Creating cohesion

There are many ways to create cohesion – a connecting thread – in a text. In an academic paper, it is important that the basic structure is right, that the various parts are in the right place and that there is a logical connection between the introduction, aim, method and results. However, structure and cohesion exist at many different levels in a text. An academic paper is divided up into chapters, which in turn can be divided up by using subheadings. Each section is divided up into paragraphs and within each paragraph there are sentences that are linked together to create a totality.

In this section, we give you tips on how to create a cohesive text. General information on the various parts of an academic paper can be found here.

All text examples have been taken, with the permission of the author, from: Ask, Sofia (2007). Vägar till ett akademiskt skriftspråk. (Paths to Academic Written Language) Växjö: Växjö University Press.

In certain cases, references have been omitted.

Cohesive ties

Cohesive ties are a way of describing coherence in a text, quite simply how you connect the text together. The most common way is to use some type of connective marker (or connective signal). Connective markers are words or phrases that in some way signal that different parts of your text are linked. This type of cohesive tie is usually referred to as a conjunctive tie. The simplest form of conjunctive tie is to connect two sentences using and in order to show that elements belong together. Although conjunctive ties are fundamentally quite simple, there is scope for almost infinite variation. Below are some examples of conjunctive ties.

Words that signal addition:

(and, also, in addition, as well as, etc.)

Written texts are central in modern society, and many everyday activities are impossible without the use of written text.

There is also good reason to take a look at the country’s teacher training system and emphasise the importance of research links in the new teacher training programmes.

Words that signal cause and effect (causal link):

(since, thus, consequently, accordingly, etc.)

For new students, skills in academic writing are likely to have considerable value, since academic written language is directly linked to successful studies.

Words that signal contrast or comparison:

(however, but, nevertheless, instead, etc.)

A text is never completely impersonal, as it is written by people, for people. However, the degree of acceptable personal presence varies within different university subjects’ academic texts.

On the one hand, it is reasonable to require some form of academic written language skills from the students […]. On the other hand, perhaps increased human diversity must necessitate a greater acceptance of human and language variation.

Words that develop or specify:

(for example, that is, including, particularly, etc.)

Our knowledge depends on physical tools that have been developed in our culture, e.g. artefacts such as pens and paper, and intellectual tools such as the language of mathematics.

Research on the written word, focusing on how students at different levels in the education system relate to the norm system they aspire to enter, has become a growing field, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon area.

In addition to conjunctive ties, you can use thematic ties. This means that you transfer known information from the end of one sentence to the start of the next. This is also called theme and rheme.

Examples of thematic ties:

Knowledge about how and why one writes academic texts is embedded in an academic community of practice, a community in which students can be said to be peripheral participants. A community of practice is characterised by…

An important term in the discussion about academic writing is ‘literacy’. The term, literacy, contains many ways to understand the use of language in relation to social context.

A similar way to connect text together is using referential ties. This can be done by repeating a keyword (or its synonyms) to remind the reader what the section of text is about, and to move the discussion forward.

Examples of referential ties

How students within different university subjects learn a subject-specific genre or specific terminology is also examined by Blåsjö (2004). She shows in her thesis the language tools that are developed in the university subjects, history and economics, and how various knowledge-building environments with differing social contexts use language in diverse ways.

‘Academic writing’ is a term that is often used in a rather unproblematised way, as if there was a consensus about what it actually means. Sometimes, academic writing in its broadest meaning can cover all writing with an educational purpose in (higher) education. However, it can also be used more specifically about the writing researchers employ when they are writing to publish knowledge and new findings for colleagues.

More on cohesion

There are a few other things to consider for creating logic and cohesion in the texts you write. In various types of enumeration, it is important that you are consistent and do not deviate from the form.

Firstly, the current fixed form of academic texts is a sort of guarantee that the text will conform to the pattern expected by the academic reader, and can be read and understood in as few ways as possible in order to make the presentation effective and the research credible. Secondly, these texts will be dependent to a large extent on the recipient’s goodwill and acceptance.

