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Textual and lexical cohesion

Cohesion refers to the logical connection between words, such that the reader can readily connect the use of a noun with previous mentions of the word or concept, or related words that were used before.

Some grammar forms and words serve to create topic continuity and flow, with continued references to a person, thing, or idea in the discourse. The referent (the thing, person, or concept referred to) is mentioned with different types of words to avoid redundancy, and yet to maintain coherence (logical flow) and cohesion (flow and connectedness, grammatically and in terms of the flow of referents talked about). How often these cohesive devices are used may depend on the type of writing. Some kinds of technical writing are rather dense, so key words may be repeated, or synonyms used, rather than pronouns, to avoid confusion when the reader has to juggle a number of different terms at the same time in his/her working memory.

1 Constructional / grammatical devices

1.1 Definite and indefinite articles

Definite and indefinite articles (a, the) help maintain cohesion. The article a/an often signals that an item is new from the writer’s frame of reference, or is somehow unique or different. The article the often signals that an item was mentioned before; or that its identity can be easily inferred from the context. Articles are complicated and involve some abstract linguistic concepts, so they are not addressed here in detail. Since the term "article" is confusing, especially in teaching writing classes (cf. "article" as a piece of published writing), it is often better to use the term "determiner," as in definite and indefinite determiners.

Open your computer chassis, and then locate the motherboard. On the motherboard, you’ll see the familiar RAM slots, and on some boards, a small slot for input from the DVD to the sound chipset. In the above passage, ‘the motherboard’ refers to an item that is easily recognized because anyone familiar with computers would know it, while ‘a small slot’ is assumed to be something less familiar, and thus marked as a new concept for the reader.

1.2 Relative clauses

1.2.1 Identifying (restrictive) relative clauses

Most relative clauses are of this type. The relative clause (RC) identifies or specifies which item is discussed (e.g., not any X but the X that we saw yesterday). (In logic terms, it restricts the set of possible X’s to one particular X, hence the unusual term, ‘restrictive clause’). This kind of RC only requires a comma if the relative pronoun is separated from the modified noun by other words (2), or in complex possessive relative clause constructions.

[a] We will hear a talk by the man who invented the warp drive engine.

[b] We will listen to the engineer tonight, who is the inventor of the warp drive engine.

[c] The warp drive engine, whose fields were causing environmental damage, will be taken offline for repair.

1.2.2 Non-identifying (non-restrictive) relative clauses

These simply add further descriptive information about the modified noun – most commonly, a proper noun or specific, known item. It is always separated by commas from the rest of the sentence in writing (by a voice pause / break in speaking). This is equivalent to a grammatical appositive (like the second sentence), which simply adds further descriptive information, not information to identify it or distinguish it from other entities.

[a] Prof. Schmidt, who happens to be a world-famous expert on trans-uranium metals, will be speaking tonight at the conference.

[b] Prof. Schmidt, a world-famous expert on trans-uranium metals, will be speaking tonight at the conference.

2 Grammatical-lexical devices

2.1 Pronouns and possessive pronouns

We have plums on the table. Eat all you like, but check them for ripeness or bruises first.

We had two Great Danes, a male and a female, and their size often intimidated visitors.

2.2 Other proforms

Just as pronouns substitute for nouns, the words so, such can substitute for predicates or previously mentioned ideas; these are called pro-verbials. Auxiliary verbs can also take on a similar function, and this is in fact one syntactic test for identifying auxiliary verbs. The words here, there can substitute for prepositional phrases or location names, so these are like pro-prepositional or pro-adverbial terms.

He told me I need to lose weight, but I don't think so.

I didn't secure my laptop, but I should have.

I spend a night at a cheap inn, but I didn't feel very comfortable there.

2.3 Demonstratives

Demonstrative pronouns and adjectives include this, that, these, those (pronouns if used alone, as in “this is it” and adjectives if used to modify a noun, as in “this car is fast). These are useful for flow, direction and emphasis. Sometimes for clarity, a demonstrative adj. can be used instead of a pronoun (e.g., “this proposal is not ideal” rather than “this is not ideal”).

Some people suggest giving up coffee. This idea, however, is ridiculous.

Yes, Gators are our best selling shoes. That brand, however, is sold out right now.

In formal and academic writing, this as a pronoun often refers back to a whole idea discussed previously. This is called discourse anaphora, which is used in reformulation expressions in academic writing like those below.

3 Lexical devices

3.1 Descriptive phrases using with

East Asian students often use relative clauses with have as the main verb for simple descriptive phrases, when one normally would use a simple prepositional phrase using with. The full relative clause would be used in situations where the writer wants to emphasize possessing something or having a property, rather than a simple description. Otherwise, such expressions sound weak, and can be replaced with with or a stronger verb.

