LEOLEO: Literacy Education Online

Cohesion: Using Repetition and Reference Words
to Emphasize Key Ideas in Your Writing

Cohesion is the glue that holds a piece of writing together. In other words, if a paper is cohesive, it sticks together from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph. Cohesive devices certainly include transitional words and phrases, such as therefore, furthermore, or for instance, that clarify for readers the relationships among ideas in a piece of writing. However, transitions aren't enough to make writing cohesive. Repetition of key words and use of reference words are also needed for cohesion.

Repetition of Key Words

We can tie sentences or paragraphs together by repeating certain key words from one sentence to the next or from one paragraph to the next. This repetition of key words also helps to emphasize the main idea of a piece of writing.

For example, in the following paragraph, notice how many times the words owned and ownership are repeated:

Nobody owned any part of the land. Sotopo's father owned many cattle, and if the cows continued to produce calves, he might as well become the next chief. Old Grandmother owned the beautifully tanned animal skins she used as coverlets in winter. And Sotopo owned his polished hard-wood assegais. But the land belonged to the spirits who governed life; it existed forever, for everyone, and was apportioned temporarily according to the dictates of the tribal chief and senior headman. Sotopo's father occupied the hillside for the time being, and when he died the older son could inherit the loan -- land, but no person or family every acquired ownership.

From The Covenant by James Michener.

By repeating the words owned and ownership throughout the paragraph, the writer has tied each sentence to each other and has clearly indicated what the main idea of the paragraph is. In this case, the main idea is ownership of something. And what exactly is being (or not being) owned? By repeating the word land, the author shows us that the entire main idea is ownership of land.

Use of Reference Words

Another way of tying sentences and paragraphs together involves using reference words that point back to an idea mentioned previously. Among the many reference words that can be used to tie one sentence to another or one paragraph to another are words like this, these, those, such, and that.

These reference words should not be used by themselves but should be combined with the important words and phrases from previous sentences or paragraphs. In the following paragraphs, we can see how reference words are used not only to tie sentences and paragraphs together, but also to emphasize the main idea.

Writing a paper is often difficult and many times rewarding. First, I don't always know what to write about, so I often need to research, talk to people, and think about what I know before I come up with a strong topic. In addition, writing a paper takes time and energy. Time is needed to select and narrow a topic, to generate information and structure ideas, to knock out draft after draft, and to edit for my usual typos and mechanical errors. Besides the time involved, energy (and lots of food to produce it) is needed so I can produce my best work. Although writing a paper is sometimes difficult, it can be very rewarding. I enjoy seeing words which say exactly what I want them to. l also feel proud when everything "clicks." Finally, knowing that I've done my best work and earned a good grade too are strong personal rewards.

Many words are repeated from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next as well. Can you identify the main ideas of each paragraph based on the words that are often repeated?

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LEO: Literacy Education Online
This page was written by Judith Kilborn and Nathan Kriei for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN, and may be copied for educational purposes only. If you copy this document, please include our copyright notice and the name of the writer; if you revise it, please add your name to the list of writers.

Last update: 5 October 1999

URL: http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/style/cohesion.html