Certain constructions, so-called correlative conjunctions, have a predetermined form that is always followed. For example:

the …, the …
neither …, nor …
not only …, but also …
both … and …

There is good reason to examine the idiolectic features shown in students’ texts, not only to increase knowledge about how individual’s social background can reveal itself in writing, but also to develop teaching models that can handle the writing of individuals with different socio-cultural backgrounds and idiolects.

According to the set goals, it is important that the pupil “develops his or her own reading skills, so that the ability to interpret, critically assess and analyse different types of text, both written and image-based, fulfils the requirements set in a complicated and information-rich society” (Swedish National Agency for Education 2000a).

Paragraph division

Dividing up a text into paragraphs is perhaps the most important way of creating order in a piece of writing. A text with no paragraph divisions is compact and difficult to read. It is not possible to see which information is important and how things connect together. A text with well-chosen paragraph divisions is also more pleasant to look at, regardless of whether you use an indentation or an empty line to mark a new paragraph.

Paragraph division concerns the sorting of the text’s content. If one sentence can be said to correspond to a single thought, a paragraph can be said to correspond to a line of thought. The main thought is usually expressed in a topic sentence and the rest of the paragraph develops and explains the main thought. When a new main thought is introduced, this should be in a new paragraph.

Paragraph structure

Our knowledge depends on physical tools that have been developed in our culture, e.g. artefacts such as pens and paper, and by intellectual tools such as the language of mathematics. This can be extended to issues of power and authority: the right cultural tools can provide power through knowledge on the right way to talk and write, the right genre norms and the right reference frameworks according to the discourse norms in question. Not giving an individual access to a tool is also the wielding of power, as is forcing a person to use a tool that they do not want or consider useful.

Comments: The first sentence (topic sentence) states the paragraph’s theme, which is then developed in the rest of the paragraph. The colour coding shows different types of cohesive tie in the text.


Remember to link your paragraphs to each other in some way. Each paragraph should, in some respect, link up with something that was addressed in the preceding paragraph. This could be starting with the same main thought, but approaching it from another aspect. It could also be the further development of new information that was brought up in the previous paragraph, a form of theme and rheme, but at paragraph level.

Connecting paragraphs

[1] Critical-analytical expertise can mean that the writer positions themselves, in knowledge terms, against theories, approaches or subject content. […]

[2] In an academic context, the writer’s positioning in relation to the subject the text discusses, is both expected and obvious. […]

[3] However, positioning can also mean that a writer starts an identity process in their writing. […]

Watch a film about structuring paragraphs:

Metatext

Metatext is closely related to cohesive ties and can be described as “text about the text”. In metatexts the writer tells the reader how the text is to be read and understood. The most common form of metatext are short descriptions of what a chapter or section will be about:

The material that the thesis is based on consists of qualitative research interviews with students in teacher education at different stages in their studies, as well as analysis of texts written by the same students. This chapter describes the methods used for data collection, and the processing and analysis of the empirical material.

Metatext can also be written in the form of a number of questions that your text intends to answer:

To what extent can X and Y provide a more nuanced picture of Swedish universities? Which
political decisions have entailed tangible changes? Can higher admission requirements solve the problem? This chapter aims to answer these questions.

A good collection of sample metatexts can be found at the Academic Phrasebank.

Headings

Another way of telling the reader what the text contains, and how it is structured, is to use headings and subheadings. Placing headings in a text is something that perhaps happens naturally. If you write an academic paper, you are probably expected to include an introduction, a review of methodology, an account of the results and some form of analysis or discussion. The headings indicate where the academic paper’s different parts begin and, to a certain extent, what they contain.

Headings can also be used to sort and structure content at lower levels. A background section can perhaps contain definitions of terms, the historical background, and previous research. In this case, subheadings can help to separate the various sections. In addition, an extensive results section can benefit from being divided up thematically, using descriptive subheadings.

2.3 Academic writing language skills in practice

2.3.1 Critical-analytical skills  

2.3.2 Academic text conventions

2.3.3 Style in academic texts