How to Improve Coherence (making it all connect)

Coherence can be enhanced by following some sort of clearly organized guide such as an outline while writing. However, sometimes it happens that we don’t know exactly what we are trying to say until after writing the first draft of the paper. For those who write this way (and I am one of them), there are steps that can be taken in revising your first draft that help to focus and unify paragraphs and create cohesion in the paragraphs. In addition, this exercise helps you to relate the paragraphs in the paper specifically to the thesis or to identify subtopics that perhaps don’t relate well enough to the thesis and must be excluded or altered significantly.

Step 1
Read a paragraph in the body of the paper. Then, without looking back at the paragraph, write down a phrase in the margins that captures the main point of this paragraph. You can come up with this phrase by completing the sentence “This paragraph is about . . .” When writing this phrase, I recommend avoiding looking back at the paragraph you are working on because this will let you label the paragraph given your overall sense of its meaning and purpose. Otherwise, I find there is a danger of crafting the label according to only one sentence that caught your eye as you glanced over the text. Do this for each body paragraph in the paper.

Step 2
Next, look at the topic phrase that you wrote in the margin of the draft next to a paragraph. How does the topic of this paragraph relate to the thesis? If it is not immediately apparent how it relates to the thesis, then you will need to ask yourself some questions. Begin by asking yourself, “How could this topic relate to the thesis?” First, try writing down ways that the ideas in the thesis and in the paragraph relate to one another. Through freewriting about these ideas, you may discover a connection that was not apparent before. Make sure that this connection is apparent to your reader. If no connection emerges, you must ask yourself, “Does the paragraph belong in the paper?” As painful as it sometimes is, some paragraphs just have to be let go. Try not to be consumed with saving this paragraph in order to meet the paper length requirements. It’s usually a better idea to include paragraphs that clearly relate to the thesis. Consider replacing the paragraph with another topic that does fit. Maybe another section of the paper can be expanded? Check to see if this is the case.

Step 3
If the paragraph relates to the thesis, you are ready to move to the next step. Give the paragraph a topic sentence that you create using the topic phrase written in the margin and the notes relating the paragraph to the thesis (Do not use a sentence that beings with the phrase “This paragraph is about”; instead, specifically relate the information). Place this topic sentence at or near the beginning of the paragraph.

Step 4
Next, check each sentence of the paragraph against the topic sentence. Ask yourself two questions. Is it clear to the reader how this sentence relates to the topic sentence? If it seems that the sentence does relate but the relationship is not immediately apparent, try writing down a sentence that explains the connection. Consider revising this sentence and including it in the paragraph. If the sentence that is already in the paragraph cannot be related to the topic sentence, you must ask yourself, “Does the sentence belong in this paragraph?” Just like paragraphs that don’t relate to the thesis, at times there are sentences that just don’t belong in a paragraph. Check to see if the sentence belongs in another paragraph and is just misplaced. Otherwise, kiss that sentence goodbye.

Step 5
Reread the paragraph and look for places where you can point out or emphasize the connections between the topic of the paragraph and the thesis. This may mean including sentences that relate the topic back to the thesis, including transitional phrases that relate back, or just repeating a key word from the thesis statement.

Step 6
Do this for each of the paragraphs in your paper, improving first the coherence of the paper as a whole by relating the paragraph to the thesis and then improving the coherence of the paragraph itself by relating the sentences to a topic sentence. Finally, read your paper from beginning to end with an eye out for places where you can use transitional devices to make these connections between ideas more apparent to the reader.