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English - Coherence and cohesion

The main idea of this section is coherence and cohesion, and the grammar used to show that you understand how to apply those concepts in your writing.

Coherence simply means a logical or consistent style - that means - it makes sense!

Cohesion means how it joins together (that is, how your writing makes sense and flows in a good grammatical way).

These two factors are the ‘bringing together’ of all the grammatical skills you have learned in the past, and if you learned those skills thoroughly, you will be able to write coherently and cohesively. The best way to do this is to practice, which is in the assignment for this section.

Cohesion & Coherence

Here’s a sentence:
“My favourite colour is blue. I like it because it is calming and it relaxes me. I often go outside in the summer and lie on the grass and look into the clear sky when I am stressed. For this reason, I’d have to say my favourite colour is blue.”

This sentence is both coherent and cohesive, but let’s focus on the cohesion first.

Cohesion with NO Coherence
Here is a sentence that has cohesion (good sentences) but is not coherent (doesn’t make sense).

“My favourite colour is blue.  Blue sports cars go very fast.  Driving in this way is dangerous and can cause many car crashes.  I had a car accident once and broke my leg.  I was very sad because I had to miss a holiday in Europe because of the injury.”

As you can see, there is plenty of cohesion here.  The sentences connect clearly together but if you read the paragraph, it really makes no sense - it starts talking about blue and finishes talking about a holiday in Europe.  There is no coherence in this sentence.

And now the opposite:

Coherence with NO Cohesion

“My favourite colour is blue.  I'm calm and relaxed.  In the summer I lie on the grass and look up.”

This is more difficult to understand, but basically this lack of cohesion means a lack of sufficient connectors to join the ideas together.  If you try hard, you can understand what the person is saying: a short answer, an explanation, an example; however the sentences don't fit together.

Cohesion & coherence in conversation
Are your conversations coherent? Are they cohesive?

Two students are talking about some pictures, but if they do not respond to what each other is saying, the conversation can be coherent but can completely lack cohesion.

For example:
A. “I think these people are having a good time.”
B. “It appears these people are enjoying themselves.”
A. “They seem to be on holiday.”
B. “It looks like they are on vacation.”

Obviously there is no cohesion (connection) between A and B in this conversation.

We understand the sentences they say, because those sentences are good - on their own - they are coherent. What is missing is cohesion. They are not connected. A is not listening to B, and B is not listening to A.

Another example is when I ask a question which is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, and someone answers … ‘yes’. No cohesion.

On the other hand, take a look at this example:

A. “I think these people are having a good time.”
B. “Time is difficult to manage.  I am always late for my social appointments like when I have a date with a girl.”
A. “I like girls with long, dark hair and brown eyes.”
B. ‘My dog has brown eyes and a long tail.”

This example shows that there is cohesion but the conversation makes no sense - so it is missing coherence.

Next time you are looking at a piece of writing; a newspaper, an essay you wrote, another student’s essay, a web article, you should consider the cohesion and coherence of the composition. It is worth 25% of your IELTS mark and it is an important factor in the other Cambridge or external exams as well.


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