I have argued that sentence variety is the enemy of efficiency. People read more accurately and efficiently when all the elements of a document are tightly connected. This includes the connection between consecutive sentences. I refer to this as cohesion (sometimes referred to as Functional Sentence Perspective by linguists).
My experience is that most adults are able to create cohesive prose at the sentence level without explicit instruction. But, for those without this skill, the problem is truly critical. Their readers struggle to read their prose and make comments about awkwardness, lack of logical “flow,” or–the most damning–the quality of the writer’s education. The kicker is that few writing teachers I’ve known understand how to help. Responding as a reader or editor is not the same as teaching.
Cohesion is briefly explained in Chapter 8 of Revising Professional Writing in Science and Technology, Business, and the Social Sciences (3rd edition). If you’re using that book in an academic setting, you’ll find many exercises in that chapter, requiring you to identify and fix problems with the logical flow of information. But here are some additional resources to help anyone master this critical skill:
- a sample document, including both an original and revised version
- a brief video tutorial
- a list of research articles supporting my guidance
Enter feedback in the comments below if there’s something else you’d like to see.
Review a copy of the letter to a supplier. It was adapted by me based on a sample from ForestEthics (forestethics.org). The document was written within the following context:
- Writer: the owner of an office supply store
- Readers: representatives of the store’s suppliers of wood-based products
- Bottom line message: the suppliers need to provide information about the sources of their products
Here’s a revised version of the letter, with more effective cohesion.
The letter to a supplier is included in this <12-minute video about cohesion in workplace documents.
For more on flow, check out this video from the writing center at the University of North Carolina.
There are not many posts here at Pros Write that deal with cohesion because it is relatively rare problem for adult native English speakers. If you want to see the research supporting my guidance, check out the following sources.
Campbell (1995). Coherence, continuity, and cohesion: Theoretical foundations for document design. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Clark, H. H., & Haviland, S. E. (1977). Comprehension and the given-new contract. Discourse Production and Comprehension. Discourse Processes: Advances in Research and Theory, 1, 1-40.
Crossley, S. A., Allen, D., & McNamara, D. S. (2012). Text simplification and comprehensible input: A case for an intuitive approach. Language Teaching Research, 16(1), 89-108.
Kopple, W. J. V. (1982). Functional sentence perspective, composition, and reading. College composition and communication, 50-63.