Cohesion

Cohesion and coherence are important features of academic writing. They are one of the features tested in exams of academic English, including the IELTS test. This page gives information on what cohesion is and how to achieve it. It also explains the difference between cohesion and coherence. There is also an example essay to highlight the main features of cohesion mentioned in this section.


What is cohesion?

It is important for the parts of a written text to be connected together. Another word for this is cohesion. This word comes from the word cohere, which means 'to stick together'. Cohesion is therefore related to ensuring that the words and sentences you use stick together and make sense.


Good cohesion is achieved through the following three main methods, each of which is described in more detail below:


Repeated words/ideas

One way to achieve cohesion is to repeat words, or to repeat ideas using different words (synonyms). Study the following example. Repeated words (or synonyms) are shown in bold.


Cohesion is an important feature of academic writing. It can help ensure that your writing coheres or 'sticks together', which will make it easier for the reader to follow the main ideas in your essay or report. You can achieve good cohesion by paying attention to three important features. The first of these is repeated words. The second key feature is reference words. The final important aspect is transition signals.


In this example, the word cohesion is used several times, including as a verb (coheres). It is important, in academic writing, to avoid too much repetition, so using different word forms or synonyms is common. The word writing is also used several times, including the phrase essay or report, which is a synonym for writing. The words important features are also repeated, again using synonyms: key feature, important aspect.



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Reference words

Reference words are words which are used to refer to something which is mentioned elsewhere in the text, usually in a preceding sentence. The most common type is pronouns, such as 'it' or 'this' or 'these'. Study the previous example again. This time, the reference words are shown in bold.


Cohesion is an important feature of academic writing. It can help ensure that your writing coheres or 'sticks together', which will make it easier for the reader to follow the main ideas in your essay or report. You can achieve good cohesion by paying attention to three important features. The first of these is repeated words. The second key feature is reference words. The final important aspect is transition signals.


The words it and these are reference words. The first of these, it refers to 'cohesion' used in the preceding sentence. The second of these, these refers to 'three important features', also used in the sentences that precedes it.


Transition signals

Transition signals, also called cohesive devices, are words which show the relationship between ideas. These are many different types, the most common of which are explained in the next section on transition signals. Some examples of transition signals are:

  • for example - used to give examples
  • in contrast - used to show a contrasting or opposite idea
  • first - used to show the first item in a list
  • as a result - used to show a result or effect

Study the previous example again. This time, the transition signals are shown in bold.


Cohesion is an important feature of academic writing. It can help ensure that your writing coheres or 'sticks together', which will make it easier for the reader to follow the main ideas in your essay or report. You can achieve good cohesion by paying attention to three important features. The first of these is repeated words. The second key feature is reference words. The final important aspect is transition signals.


Here the transition signals simply give a list, relating to the three important features: first, second, and final.

Cohesion vs. coherence

The words 'cohesion' and 'coherence' are often used together with a similar meaning, which relates to how an academic text sticks together to make a unified whole. Although they are similar, they are not the same. Cohesion relates to the micro level of the text, in other words the words and sentences and how they cohere. Coherence, in contrast, relates to macro level features of a text which help it to stick together, such as topic sentences, thesis statement, the summary in the concluding paragraph (dealt with in the essay structure section), and other 'bigger' features including headings such as those used in reports. Although they are macro level features, they still have much in common with the above. For example:

  • repeated words/ideas (e.g. words/ideas in the thesis statement repeated in the topic sentences and summary)
  • reference words (e.g. The first advantage of this is..., Despite these advantages, there are also many disadvantages...)
  • transition signals (e.g. The first advantage of this is..., A second advantage is..., Despite these advantages, there are also many disadvantages...)

Example essay

Below is an example essay. It is the one used in the persuasion essay section. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different cohesive aspects in this essay, i.e. repeated words/ideas, reference words, and transition signals.


Title: Consider whether human activity has made the world a better place.


Repeated words/ideas
 
Reference words
   
Transition signals
  

History shows that human beings have come a long way from where they started. They have developed new technologies which means that everybody can enjoy luxuries they never previously imagined. However, the technologies that are temporarily making this world a better place to live could well prove to be an ultimate disaster due to, among other things, the creation of nuclear weapons, increasing pollution, and loss of animal species.

The biggest threat to the earth caused by modern human activity comes from the creation of nuclear weapons. Although it cannot be denied that countries have to defend themselves, the kind of weapons that some of them currently possess are far in excess of what is needed for defence. If these weapons were used, they could lead to the destruction of the entire planet.

Another harm caused by human activity to this earth is pollution. People have become reliant on modern technology, which can have adverse effects on the environment. For example, reliance on cars causes air and noise pollution. Even seemingly innocent devices, such as computers and mobile phones, use electricity, most of which is produced from coal-burning power stations, which further adds to environmental pollution. If we do not curb our direct and indirect use of fossil fuels, the harm to the environment may be catastrophic.

Animals are an important feature of this earth and the past decades have witnessed the extinction of a considerable number of animal species. This is the consequence of human encroachment on wildlife habitats, for example deforestation to expand human cities. Some may argue that such loss of species is natural and has occurred throughout earth's history. However, the current rate of species loss far exceeds normal levels, and is threatening to become a mass extinction event.

In summary, there is no doubt that current human activities such as the creation of nuclear weapons, pollution, and destruction of wildlife, are harmful to the earth. It is important for us to see not only the short-term effects of our actions, but their long-term effects as well. Otherwise, human activities will be just another step towards destruction.

Repeated words/ideas
 
Reference words
 
Transition signals
 


Checklist

Below is a checklist for essay cohesion and coherence. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.


Item OK? Comment
There is good use of repeated words/ideas (including synonyms)
There is good use of reference words (e.g. 'it', 'this', 'these')
There is good use of transition signals (e.g. 'for example', 'in contrast')
There is also good coherence via the thesis statement, topic sentences and summary



Next section

Find out how more about transition signals in the next section.




Previous section

Go back to the previous section about essay conclusions.







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