- Find a piece of academic writing you admire and copy down the first sentence of each paragraph. How well do those sentences reflect the flow of the argument? Show those sentences to other people; how clearly can they envision the flow of the piece?
- For each of the following short passages, decide whether they lack cohesion or coherence.A. The Roman siege of Masada in the first century CE, ending as it did with the suicide of 960 Jewish rebels, has been interpreted in various ways in Jewish history. History is best understood as a product of the present: the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our complicated world. History lessons in elementary school curricula, however, rarely move beyond facts and timelines.B. Polar explorer Earnest Shackletonis often considered a model of effective leadership. The Endurance was frozen into the Antarctic ice where it was subsequently crushed, abandoning Shackleton and his 22-person crew on unstable ice floes, hundreds of miles from any human outpost. Two harrowing journeys by lifeboat and several long marches over the ice over the course of two Antarctic winters eventually resulted in their rescue. Amazingly, no one died during the ordeal.C. A recent analysis of a 1.8 million year-old hominid skull suggests that human evolutionary lineage is simpler than we thought. Homo erectus, a species that persisted almost 2 million years, lived in most parts of Africa as well as Western and Eastern Asia. Some scientists are now arguing that Homo erectus individuals varied widely in their body size and skull shape, a claim strongly supported by the recently analyzed skull. Thus, some other named species, such as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis are not separate species but instead regional variations of Homo erectus.
- Rewrite passages B. and C. above to make them more cohesive.
- Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2013) is another short and affordable guide. His discussion of paragraphing is among the many gems in the book.
- Online resources from university writing centers offer a lot of great information about effective paragraphing and topic sentences. I especially admire this one from Indiana University, this one from Colorado State, and this one from the University of Richmond.
- In addition to Williams’ and Bizup’s excellent lesson on cohesion and coherence in Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace 11th ed. (New York: Longman, 2014), check out this site at George Mason University, this handout from Duke University, and this resource from Clarkson University.
2 Etiology is the cause of a disease—what’s actually happening in cells and tissues—while epidemiology is the incidence of a disease in a population.
3 This example is drawn from key points from Steven Epstein’s Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996). An excellent read.
4 This Duesberg quote is from Epstein, Impure Science, 112.
5 This sentence right here is an example!
6 I hesitate to add that this first-sentence trick is also a good one for when you haven’t completed an assigned reading and only have 10 minutes before class. Reading just the first sentence of each paragraph will quickly tell you a lot about the assigned text.
9 Ibid., 71.
10 The quote uses a version of an ASA-style in-text citation for Mark S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (1973): 1360-80.