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Writing

This Guide was created as a joint project of the Academic Resource Center and the William H. Hannon Library.

Flow and Lexical Coherence

Many writers come to the writing center asking, “Does my paper flow?”

How does a reader judge if a paper flows? Readers look for the topics of sentences and paragraphs. When they can easily identify these topics and see how--across an essay-- they are related to each other and add up to a whole, readers say the writing “flows.” There are two levels of flow in a paper:

  1. At the macro or big picture level, the placement of main ideas and their supporting details seems logical to the reader. We call this logical coherence. To check if your paper flows for logical coherence go to Flow and Logical Coherence.*
  2. At the micro level, readers look for specific words to help them follow the thread of your paper. We call this lexical coherence. This handout shows you how to use key terms, pronouns and transitions to make your ideas cohere or stick together. 

*We strongly recommend you check your paper first for logical coherence to make sure your overall organization is in good shape.

 

Be Consistent with Key Terms

Repetition of key terms and phrases helps keep your readers on track. Establish key terms up front in your essay, especially in the thesis. Repeat these words at the beginning of paragraphs to remind readers of your message and where you are heading. These words act as a thread to hold the essay together. For example, note the bolded key terms in these two thesis statements. A reader will expect to see these terms again throughout the paper.

  • Freud’s theory of the unconscious is inadequate in accounting for mental illness because it fails to account for conditions that are of a strictly biological origin
  • The rising rate of divorce causes increased tensions in the American family. Based on theological, ethical, and social grounds, divorce should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid using synonyms for recurring key words – Which of these 2 paragraphs is easier to follow?

  1. The experimental group was taught to identify toy animals by name and was retested twice at six-month intervals. The control group, which was taught to identify the toys by color, was retested only once after six months. The performance of the experimental group was superior to the performance of the control group. The superior performance of the experimental group was attributed to…
  2. The Phoenix cohort, which was taught to correctly identify the various toy animals by name, was brought back to be studied by the researchers twice, once after six months and again at the end of the year. The other group of youngsters was asked to answer the set of questions only once, after six months, but they had been taught to label the animals by color rather than by name. The performance of Group I was superior to the performance of Group II. The superior performance of the experimental group was attributed to…

Paragraph 1 is easier because it does not replace key terms with synonyms. Don’t be fooled into thinking your writing will be monotonous if you repeat the same key terms often.  Key terms are not just ordinary words. They are the glue that makes your writing cohere.  Your reader is less likely to notice this repetition if they are busy concentrating on understanding your point.  

 

Make Pronouns Work for You

Pronouns refer back to some person place or thing previously mentioned. Examples of pronouns include this, that, these, those, he, she, it, they, him, her. They help readers connect your ideas. Be careful that your pronouns refer clearly to specific nouns. Use the pronoun along with the repeated noun (e.g. this test, that trial, these reports) to avoid possible ambiguity.

Examples:
Clear use of pronoun: The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is used to identify deviant personality traits. This test is also helpful to determine a person’s suitability for a job.
Unclear use of pronouns: The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory is used to identify deviant personality traits. This is also helpful to determine a person’s suitability for a job.
Without the word, test, it is unclear which pronoun this is replacing: traits or inventory?

 

Carefully Choose Transitions

Transitional words provide cues to the reader about the relationship between sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs within an essay. Often when there is no easy or logical way to link one idea to the next, a transition word will be able to make that link. For example, when you are moving from one main idea to another in your paper, a transition word such as furthermore, in addition, or finally, can help the reader make the necessary connections.

 

See Transitional Chart for more examples of transition words!

 

Transitional Words Chart