Coherence and Cohesion


This is a short post in answer to several questions I’ve received about the core requisites of an MA assignment.

All assignments submitted for marking in an MA programme are judged according to criteria which vary from university to university, but these are core criteria:

1. Organisation and Presentation (Ability to organise and present work clearly and to write accurately and coherently. Accurate and appropriate handling of references and sources.)
2. Awareness and Comprehension of key concepts and ideas (Command of the subject matter and understanding of key concepts and ideas. Awareness of relevant theories and research literature in the field and ability to relate these critically to the assignment topic. )
3. Analysis and Critical/Professional Evaluation (Ability to analyse and evaluate relevant arguments and develop a critical commentary. Ability to show clearly the relationship between theory and practice.)
4. Research (if research study conducted) (Clarity and relevance of research questions, research methodology and data analysis. Recognition of limitations of study.)

In my opinion, the most important criteria are coherence and cohesion: these two criteria are the ones that count. No good paper lacks them; all bad papers demonstrate a failure to appreciate their importance. You simply cannot write well unless you appreciate the vital role which these two factors play. So: how do we define them?

* When something has coherence, all of its parts fit together logically.

* When something has cohesion, it flows.

That’s it; it’s that simple. If a text is coherent, it develops a logically consistent argument; and if it’s cohesive it helps the reader follow that argument. When a text is coherent and cohesive it meets the minimum standards required of an academic text, and the obvious implication is that when an academic text fails to meet these basic requirements, it fails.

All papers submitted as part of an MA should have an argument. A paper should answer a question. It should develop a thesis. It should involve reasoning and evidence and include relevant examples and citations which support the reasoning; that’s the coherent bit. It should present the reasoning in a way that leads the reader through the argument step by step and signal each step; that’s the cohesive bit.

First, articulate the question. Next, state the thesis. Then review the literature. Then discuss your thesis with reference to the literature and argue your case. Then conclude. Once you have a draft, revise it, paying special attention to transitions—that is, checking to be sure that a reader will be able to follow the sequences of ideas within sentences, from sentence to sentence, from paragraph to paragraph, and from section to section.

As they say, I hope this helps.

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3 thoughts on “Coherence and Cohesion

  1. As always, sage advice! I’ve found one of the hardest parts of academic writing is organizing my papers so they read like a single, coherent statement rather than what they really are, which is bursts of writing and editing spread out over months. I’ve found having another set of eyes on my papers helps in this regard.

    • Hi Mark,

      I wrote a reply to this, but it seems to have vanished. So, in brief, thanks for your post which to me emphasises the importance of the final stage of academic writing – a thorough proof-reading, by the writer and by a trusted friend or colleague. Many see proof-reading as checking details of spelling, formatting, citations, etc., but I think trying to improve the coherence and cohesion of the text is also a vital part of this final step in the writing process. And ALWAYS ask somebody else to help you with it.

  2. @Mark,
    I always felt I wrote better in short sharp bursts, of panic. Exams, for example where you pour out your knowledge in a semi´controlled state of near hysteria. The problems came, as you say , when organizing a much longer text, written over weeks, often late at night, and often after a few too many wines in the pub!. Sorting them out the next day, brilliant though they were, IMHO, was rather daunting.. A friend in need is a friend in deed! I agree that another pair of eyes,( or even a better pair of glasses,) helps you sort out the Joyce -like brilliance of the night before into something a tutor might recognise as academically acceptable. Secretly I liked the Joycean stuff best !!

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