Coherence and cohesion are what give a text the feeling of being well-organized, well-structured, with a clear logic that doesn’t require multiple reads to understand. Cohesion means that one sentence (ie. idea) flows into the next, and coherence means that a paragraph comes together to actually make a point about the topic. And making a point is the goal of your scientific writing, n’est-ce pas?
So, to check whether your paragraphs make sense and have a logical flow from start to finish, take a critical look at your text, and ask yourself the following questions:
- In each sentence, underline old/contextual information and new/important information. Does context/topical information come first? Does the most important point arrive at the end of the sentence? If not, readers have to jump back and forth to understand your points. Read more about the placement of contextual/important information here.
- Look at the junctions between your sentences: is the end of one sentence clearly related to the beginning of the next? If not, readers won’t get a sense that the text flows. Read more about flow in scientific texts here.
- Look at the first part of each sentence in a paragraph. Does this represent a small number of clearly linked ideas? If not, readers are less likely to feel that the text is focused and stays on topic. Read more about paragraph coherence here.
- Does the first sentence represent the topic of the paragraph? Does the last sentence express the main point? If you erased everything else in the paragraph, do these two sentences make sense together? If not, your ideas are wandering, and it will be harder for your reader to figure out what you’re really trying to say. More about paragraph coherence here.
- Can the main point of several consecutive paragraphs be grouped together in a mini-conclusion that would be an effective subheading? Spell out the meaning for your reader in your subheadings- it will help them follow your logic. More on using the subheadings to help your reader at the bottom of this post.
Patricia Gongal works with researchers to improve the structure, clarity, flow, and style of their scientific writing, and has lots of opinions about science and academia.