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Flow and Coherence in Paragraphs

i) Step, Stack, Chain ii) Coherence in idea, tone and imagery
by

Matthew Chan

on 23 July 2012

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Transcript of Flow and Coherence in Paragraphs

F
L
O
W
Step
Stack
Chain
Chain
Stack
Stack
Step
Step
"Flow" is how well your idea can be followed by any reader with a reasonable command of the language.
A good way to gauge your writing is to imagine that you are a reader and has no access to your mind except through your writing.
And as you read each line/word, ask yourself: "What did I just read? How did what I just read fit in with what I read previously? What idea/conclusion am I going to draw at this stage?"
"What is the impact of this clause/sentence on me at this point? Does it take me closer to the conclusion/idea the author has? Or does it distract me away from the intended idea? Does it help me expect what is to come next?"
"Do I, as a reader, have to jump back and forth and try to figure out what exactly is the author saying? Or does it consistently stay within the boundaries of one or two main ideas?"
That is THE general rule to good writing - to be an effective reader while writing.
However, there are also some methods developed by linguists and/or based on how our mind process language.
For the purpose of this lesson, we shall learn the
Step,

Stack,

and
Chain
.

In addition, we shall also briefly look at
coherence
.
Step
Our minds are constantly searching for patterns, as you have already learnt in the advertising unit.
Just as advertisers exploit that feature to manage our reactions, good writers use that to prime readers' minds to receive and react to their ideas.
Commonly used patterns in writing are as follow:
Macro to micro; general to specific (Step down)
Micro to macro; specific to general (Step up)
Macro to micro to macro
The main point is not to "skip" step and move suddenly from the smallest detail to the biggest conclusion (or vice versa).
Nor should the writer switch "directions" suddenly for no definite purpose.
In the next few examples, the sentences dealing with the
most general,
intermediate
and
most specific
will be colour coded
Nature has provided natural means to soothe the mind and body.

Herbal remedies for sleeplessness have been used successfully for centuries
.

Valerian root, for example, lessens irritability and excitement in the nervous system by rebuilding frayed nerve endings. Scullcap produces a peacefully drowsy feeling and restful sleep. A cup of chamomile tea is also a sleep producer and is a delicious break from stimulating hot caffeine drinks at night. Other valuable herbs for relaxing include hops, yellow jasmine, and lady slipper.

Herbs also offer the advantage of containing important vitamins and minerals, which further increases their benefit to your general mental and physical health.
The fact that you have two sides to your brain is significant to your mind’s growth: each side shows a peculiar preference for facilitating the ways you learn and think.

The left side tends to favour logical, rational, and analytical mind activity.

It moves step by step as it reasons to a conclusion. It can analyse a problem, take apart a machine, collect a grocery list, count change, match cloth textures and colours, spell words properly, call things by their names, and so on.

The right side tends to favour feeling, imagination, intuition, and other non-rational non-logical mind activities.

With the right side, people discover their likes and dislikes, slip into day dreams, flow with music and art, dance, laugh, and experience a whole gamut of feelings.
A type of maturity is needed before a person enters marriage. This type of maturity, however, is not necessarily a fixed state, but an ongoing process that may last throughout the person’s life.

The question of maturity contains a number of subparts: physical maturity
(the ability to reproduce),

moral maturity

(a code of life that gives guidance and direction to one’s life),
emotional maturity
(the ability to control one’s emotions),
social maturity
(the ability to play a part within society),

and vocational maturity
(the ability to support one’s family).
Without these elements of maturity
,
it

is doubtful that a solid marriage can be built, although there are always exceptions.
I saw how a good nurse on a ward became a blessing to her patients, and made a great deal of difference.

Actually, “good nurse” is not the right terms; what I mean is a nurse who is in touch with herself enough to allow herself to care. In many nursing schools, and in much medical training, it’s very common to hear, “Don’t get involved with your patients.”

However, it is the quality of caring, of involvement, that is the essence of healing.
Did you notice the following?
- Each step up or down is gradual
- There is seldom more than three steps
Stack means to put ideas at the same level of abstraction (how general/specific) together. This helps the reader to expect the level of detail or generality.
This is most often seen in exemplifications where the author lists the supporting details close together to strengthen his/her point before/after moving to an intermediate conclusion.
It is important to note that every "stack" must still be relevant to your topic sentence[s].

You have already seen such a feature in the natural remedy example earlier.
Additionally, stack is a very useful concept to apply in compare & contrast, to ensure that the juxtapositions make sense. Each "stack" in the following examples are given the same colour.
The paradox of our time in history is that we have
taller buildings, but shorter tempers
;
wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints;
we spend more, but have less;
we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
we have more degrees, but less sense;

more knowledge, but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicine, but less wellness
.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get angry too quickly,
stay up too late, get up too tired,
read too seldom, watch TV too much
- The paradox of our age
"...
It was permissible to use unskilled men for unskilled work. But it is not permissible to keep men uinskilled for the sake of unskilled work
...
It was permissible to build compounds and to keep women and children away from the towns. It was permissible as an experiment, in the light of what we knew. But in the light of what we know now, it is no longer permissible. It is not permissible for us to go on destroying family life when we know we are destroying it.

It is permissible to develop any resources if the labour is forthcoming. But it is not permissible to develop any resources if they can be developed only at the cost of labour...
Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation..." - Cry, the Beloved Country.
Chain is based on the
concepts of given/old/familiar information (theme) and new information (rheme)

in a sentence.
The idea

is that in an effective sentence,

the writer will first present something the reader is already aware of bef
ore adding the new information a
nd how it relates to the old.
That new information th
en become part of the given information, whi
ch the writer continue to build on.
Failure to do so of
ten results in confusion for the reader.
Hen
ce,

the writer must ensure that transition from one idea to another, o
r the continuation of the same idea is clear.

U
s
u
a
l
l
y
,

pronouns help to ensure continuity whi
le conjunctions are more efficient at indicating transitions. The
se are, nonet
heless, generalizations.
Coherence
Coherence in Idea: one main idea with perhaps another controlling idea in a paragraph. All sentences within it should be about or lead to the main idea.
What do you think is wrong with this?
"One should guard oneself against judging a book by its cover because this is a world where people can easily create a false impression of themselves. When it is so easy to afford make-up, plastic surgery, and Photoshop, we live in a world where physical appearances can be easily altered. For example, the movie stars are never really what they are like on screen, nor Facebook friends' profile pictures. Hence, we must teach our children to be careful not to trust too quickly."
What is wrong with this?
"Based on statistical findings about how often an average person lie, one should in general be wary of trusting strangers too quickly. Once, my mother was so impressed by how suave an investment banker is, that she totally believed him and spent all her savings on Lehman Brothers stocks! Does it not prove the point in not trusting too quickly?"
Coherence in tone: the choice of words and their connotations, the phrasing of arguments, selection of examples, rhetorical forms, and appeals should all be consistent within the paragraph and aligned with the nature of the message.

"One does not simply quote statistics
But rant like a loon"
"Meta-coherence": coherence achieved above and beyond content and tone, via efficient rhetorical forms, and/or consistent and meaningful imagery.
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