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Writing Center | Coherence

Writers often forget that after the first draft, where--of course, you write to get down what you know and think--all other drafts are written with the audience in mind. So in the first draft you explain what you mean to yourself; in all other drafts you explain to your reader.

One of the features of English (a language structured on a subject-verb-object pattern) is a theory of coherence. The definition of the word cohere indicates a logical connection, a consistent "sticking together." In order for your audience to understand what you write they must have some means of following the ways you have put your ideas together.

Many conventions help the reader, such as transitions, pronoun references, and repetition, but a key one is the flow of ideas from old to new. That simply means that our brains are wired to attach new information to the old information we already know. You learned to skate when your mother tied a pillow around your behind, put your skates on, and told you to act as if you were walking. You learned the new skill, skating, by connecting it to the old skill, walking. In grammatical terms, that means the subject of the sentence (the actor, if you cannot remember what the subject is) is old information, and the new information comes in the predicate of the sentence, (or the part that names the act).

OLD information
NEW information
Davidcame to the Writing Center for a consultation.
Here heread a paper explaining the effect of TRL on non-lactating rats.
This paperwas presenting problems for David because of the limitation of the prescribed format.
Stevesaid ....

The reader says, "Who in the heck is Steve?" because the writer put new information in the slot for old information. If Steve had been introduced as the writing consultant in the predicate of the first sentence, the reader would not have been confused.

Produced by MUSC's Writing Center - Under the direction of Professor Tom Waldrep

Jennie Ariail, Ph.D. - Director
Tom Waldrep, Ph.D. - Director (retired)

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