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Coherence and Unity


In this lesson:

Major Connectors    |    Minor Connectors    |    Paragraph Unity    |    Exercise #2

Coherence refers to a certain characteristic or aspect of writing. Literally, the word means "to stick together." Coherence in writing means that all the ideas in a paragraph flow smoothly from one sentence to the next sentence. With coherence, the reader has an easy time understanding the ideas that you wish to express.

Consider the paragraph that we studied in Lesson #1:


       My hometown is famous for several amazing natural features.  First, it is noted for the Wheaton River, which is very wide and beautiful. On either side of this river, which is 175 feet wide, are many willow trees which have long branches that can move gracefully in the wind.  In autumn the leaves of these trees fall and cover the riverbanks like golden snow.  Second, on the other side of the town is Wheaton Hill, which is unusual because it is very steep.  Even though it is steep, climbing this hill is not dangerous, because there are some firm rocks along the sides that can be used as stairs.  There are no trees around this hill, so it stands clearly against the sky and can be seen from many miles away.  The third amazing feature is the Big Old Tree. This tree stands two hundred feet tall and is probably about six hundred years old.  These three landmarks are truly amazing and make my hometown a famous place.


Major Connectors

Look at the words in bold font. Do you see how they help guide the reader? For example, consider the words, First, Second, and The third amazing feature. We can call these words major connectors. Major connectors help organize the main parts of your paragraph. This paragraph has three main parts: (1) a part about the Wheaton River, (2) a part about Wheaton Hill, and (3) a part about the Big Old Tree. Another way of saying this is that this paragraph has three main points which are indicated by the major connectors. Using such major connectors is an important way of providing coherence in a paragraph.


Minor Connectors

What about the other words in bold, such as those appearing in the phrases "these trees" and "this hill"? We can call these minor connectors. Minor connectors provide coherence to a paragraph by connecting sentences within each of the main parts of your paragraph. That is, when you write about your main points, you can use minor connectors to link your details to each main point.

Now, look at this paragraph. Can you identify the main points?

      Each of the U.S. manned space exploration projects had specific major goals. The Mercury project was designed to test whether or not human beings could survive and function in outer space. The Mercury project tested rockets with the new Mercury space capsule, which could hold one person. The Gemini project was intended to find out whether two people could work in the weightless environment of space. Gemini astronauts took "spacewalks." They floated outside their spacecraft in a spacesuit, connected to it by a tether. Gemini astronauts tried out new flying skills. Some astronauts flew two spacecraft extremely close together; this procedure was called "rendezvous." On some Gemini flights, astronauts physically linked two spacecraft together. Linking, or "space docking," was a major goal of the Gemini program. The Apollo project, with three astronauts, was intended to test spacecraft and skills so that people could actually fly to the Moon and land on it. Performing scientific experiments on the lunar surface and collecting rocks for study on Earth were goals.


Was this paragraph a little confusing to read? Now consider the same paragraph with a few changes:


      Each of the U.S. manned space exploration projects had specific major goals. For example, the Mercury project was designed to test whether or not human beings could survive and function in outer space. In addition, the Mercury project tested rockets with the new Mercury space capsule, which could hold one person. As another example, the Gemini project was intended to find out whether two people could work in the weightless environment of space. One way of doing this was by having Gemini astronauts take "spacewalks." That is, they floated outside their spacecraft in a spacesuit, connected to it by a tether. Gemini astronauts alsotried out new flying skills. For example, some astronauts flew two spacecraft extremely close together; this procedure was called "rendezvous." On some Gemini flights, astronauts physically linked two spacecraft together. This linking, or "space docking," was a major goal of the Gemini program. Finally, the Apollo project, with three astronauts, had the goal of testing spacecraft and skills so that people could actually fly to the Moon and land on it. Other goals included performing scientific experiments on the lunar surface and collecting rocks for study on Earth.

Do you see which of the connectors above are major and which are minor? The major ones are For example in the second sentence, which introduces the first supporting point (the Mercury program); As another example, which begins the second main point (the Gemini program); and the word Finally, which introduces the third and last main point (the Apollo moon program). (In the paragraph above, all of the major connectors are underlined.)

As for the minor connectors, we can divide them into three groups. The first group of minor connectors provides coherence for the first main point (the Mercury program). There is only one minor connector in this first group, In addition, although it is possible to have more than one, depending on how many details you have to support your first main point.

The second group of minor connectors consists of That is, also, and also the phrase For example in the sentence, "For example, some astronauts..." Notice that this last minor connector is the same as the major connector at the beginning of the paragraph. However, the function of each is different, depending on the meaning of the sentences.

The third group of minor connectors in this particular paragraph also has one member, which is Other goals included....


Here is a table of a few common connectors (also called transitions):

For example,
For instance,
One example of (this) is
First, Second, Third, etc.
As another example,
Another example of [xxx] is    (that)
Finally,
In conclusion,
To summarize,
On the one hand,
On the other hand,
However,
..., but...
also



Paragraph Unity

Unity is a very important characteristic of good paragraph writing. Paragraph unity means that one paragraph is about ONLY ONE main topic. That is, all the sentences -- the topic, supporting sentences, the detail sentences, and (sometimes) the concluding sentence -- are all telling the reader about ONE main topic. If your paragraph contains a sentence or some sentences that are NOT related to the main topic, then we say that the paragraph "lacks unity," or that the sentence is "off-topic."

Look at the following paragraph, which is similar to the paragraph that we have studied above. Does it have perfect unity? Try to find the sentence that is off-topic:

      Each of the Russian manned space exploration projects had specific major goals. For example, the Vostok project was designed to test whether or not human beings could survive and function in outer space. For another example, the Voshkhod project was intended to find out whether people could work in the weightless environment of space. One Voshkhod cosmonaut experimented with weightlessness by taking a "spacewalk." That is, he floated in a spacesuit outside his Voshkhod spacecraft, connected to it by a tether. The cosmonaut to do this was Alexei Leonov. Several weeks later, Leonov's spacewalk was followed by that of U.S. astronaut Ed White. Finally, the Soyuz project, with three cosmonauts, had goals of testing spacecraft and spaceflight skills so that people could fly long missions in Earth orbit.

This paragraph is generally good, but the sentence, Several weeks later, Leonov's spacewalk was followed by that of U.S. astronaut Ed White, does not have anything to do with the major goals of the various Russian space projects. That is, it is an "off-topic" sentence, so we can say that the paragraph somewhat lacks unity. In order to improve the paragraph, we should omit this sentence, even though it is historically accurate.

If you feel you have understood this lecture, click here to go to Exercise #2a

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See your homework for Lesson 2.

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It was last updated on 3/26/00
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