[1] We identified patients who had mild symptoms of hyptertension → patients with mild symptoms of hypertension

[2] East Asian students often use relative clauses that have “have” as the main verb → relative clauses with “have” as the main verb

[3] We identified students who had an intrinsic interest in language learning → students with an intrinsic interest

3.2 Keyword repetition

A word which the discussion is focused on is repeated. This is more common in the following situations: (1) multiple possible referents or items are discussed, especially in more technical writing, and (2) repetition for rhetorical effect, especially in less formal writing or speaking.

Participants in the study were allowed a choice of several options: a direct rebate of 10%, a significant discount on a purchase of an extended warranty, or a coupon for 20% on a future purchase. Overwhelmingly, subjects chose the 10% rebate option.

Many cities are overcrowded. This city is overcrowded. This city lacks resources. But now there is help for this city.

3.3 Synonyms

The meaning of a good synonym is close enough so that the thought continues, but is different enough so that the idea expands and gains greater definition than it would by simply repeating the same word over (and this avoids redundancy and boring repetition).

This new engine is fast and powerful, but requires more toxic fuels. This leads to concerns about its usability, maintenance of the apparatus, and whether a vehicle with such a devicecan be legal?

The herd migrated to the steppes, and then traveled to the tundra. It was quite a trek.

3.4 Paraphrases

Like synonyms, a whole phrase can substitute for a noun referent, a phrase, or other expression, to avoid redundancy while preserving cohesion. This is especially common in narrative writing, journalism, and academic writing in humanities papers.

Edgar Allen Poe penned one of the most famous poems in American literature, but the tortured bard died alone and miserable, from unclear circumstances.

3.5 Reformulation expressions

In formal and academic writing, this as a pronoun often refers back to a whole idea discussed previously, which is called discourse anaphora. ESL/EFL learners, such as East Asian writers, tend to use it when this would be better, clearer and more cohesive.

Many universities now focus on their status in international rankings, and may thus turn to short-term means of boosting their rankings, such as pushing for more courses taught in English, to the detriment of meaningful teaching and learning. This [or this situation, this circumstance] ultimately does not serve the students or faculty, for whose sake the university should be run.

A general astronomy conference voted to demote Pluto to a planetoid from its previous status as a regular planet, as many general astronomers argued strongly for a particular criterion for defining a planet that would exclude Pluto (a vague criterion that a true planet “clears its own orbit” or is not influenced by another planet’s orbit). This [or this conclusion / decision / criterion], however, is strongly rejected by many planetary astronomers, who still argue strongly that Pluto is a true planet.

How each feature factors in individually has been examined, but few studies have examined their combined effects. The This lack of research provides the basis for the current study.

This is often used as a reformulation marker instead of repeating a noun phrase; in such cases, this sounds better in formal English than it – as in "this situation / event / condition / fact". One may use this, or this plus a contextually appropriate word ("this situation / difficulty / view / finding / process" etc.). Here are a few academic writing samples from a native writer, and in these examples, this could be elaborated with a longer reformulation expression, e.g., "this finding," etc.

1. Thus, Chinese character processing might be more computationally costly than for alphabetic glyphs, though this might be offset by the relative efficiency of a logographic system containing phonological and semantic information in a denser, compact character block format. This would be consistent with the finding that the typical perceptual span (meaningful foveal fixation) covers about two characters.

2. However, this lacks specific criteria for classifying transparency. Normed data or statistical survey data would be less subjective. This again treats semantic transparency as a simple unidimensional variable. An index based on a two-dimensional statistical scale would have greater validity, as would a whole set of separate ratings from native speakers for multiple dimensions. This is the case for the standard semantic transparency index for English (Toglia & Battig, 1978), which consists of ratings for seven separate semantic dimensions.

4 Other devices

4.1 Punctuation: Colons and semicolons

Semicolons join two independent sentences or main clauses. They are like a period or full stop, but by conjoining two main clauses, a relationship between the two clauses is implied.

These are used less in colloquial English for emphasis or making a contrast; these are more common in academic writing.

They are also used for separating longer or more complex items in a list.

Several proposed solutions to spiraling costs from medical malpractice lawsuits can be considered, such as enacting tort reforms to limit the size of awards in malpractice cases; making it easier to strip incompetent doctors of medical licenses; enacting legal limits on the kinds of lawsuits possible; and forcibly deporting some of the excessive numbers of tort lawyers from the U.S. to a deserted country.

Colons are similar, but they imply a closer relationship between the main clause and what follows. Colons draw the reader's attention or anticipation to what follows, and are often used to begin a list or enumeration of items.

Four languages are spoken in Switzerland: Swiss German in the majority of cantons; French in the western areas; Italian in some southern and southeastern areas; and Rhaeto-Romanish in the St. Gallen area.

5 References