What do 'coherence' and 'cohesion' mean?
‘Coherence and Cohesion’ is/are one of the four criteria that they grade you on (the others are Task Achievement, Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy – see IELTS Writing Band Descriptors, ).
So what are ‘Coherence and Cohesion’? And what is the difference between them? Here is my very simple guide.
Coherence – This is the big picture, the skeleton, the external framework.
Cohesion – These are all the little things that hold the framework together internally.
What is COHERENCE?
Let’s look at the framework first and see what you need to get Band 5, 6 and 7.
- Band 7 – clear paragraphs and a clear topic in each paragraph
- Band 6 – uses paragraphs, but they are not always logical
- Band 5 – paragraphing may be ‘inadequate’ (so maybe no paragraphs or maybe no clear topic for each paragraph).
The Band Descriptors also talk about showing progression, being logical and being organised:
- Band 7 – progression and logic going through the whole of the essay.
- Band 6 – it makes sense, and it progresses overall.
- Band 5 – there’s some organisation, but there’s no progression. The ideas don’t lead towards a natural conclusion.
So COHERENCE is all about logic, making sense, progression of ideas leading towards the conclusion, clear paragraphs and organization.
That is the framework, the skeleton or the ‘big picture’.
What is COHESION?
Now let’s compare that to the little things which hold your writing together.
- Band 7 – you need the range of linking devices and you need to use them appropriately.
- Band 6 – where you’re using linking devices, but mechanically – e.g. just putting a linking word on the start of every sentence
- Band 5 – you may have too many cohesive devices, which make your writing sound unnatural. Maybe they’re grammatically wrong (e.g. difficult link words like ‘although’ or ‘despite’ etc), or maybe there are not enough, or all three of those.
3 types of linking words for IELTS Task 2
So what are these linking devices?
I’ve divided them into 3 types or ‘functions’:
1. Telling the reader what you’re doing
- (sequencing) First of all, Secondly, Finally
- (contrasting) On the other hand, However, Although …
- (giving your opinion) As far as I am concerned, It seems to me, In my opinion
- (summing up) In summary, On the whole, To conclude
2. Extending your main points to help strengthen your arguments.
- giving an example or evidence: for example, for instance, to illustrate this
- explanations: owing to, because of, due to
- results: as a result, for this reason, consequently
- adding more ideas: in addition, and another reason, furthermore,
- adding a condition: if, provided that, unless
3. Avoiding repetition
- reference or substitution words such as ‘this’ or ‘these’ or ‘it’ or ‘they ‘or ‘the former, the latter’ replace the words that you’ve already used in the previous sentence.
- synonyms – avoiding repetition but developing the same topic.
- ‘- ing’ verbs (Present Participle) link sentences and make them longer, more complex and more sophisticated.
Coherence and Cohesion examples
So let’s have a look now at what this translates as in a real essay (please watch from this point in the video).
This essay above is all about zoos. I’ve simplified it to help you see that when we’re talking about coherence or the big picture, the skeleton, the framework.
You can see that there are five logical paragraphs. Each paragraph tells the reader what the writer is doing and it’s very easy to follow.
Sample Essay 1
This is a simplified one-sided, 5-paragraph model to highlight features of coherence (please note that this is NOT my opinion on zoos).
In recent years, the question of whether animals should be kept in zoos has become increasingly controversial. In my opinion, there is nothing cruel about animals being kept in captivity. In fact, there are a number of advantages which I will outline below.
First of all, I would argue that most animals are well looked-after because there are strict regulations in place relating to animal welfare. Zoos are regularly inspected and the animals are cared for by experts and given food, shelter and medicine if they fall ill, so there is little evidence to suggest that animals are suffering.
A second reason in favour of zoos is that many animals are being hunted to extinction in the wild and others are dying out due to loss of habitat. Successful breeding and conservation programmes can ensure the survival of endangered animals such as pandas and polar bears so that they are protected for generations to come.
Finally, there are educational reasons for keeping animals in zoos. Children are able to see animals from all over the world up close and this helps encourage an interest in wildlife and a desire to protect animals in the future.
In conclusion, I believe that keeping animals in zoos is no more cruel than keeping them at home. The only important thing is to care for them properly.
Sample Essay 2
In this example, all of the words in red are the the linkers:
- such as
- On balance,
- they, this
So hopefully you can see the difference between those cohesive devices and the paragraphing and logic and organization needed for coherence.
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