Defining coherence and flow

When you have coherence in your assignment, it means that all the parts fit together well. Flow refers to the way that the words and ideas making up the different parts of your assignment, are linked together. Therefore, when you have coherence and flow in your assignment, you move in a logical order or sequence from one topic or idea to another, starting with the argument in the introduction and developing it in each subsequent section until you reach your conclusion.

It is important that your line of thought must be clear and accessible throughout the assignment. Therefore, your sentences must each be clear and concise with no unnecessary or superfluous words or thoughts that have no connection to the main idea or that do not help with the development of the argument or idea.

Without coherence your argument cannot develop and the ideas cannot flow. The reader will get the idea that your whole assignment consists of unrelated ideas or thoughts strung together.

In order to ensure that there are coherence and flow in your assignment you have to plan, plan and plan – after you have done your research. If the research has not been done yet or not properly done, you will not be able to plan.

The following steps will guide you to achieve better coherence and flow in your assignment:

  • Plan the structure

Having an introduction and conclusion is obvious, but before you can start writing, you have to plan what content will go between these two sections of the assignment. Think about everything you have read and write down (in a few sentences) the main thoughts you have on the topic. Try to organise these thoughts in a coherent and logical order and then use them as your provisional headings. This planning will also prevent you from having nonsensical headings or headings consisting of one word only.

Before starting to write, ask yourself whether the headings follow logically on each other and whether it is clear what the content of the assignment will consist of or what direction the argument will take. When reading the headings, you should be able to see how the argument will unfold and ultimately lead to your conclusion.

  • Plan the introduction

“The primary purpose of an introduction is not to summarise the content of your paper.”[1] In the introduction you set out the research question that you have to answer and give an indication of the form of your argument or the problem you want to solve. Then expand on it in each subsequent section. Also give an indication of how you are going to do it and why you consider it important enough to discuss. If it is not important, why are you writing about it?

  • Plan the paragraphs

After you have planned your introduction and different sections of your assignment, you should now plan the paragraphs of each section. The first sentence of each paragraph will start with an idea or statement and the rest of the paragraph will expand on that with reasons or examples (such as journal articles, case law, legislation) to support or contribute to the statement. If a sentence doesn’t contribute to the paragraph, if it is not relevant, remove it. If a sentence is too long, it can also prevent the flow. Split the sentence or rephrase it.

Each paragraph should follow logically on the previous, adding to or expanding on what has been said in the previous paragraph. In the last paragraph of each section you give a short summary of what you have discussed in that section and also an indication of how it relates to what you are going to say or discuss in the next section.

If you plan properly and concentrate on writing sentences that contribute rather than detract from the argument, you will have no problem with the flow and coherence. The ultimate test will be to ask someone else to read your assignment (after you have reread it a few times). If they understand what you are saying and can easily follow the argument, you have succeeded in writing a coherent essay.

For more information you can visit the following websites:

[1] Faculty of Law Writing Guide (2015) 18.

Mariaan Vorster