Unity refers to a writer's effort to make sure every bit of discourse -- every word, phrase, clause, sentence, and paragraph -- directly contribute to the main narrative or thesis. Mastery of unity is crucial for writers, as it enhances clarity and impact, significantly improving overall communication. This article defines unity, distinguishes it from coherence, and provides strategies you can use to create unified texts.

What is Unity (in Writing)?

Unity refers to

  1. the state of being whole or undivided
  2. the degree to which the elements of a text work together to deliver a consistent message, theme, idea, narrative, tone, voice, and purpose
  3. the sense on the part of the audience that everything necessary is present
    • No likely counterarguments have been overlooked. No unnecessary information or evidence has been provided

Related Concepts: Felt Sense; Gestalt; Organization; Thesis.


What’s the difference between unity and coherence?

Unity refers to a writer’s effort to make sure every bit of discourse — every word, phrase, clause, sentence, and paragraph — directly contributes to the main narrative or thesis. For instance, in a detective story, each clue logically builds toward the final revelation. Thus, unity is closely tied to coherence–the act of organizing information in a logical, rhetorical manner. However, unity goes a step further. While coherence could mean a logically ordered set of ideas or events, unity is achieved when these coherent parts also directly feed into the larger narrative or thesis. For example, a coherent piece might detail a day’s events chronologically, but a unified piece ensures each event also reveals something crucial about the character’s personality. Achieving unity is vital for writers because it enhances clarity and reinforces the impact of their work, improving overall communication

How do teachers, editors, and critics use the concept of unity to critique texts?

Critiquing texts on the basis of unity is a valuable approach as it allows the evaluator to determine if all parts of the text work together to form a cohesive whole. A text that has unity is like a well-oiled machine with all its components working in unison to achieve a single goal.

Here are some ways unity can be used in critique:

  1. Theme Consistency: A story should ideally have a unifying theme that resonates through its entirety. If different parts of a text seem to convey conflicting themes, or if a theme is introduced but then discarded, the text may lack unity.
  2. Character Development: In fiction, characters should be consistently developed throughout a story. Characters that act against their established traits without proper justification can disrupt the unity of a story.
  3. Tone and Style: The tone and style of a text should be consistent throughout, unless there is a deliberate reason for a change. Inconsistencies can disrupt the reader’s experience and sense of unity.
  4. Structure and Flow: The sequence of thoughts and events in a text contributes to its unity. A well-structured text leads the reader smoothly from one idea or event to the next.
  5. Argument Unity: In persuasive or expository writing, all parts of the argument should support the thesis. Irrelevant or contradictory points can weaken the unity and overall effectiveness of the text.

What is unity at the global level?

Unity at the global level refers to how well a writer maintains a consistent focus on the writer’s purpose, thesis, or research question. Global unity may also refer to a consistent voice, tone, or persona.

What is unity at the local level?

Unity at the local level refers to how well a writer keeps a consistent focus at the paragraph and sentence level.

Unity @ the Paragraph Level

Paragraphs need to stay focused on one topic. A good way to make sure you are staying focused is to have a solid topic sentence—a sentence that explains what the paragraph will discuss—and be sure to add only those details or examples that relate directly to that topic.

In the same paragraph below the topic sentence is “”The film industry releases more sequels than original movies these days.” Notice how this sentence explicitly tells the reader what the paragraph is about. Also notice how the subsequent two sentences expound on that topic sentence. Yet, then notice how the two sentences about Star Wars and science fiction prequels do not fit the main idea of the paragraph. Although they contain interesting information, these sentences disrupt the paragraph’s unity. The writer should move them to another point in a new paragraph (about prequels or maybe science fiction movies, depending on the focus of the paper) or even get rid of them entirely.

“The film industry releases more sequels than original movies these days. From the Marvel comic book adaptations to the seventh installment of the latest horror series, Hollywood seems determined to run a franchise into the ground rather than take a chance on something new. Instead of meeting new characters, moviegoers learned more about Captain America in The Winter Soldier, and they followed the ongoing story of Thor and Loki in Thor: The Dark World. Even the horror industry seems to be losing creativity—apparently the four Paranormal Activity movies need yet another sequel. Remember the hype around the Star Wars prequels a few years ago? Science fiction movies often have prequels that fans love to see. Moviegoers are ready for something new in theaters; hopefully, the producers in Hollywood will realize that the age of the sequel is coming to an end.”

Unity @ the Sentence Level

Readers expect writers to organize sentences in a logical order. There are three major ways to organize sentences: deductive order, inductive order, or coordinate order. Francis Christensen, in Notes Toward a New Rhetoric (NY: Harper & Row, 1967), has suggested that we number sentences according to their level of generality.

According to Christensen, we would assign a 1 to the most general sentence and then a 2 to the second most general sentence, and so on. Christensen considers the following paragraph, which he excerpted from Jacob Bronowski’s The Common Sense of Science, to be an example of a subordinate pattern because the sentences become increasingly more specific as the reader progresses through the paragraph:

  1. The process of learning is essential to our lives.
    • All higher animals seek it deliberately.
      • They are inquisitive and they experiment.
        • An experiment is a sort of harmless trial run of some action which we shall have to make in the real world; and this, whether it is made in the laboratory by scientists or by fox-cubs outside their earth.
          • The scientist experiments and the cub plays; both are learning to correct their errors of judgment in a setting in which errors are not fatal.
            • Perhaps this is what gives them both their air of happiness and freedom in these activities.

Christensen is quick to point out that not all paragraphs have a subordinate structure. The following one, which he took from Bergen Evans’s Comfortable Words, is an example of what Christensen considers a coordinate sequence:

  1. He [the native speaker] may, of course, speak a form of English that marks him as coming from a rural or an unread group.
  2. But if he doesn’t mind being so marked, there’s no reason why he should change.
  3. Samuel Johnson kept a Staffordshire burr in his speech all his life.
  4. In Burns’ mouth the despised lowland Scots dialect served just as well as the “correct” English spoken by ten million of his southern contemporaries.
  5. Lincoln’s vocabulary and his way of pronouncing certain words were sneered at by many better educated people at the time, but he seemed to be able to use the English language as effectively as his critics.

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