obvious from contact.
  • Conjunctions and adverbials: See below.

I have decided to devote a little bit more to conjunctions and adverbials, because they are so useful to your own personal writing. Words that add new points (moreover, furthermore, additionally, and), compare and contrast (similarly, whereas, on the other hand, conversely), and that show causality (thus, therefore, consequently), all significantly help to bring your writing together and make it more cohesive. When writing a paragraph and you wish to add a new point within it, a word such as, “moreover,” or, “furthermore,” helps to create cohesion and makes your writing read a lot better. Without them, a paragraph can be clunky and almost read like something of a list, rather than a fluent piece of writing. To show this, I often experiment with my clients by removing these words from a paragraph, and have them read the original paragraph, and then the one without those words. Without fail, the client comments on how much better the original reads and flows, as it is less clunky and easier to follow my train of argument. One thing I found useful was to make a non-exhaustive list of these kind of words, (to add, to contrast, to prove, and to introduce an example, so that I had a little bank of words ready to use.

Anyway, I hope that this article has helped your understanding of cohesion, and how one particular component of it can help with your own personal writing. I’ll have more for you next month.

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