Coherence, Flow, Unity

By Jenifer Paquette & Joseph M. Moxley

Enhance clarity and comprehension by employing metalanguage and transitional language

  • Coherence refers to writing that can be understood by the reader because the writer(s) stays on the same topic rather than flipping from topic to topic, helter skelter.
  • Unified Writing contains only information that is relevant to the overall purpose. 
  • Metalanguage refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented.

How can writers create coherence, flow and unity?

Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

The term Phrases like “for example,” “as a result,” and “therefore” are examples of metalanguage. Like an impatient TV watcher clicking through hundreds of channels, readers tend to be impatient, always ready to put their work aside.

As a result, throughout a document, you must ensure that readers will understand how different ideas relate to one another. You don’t want your readers to ask

  • “So what?”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “Jeez, just what is this text about?”
  • “What’s going on in the world today?” i.e., tangential thoughts.

Successful writers maintain a sense of their readers’ likely responses to their documents. Just as writers commonly summarize their message in their introductions, highlighting its significance, writers frequently repeat their main ideas throughout a document, reminding readers of what’s been discussed, what will follow, and how new information relates to old information. Your essay shouldn’t be a spinning top, wandering from one topic to another–not if you want readers (or a good grade), anyway. Of course, peppering your language with metadiscourse–such as “thus,” “therefore,” “consequently,” and so on–will not provide logic. By itself, metalanguage cannot provide missing logic; it merely provides the glue to help readers better understand how ideas cohere.

Below is a list of common metalanguage terms. Ideally, your ideas relate so well that you do not need extensive metalanguage.

To guide readersYou might first conclude
Please consider the possibility that
As you recallConsider now
To order ideas and structure textsTo begin…next…furthermore
First, second, third…
To place emphasisMore importantly
Without doubt
To provide examplesFor example
For instanceIn fact
In other words
To show logical connectionsIf…then
As a result
On the other hand…
In contrast
To hedgePerhaps
We may conclude
This suggest
It may seem
To summarizeIn conclusion…
To summarize
As a result
As I have demonstrated

Add Appropriate Transitional Language to Connect Ideas

Transitional language includes words, phrases, and sentences that writers use to help their readers make connections; new information is linked to previously stated material through the effective use of transitions.

While the writer may understand how the ideas between sentences or paragraphs are related, the reader may not perceive the same sense of clarity. When used effectively, transitions help the reader to understand the relationship between the writer’s ideas.

Where are transitions used?

  • Between sentences: Transitional words or phrases are used to create connections between sentences, as well as within sentences; both uses enhance the writer’s flow of thought at the sentence level.
  • Between paragraphs: Transitional sentences are used to create a bridge between paragraphs. These sentences should provide a summary of the main idea of one paragraph and give the reader a clue as to what is coming in the next paragraph.
  • Between sections: Transitional paragraphs are used in longer works to summarize the discussion of one section and introduce the reader to the concept(s) presented in the next section.

What words and phrases may be used to illustrate the relationship between ideas?

  • To compare: also, likewise, similarly
  • To contrast: however, nevertheless, conversely
  • To show cause and effect: as a result, consequently, therefore
  • To show a logical relationship: since, therefore, for this reason
  • To present a sequence of events: next, and then, first/second/third
  • To illustrate or provide an example: for example, for instance, for one thing
  • To add information: furthermore, additionally, moreover

How can appropriate transitional language be chosen?

  1. Determine which relationship connects the paper’s ideas:
    1. Does the relationship between the ideas appear to be similar or different?
    2. Does one action appear to have caused another?
    3. Does one idea lead to another idea?
    4. Does one statement contain information that explains or illustrates another?
    5. Does one statement add information to another?
  2. Once the relationship between ideas has been identified, choose appropriate transitional language to illustrate this relationship. (Consult a writing handbook for detailed lists of common transitional words and phrases.)
  3. Vary the choice of appropriate transitional language to avoid tedious repetition.
  4. Align transitional language with the tone and diction level of the remaining content.

Let’s look at an example:

Original sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMF). Others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: The first sentence communicates a negative aspect of GMFs, while the second sentence communicates a positive aspect, indicating a contrast between the ideas.

Revised sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs). However, others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: A transitional word has been added to illustrate the contrasting relationship between the two ideas.