From the ESL Student Handbook by Young Min, PhD
Coherence means the connection of ideas at the idea level, and cohesion means the connection of ideas at the sentence level. Basically, coherence refers to the “rhetorical” aspects of your writing, which include developing and supporting your argument (e.g. thesis statement development), synthesizing and integrating readings, organizing and clarifying ideas. The cohesion of writing focuses on the “grammatical” aspects of writing.
One of the practical tools that can help improve the coherence of your writing is to use a concept map. The concept map is also known as “reverse outline” since you make an outline of your paper after you have finished the main ideas of your paper. Write down the main idea of each paragraph—which is called a topic sentence—on a blank piece of paper. Check to see if the topic sentences are connected to the thesis statement of your paper or if you have strayed from your main argument. As you repeat this process, it will help you become more aware of how to develop your argument coherently and how to organize your ideas effectively. Here is a concept map template you can use.
Cohesion is also a very important aspect of academic writing, because it immediately affects the tone of your writing. Although some instructors may say that you will not lose points because of grammatical errors in your paper, you may lose points if the tone of your writing is sloppy or too casual (a diary-type of writing or choppy sentences will make the tone of your writing too casual for academic writing). But cohesive writing does not mean just “grammatically correct” sentences; cohesive writing refers to the connection of your ideas both at the sentence level and at the paragraph level.
Here are some examples that illustrate the importance of connecting your ideas more effectively in writing.
The hotel is famous. It is one of the most well-known hotels in the country. The latest international dancing competition was held at the hotel. The hotel spent a lot of money to advertise the event. Because the hotel wanted to gain international reputation. But not many people attended the event. (The connection of ideas is not very good.)
The hotel, which is one of the most well-known hotels in this region, wanted to promote its image around the world by hosting the latest international dancing competition. Although the event was widely advertised, not many people participated in the competition. (The connection of ideas is better than in the first example.)
The latest international dancing competition was held at the hotel, which is one of the most well-known hotels in this region. The hotel spent a lot of money on advertising the event since it wanted to enhance its international reputation; however, it failed to attract many people. (The connection of ideas is better than in the first example.)
Created by Young-Kyung Min, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org