Coherence – Concept, factors, cohesion and adequacy

We explain what coherence is and what factors affect textual coherence. Also, differences with cohesion and adequacy.

Consistency when issuing a message makes it easier for the receiver to understand.

What is consistency?

When we speak of coherence we mean the ability to convey a message in an organized, understandable and accurate manner, so that the receiver can pick it up as well as possible. This ability is evident in both speaking and writing. By extension, coherent things are those that make sense, that are complete and organized in such a way that they can be understood.

Seen like this, the coherence it has to do with the connection that the parts of a text present: the more and better connected they are, the more coherent the message will be, and conversely: the less connected their parts are, the less coherent the result will be. This element is already present in the origin of the word, which dates from Latin cohaerentia, endowed with the same meaning, and formed by co- (“Jointly”) and haerere (“Adhere” or “join”).

For its part, the term coherence can also be used in other areas of knowledge, such as physics (“coherence of particles”, that is, degree of union between molecules), computer science (“coherence of data”, a programming principle that states that following the rules guarantees the programmer a predictable result) , or logic (“logical coherence”, property of formal systems that do not present contradictions within them).

Textual coherence

In linguistics, we speak of textual coherence to refer to the degree of organization of the texts, oral or written. It is a term that comes from the texts of language theorists such as Roland Harweg (1934-2019) or Teun van Dijk (1943-), among others.

This degree of organization is understood as a property of the text that allows its understanding, and that is achieved through the hierarchical and structured construction of the same, that is, selecting and organizing the information within what is said.

In general, textual consistency depends on the following factors:

  • Thematic unit. A text should talk about one thing, and not several at the same time. Even if we want to address multiple topics in the same text, we must do so in an organized way that the reader can follow, and not as a chaotic jumble of different ideas.
  • The internal logical structure. It is not enough to organize the same ideas in the text into cluttered blocks of ideas. Each block or compartment must be, in turn, hierarchical and organized, so that we can follow the procession of ideas in a logical, friendly, clear way. For this, it is ideal to distinguish between general ideas and particular ideas, and between main ideas and secondary ideas.
  • The grammatical and lexical correction. It will be impossible to understand a text if it is written in a way that contradicts or disobeys the basic principles proposed by the language, that is, if it follows a different logic than that proposed by the language. So consistency also depends on a text being well done: without errors in grammar, concordance, spelling, etc.

Therefore, the ideal is, when writing or thinking about a well cohesive text, to follow a scheme that includes the following four stages:

  • Gather the information. Documenting yourself on the subject and selecting, from all that can be said about it, what we want to say.
  • Organize the information thematically. This means that we must identify the different topics or subtopics that are in our selection, to know which one we will address first and which one later, in what specific order, always going from the widest to the most specific, or vice versa.
  • Structuring the information. Once a thematic order has been achieved, we must write the text ensuring that each block or paragraph of it responds to the prescribed order, but at the same time that it contains a logical order in itself: that there is a main idea and other secondary, clearly identifiable, and Proceed in a similar way to the previous step: going from the broadest to the most specific, or vice versa, or from one point of view to another, as desired.
  • Correct the text. The final stage involves the rereading of the text, the revision of the obscure or little understandable passages, and of course the spelling and grammar correction.

Coherence, cohesion and adequacy

We must distinguish the coherence of cohesion, which is the possibility of a fluent reading, in what refers to the relation of a word or a phrase with those that precede it or come after it. This means that the cohesion of a text depends on how much awareness we are of what we say and how we say it, in order to resolve unnecessary repetitions, recurrences and omissions.

In other words, while coherence has to do with the logical sequence of the text, that is, with its possibility of transmitting a recognizable message, cohesion has to do with the way its parts interrelate discursively, that is, with the way in which the parts of the text flow from one to another.

Finally, we must also distinguish between the two elements adequacy, which has to do with the specific use of the language we are using to communicate. In other words, if our recipient is formal and academic, we are using the appropriate language: careful, formal, methodical. On the other hand, if our recipient is a young audience in their moment of relaxation, the appropriate language will be informal, relaxed, playful, etc.