Coherence refers to the qualities of consistency, harmony, and logical connection within a set of ideas or elements.
To be coherence means to make seamless connections between ideas and use an understandable flow during communication.
The term can be applied to many concepts, including:
- The storyline in a novel
- A person’s debate speech
- A politician’s policy platform
The more coherent something is, the easier it is to logically follow and understand. The degree of coherence in an idea also often serves as an indicator of its efficiency or effectiveness.
In order to be coherent, you may need to plan-out how you will communicate an idea, write drafts, organize your thoughts, and pay attention to the logic and flow of your key points.
1. Demonstrating Cause and Effect
A story that is coherent will clearly explain the chain of events in the story. One way to do this is to demonstrate cause and effect.
To explain it another way, imagine if something happened in a story that seems odd, and there’s no explanation as to why or how it happened. You would be left feeling as if the story was incoherent.
So, clearly explaining cause and effect allows a reader to follow the chain of events or ideas logically, enhancing overall understanding and agreement with your points.
See Also: Cause and Effect Examples
2. Using Logical Reasoning
The use of logical reasoning is a powerful way to enhance coherence in your communication.
Logical reasoning is the act of drawing conclusions based on premises that are true, and it operates under the guiding principles of sound logic. This enhances your credibility and the value of your ideas.
Imagine, for example, if someone told a story and there were points within it that were illogical. This, in itself, will be an incoherent story!
See Also: The Types of Fallacy
3. Avoiding Fallacies and Heuristics
Resorting to fallacies and heuristics tends to tarnish a part of the coherence of your communication.
Fallacies are mistakes or errors in reasoning, while heuristics are mental shortcuts people take that can sometimes lead to faulty decision making.
For instance, allowing logical fallacies such as the strawman argument, where the argument’s viewpoint is misrepresented to weaken it, obstructs the coherence by distorting the logical reasoning.
Staying clear from such tendencies ensures that your position is firmly anchored in solid reasoning, thus increasing the coherence of your message.
See Also: The Multiple Types of Fallacy
4. Staying on Topic
Veering off the topic is perhaps the most common way that my students fail to maintain coherence in their essays.
Imagine trying to understand a text where the author jumps randomly from topic to topic with no clear connection. This would be hard to follow and would seem incoherent.
And yet, too often, students will start a paragraph talking about one concept and end it on a completely random tangent. Avoid this, and you’ll be on track to greater coherence.
5. Using Clear Language
Sometimes, lack of clarity in word choice can make something incoherent. Take, for example, talking to a toddler. The toddler is trying to communicate something, and you have to strain very hard to understand their baby talk. Their incoherence is rooted in their inability to speak clearly.
Similarly, jargon or overly complex language can lead to confusion and misinterpretation, damaging the coherence of your message.
6. Organizing Ideas Logically
Sometimes, the most straightforward way of improving the coherence of student essays is to simply think a little harder while essay planning about what to say first, second, and third.
Consider, for example, why one idea would come before another. Oftentimes, we need to use basic ideas like defining terms before we move on to analyzing them. By simply paying attention to how you organize your points, you can make your work appear much more coherent.
7. Using Clear Transitions Between Ideas
Strong coherence can be achieved through effective use of transitions between ideas. Imagine you’re being told a story, and suddenly, without any warning, the topic changes. You’re left confused and it feels like the story is jumping around.
This happens without clear transitions.
But a well-placed transition clearly shows the link between the two ideas, meaning the reader can follow along easily.
You can use transitions for contrast, like “however”, “by contrast” and “on the other hand”. These simple transition words can help the reader or listener understand the relationship between the first and second ideas you’re presenting.
8. Using Relevant Examples
When you provide relevant examples in your writing, you increase the coherence of your message because examples help people to understand you better.
Picture trying to understand a complex idea, and the person teaching you tries to clarify it using an example that is relevant to you. This, often, is when you have that ‘lightbulb moment’ and finally understand the idea.
Providing examples directly tied to your main idea help elucidate your point, making the message clear and coherent for the audience.
9. Addressing and Debunking Counterarguments
Addressing and debunking counterarguments can underpin the logic of your own point of view, and therefore, improve the coherence of your arguments.
Consider presenting an idea without addressing the possible counterarguments that might arise against it. It can lead to a feeling of imbalance or a lack of full perspective.
However, by addressing those counterpoints openly, you demonstrate that you consider your position from multiple perspectives, lending your argument a sense of robustness, wholeness, and ultimately, coherence.
10. Using Consistent Tone and Style
Having a consistent tone and style is key to maintaining coherence in your text.
Visualize reading a serious political commentary article and, midway through, it starts using humor and colloquial language. It would feel disjointed, disrupting the reader’s understanding.
By maintaining a consistent tone and style throughout your text, you ensure a smooth, coherent experience for the reader, making your message more accessible and easier to understand.
My Full List of Ways to be Coherent
- Demonstrating Cause and Effect
- Using Logical Reasoning
- Avoiding Fallacies and Heuristics
- Staying on Topic
- Using Clear Language
- Organizing Ideas Logically
- Using Clear Transitions Between Ideas
- Using Relevant Examples
- Addressing and Debunking Counterarguments
- Using Consistent Tone and Style
- Remaining Consistent in your Worldview
- Structuring Sentences Clearly
- Using Analogies to Clarify Complex Ideas
- Clearly Linking Sub-Points to the Main Topic
- Using Consistent Terminology
- Using Signposting
- Providing Context for Ambiguous Statements
- Avoiding Overly Complex Sentence Structures
- Using Visual Aids (like charts or graphs) Appropriately
- Summarizing Points Periodically
- Avoiding Contradictions
- Proofreading for Clarity
Coherence vs Cohesion
Coherence and cohesion are both essential elements in effective writing. Coherence is about the higher-level ideas and arguments, while cohesion is about the syntax and grammar of the writing at the sentence level.
While the terms are interconnected and overlap, they are different concepts:
- Coherence refers to the logical and consistent interconnection of ideas in a piece of writing. This concept is about the ideas and the arguments that are being made connecting logically to create a clear, easy-to-follow narrative.
- Cohesion is about the grammatical and linguistic elements of writing that make it readable and understandable. It involves things like transitions, reference words, and sentence structure. It refers to the way you connect sentences and paragraphs to each other through various linguistic and grammatical devices.
A piece of writing can have one without the other. It is possible to have a text that is cohesive with excellent syntax, yet lacks coherence because the ideas aren’t logically connected. Similarly, a text’s ideas could theoretically be logically interconnected (coherent) while the syntax and grammar that connects the sentences are lacking (cohesive).
See More: Cohesion Examples
Coherence is the backbone of clear and effective communication. Its role in organizing ideas, synthesizing information, and facilitating understanding can’t be overemphasized. Lacking coherence can make even the most profound ideas seem jumbled and difficult to comprehend. Therefore, for students, we need to keep our focus on maintaining coherence in our communication style in order to achieve clarity, precision, and persuasive power. Through this, you’ll see your grades grow!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]