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Making Sense of Coherence
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Making Sense of Coherence


Hello everyone, my article for May is here, and as promised, I will be discussing coherence, which is another important discourse feature which you both need to analyse in texts, and demonstrate in your own writing. Whereas cohesion (discussed last month) helps to bind the text together within itself, coherence is a slightly broader concept, that are the features giving it meaning and allowing it to be understood, given the surrounding context, the text’s purpose, and the audience.

Coherence encompassed six main features, most of which will be discussed below. These are conventions, consistency, cohesion, logical ordering, inference, and formatting.

I will not discuss cohesion, but I will be nice enough to link you to the article I wrote about the topic last month. Overview of Face Needs for Unit 3 (learnmate.com.au) (I know it says overview of face needs, that is a website issue. I promise that this is a link to my April article about cohesion).

The main example I will use is a recipe for boiling an egg. A coherent recipe for boiling an egg (consistent, well formatted, ordered logically, relies on a degree of inference, cohesive, and adheres to the conventions of a recipe) may look like:

  1. Ensure egg is at room temperature
  2. Heat water until it boils
  3. Place egg in water
  4. Wait 4 and a half minutes
  5. Remove the egg and serve immediately

For the record, this is actually the best way to boil a large egg if you’re interested. Bonus cooking tips now come with my articles now it seems.

Consistency:

This is quite self-explanatory. This primarily relates to the register, topic, tone, etc. remaining consistent throughout the text. The above is consistent as everything relates to the topic of boiling an egg. If it looked something like the one below, then the lack of consistency clearly inhibits its coherence.

  1. Ensure egg is at room temperature
  2. Heat water
  3. Place egg in water
  4. Wait until octopus boils
  5. Wait 4 and a half minutes
  6. Remove egg and serve immediately

Conventions:

This is strongly related to formatting. Coherent texts usually adhere to the conventions that we expect of texts of that type. For example, a letter has a greeting and a sign off, doctor’s notes are set out in a certain way, and the above recipe breaks the process down into simple and manageable steps, which is what readers expect of a recipe.

Logical ordering:

Hold onto your hats. If a text is structured in an order than makes sense and flows well, it is easier to read and is more coherent. When you are analysing a text and you wish to discuss logical ordering (and it is one of the easier elements of coherence to identify and discuss), you need to first explain how the order is logical (briefly), before going onto (also briefly) explain how it enhances coherence, usually by allowing ideas to develop in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow. For example, the above text is ordered logically as the sequence of the text is the order in which the process of boiling an egg occurs, so it is easier for readers to follow and understand. An illogically ordered version of the above may look like this:

  1. Ensure Egg is at room temperature
  2. Heat water
  3. Remove egg and serve immediately
  4. Wait until water boils
  5. Wait 4 and a half minutes
  6. Place egg in water

Or even worse (also a major issue with the formatting):

  1. Ensure egg is at room temperature
  2. Heat water
  3. Remove egg and serve immediately
  4. Wait until water boils
  5. Wait 4 and a half minutes
  6. Place egg in water

Inference:

Texts rely on inference, rather than expressly using it (I mean, the very definition of inferring is to draw on external knowledge to interpret and read a text). The above example relies on people inferring that a stove and saucepan are also useful tools for boiling an egg (and hopefully to not use one’s bare hands to lower an egg into boiling water), and people’s understanding of this helps them to understand and follow the recipe.

I feel inference ought to receive a little bit more information. There can be textual inferences, which is where readers are asked to, ‘read between the lines,’ where an inference is created within the text. For example, “She was wearing a ring. Next time I saw her, her hand was bare.”

Moreover, inference can also be social or cultural, requiring a social or cultural understanding. This is common for idioms and puns. For example, the idiom, ‘doing a Bradbury,’ requires people to draw on their knowledge of Steven Bradbury’s famous gold medal in Salt Lake City (2002 winter Olympics), to infer that someone succeeded, despite not being in a position to, prior to those in a better position squandering their opportunity and leaving the proverbial door wide open.

Formatting:

Another that is quite easy to explain and analyse. Essentially, does the way that the text is set out help to make it easier to read and follow. Think bolded or underlined headings, numbered steps (like the above recipe), or any other formatting that impacts the way that the text is read.

For example, the recipe would be much less coherent if it had no numbers, and was just a paragraph, as it is harder to read and follow due to its formatting.

When analysing a text, ensure that you discuss how the features of coherence SPECIFICALLY contribute to the text’s coherence. Specificity gets marks, generality does not.

Wow this got long quickly, I hope it helps you understand coherence, and I will be back with more for you in June.


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