Global Coherence. From Clarity to Coherence. Brief Introduction/Recap ~ Style Matters ~. Earlier in the course we looked at three things that contribute to what Joseph Williams calls “local” coherence, the coherence that unifies an individual passage :.
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Earlier in the course we looked at three things that contribute to what Joseph Williams calls “local” coherence, the coherence that unifies an individual passage:
But there is a larger, more important sense of coherence that depends on our unifying locally coherent passages into a globally coherent whole.
For Williams, things are globally coherent when one understands not only the point of what one is reading, but also why one is reading it.
1. Individual sentences follow the old-new principle, connecting to the one before and after.
2. Sentences in a passage focus on just a few topics.
3. The passage, whether a paragraph or a section, opens with short segment that
In his Epilogue, Williams builds on these principles and further looks at four elements that help readers see that larger sense of coherence, particularly how a writer uses the introduction to motivate readers to read purposively and attentively.
The idea is to write not
just clearly but
A brief exploration follows--of the four elements that Williams highlights as essential for achieving global coherence
Readers judge a work to be globally coherent when they:
1. See the main point
2. Understand the relevance of its parts to the point
3. Recognize the principle behind the order of those parts &
4. Read it all purposively and attentively
For Williams, it is the writer’s challenge to help readers do this
Just as each section and paragraph should have a main point or claim of its own, so too must the whole piece of writing. If the relevance is not clear, readers may judge the writing to be incoherent.
Williams advocates stating the main point early on, at the
end of the introduction.
Relevant parts can include:
If readers cannot put what they read into
one of these categories, they will likely judge
the writing incoherent.
Williams holds that readers want to see not just the relevance of the parts of the writing to the author’s point, but the principle used in arranging their order. He posits there are three kinds of order:
Let’s take a look at each
kind of order a little
Two or more sections are coordinate with one another when they are like pillars supporting a roof. For example, when one writes, There are three reasons why… and each section discusses a reason supporting the claim, their sequence makes sense to readers--by importance, complexity, or other determining criteria.
Williams advocates using words such as first, second, …also, another, more important, in addition, and so on, to coordinate the support offered.
Parts of the whole can be ordered from earlier-to-later (or vice-versa), either as a narrative or as cause-and-effect.
Words to use for signaling time are first, then, finally, and for cause-and-effect: as a result, because of that, and so on.
Parts are ordered by example and generalization (or vice-versa), premise and conclusion (or vice-versa), or by assertion and contradiction.
Words for signaling logic are for example, in
contrast, therefore, consequently, and so on.
Once one has settled on a way to order the parts, the next step is to make sure that readers can see where one part stops and another begins.
Williams advocates using signaling words generously, and headings if appropriate--and organizing each section and paragraph by one of the foregoing principals of order.
Particularly important is how one uses the introduction to motivate readers to read the rest of the work purposefully and attentively.
This brings us to Williams’ fourth and
most important element:
Readers depend on all the first three elements to find the coherence, but they must be motivated to look for it--in order to read purposefully. This means reading about a problem and a solution that they care about. Williams proposesthat writers see their task as writing something that will solve a problem that is important to readers.
Williams advocates imagining the problem from the reader’s point of view, and then stating it so clearly in the introduction that readers recognize their interest in seeing how the writer solves that problem.
He notes that readers are less likely to care about what they read if the writer offers only a topic, and then offers two sample introductions to illustrate this point.
The first sample introduction offers only a topic and does not motivate readers to care about it.
The second, in contrast, tells readers why they should care about the problem andsketches a solution.
Would someone in the audience
like to read the next slide?
When college students go out to drink, many “binge,” drinking until they are intoxicated or even pass out. This behavior has been growing at colleges and universities everywhere. It once was done mostly by men, but now even women are bingeing. It has drawn the attention of concerned parents, college administrators, and even researchers, and has been widely reported in newspapers around the country.
Drinking has been part of American college life for more than three centuries. It has been accepted, even expected, as part of growing up. But a style of college drinking known as “binge” drinking, drinking to get intoxicated quickly, is spreading. Bingeing is far from harmless. In the last six months, it has been cited in three deaths from alcohol poisoning, two from falls, and one in a car crash. It crosses the line from fun to recklessness that kills and injures not just drinkers but those around them. We cannot end it, but we can control its worst cost by educating students in managing its risks.
Williams argues the latter introduction motivates purposeful reading, because of how the writer introduces the problem.
He then examines two kinds of problems that motivate readers to read purposefully:
…each kind motivates readers in different ways
Let’s take a look at both
Pragmatic problems, for Williams, are things like AIDS, terrorism, and racial profiling, which peopletend to avoid because they make them unhappy. When unavoidable, they feel they have to do something about them. Thus, Williams writes, people pay attention when they read about problems they care about --when solutions are offered. However, naming a problem is only half of the problem. This, Williams calls thecondition.
The second part of the problem is what Williams calls the effect of that condition…or the cost of the problem, which translates into suffering, poverty, high cost of tuition, death, and other things that make people unhappy. To define a problem fully, one must identify both its condition and its costs.
While the costs of conditions, such as homelessness, for example, or binge drinking, might seem obvious, they are not always apparent to readers. If the costs that readers have to pay are not named, they may ask
However, if the writer cites as a cost injury to others, that reader may respond not with, So what, but with What do we do?
“To identify costs,” Williams writes, “imagine readers who keep asking, So what? to the cost of the condition, until you know that they would ask, What do we do?
At that point, you have purposeful readers who will work hard to make sense of what you have written.”
As we saw in the earlier sample introduction, readers would likely ask, So what?to the topic of binge drinking. On the other hand, Williams contends, when readers know the cost of the problem, as with alcohol poisoning, long term addiction, and death, and a proposed solution is offered, as in educating youth early on to prevent these high costs, then they become engaged and participatory readers.
Though similar to pragmatic problems in that they also have conditions and costs, conceptual problems are otherwise different and are typically posed and solved in academic settings.
Williams writes that the condition of a conceptual problem is always something we do not know or understand.
While writers solve pragmatic problems by getting readers to do something , Williams proposes, they solve conceptual problems by getting readers to understand or believe something. The example of binging can be framed as a conceptual problem: Once readers see that answering a question about college bingeing might answer a more important question about adult alcoholism, then they may be more motivated to read attentively because now they see that they “don’t know something they should.” Once readers are motivated to read purposefully, they will work hard to find the coherence in what is written.
Conceptual problems for writers in the academic world, writes Williams, are difficult to articulate, but become easier when one becomes familiar with how other scholars in the field treat certain subjects and problems. A strategy that Williams advocates when introducing conceptual problems is to “focus on what readers don’t know but should know,” which brings us to one more point of interest in Williams’ Epilogue.
Another important element to include in the introduction is which Williams calls common ground. Williams first offers two uncontroversial claims: That bingeing is spreading and the long term effects of alcoholism are understood. However, he then qualifies this with a “but” clause that introduces the problem, as with the case of bingeing. . . This is a technique used by experienced writers , Williams writes, who use it to move active readers to read on to find out why what thy thought was so is not. This is a hallmark of experienced writers, writes Williams: Open with a seeming truth, and then contradict or qualify it.
Readers can get through unclear writing, but
incoherence defeats them. Readers will judge a piece of
writing coherent when they see that:
Readers should be able to see the problem that the writing addresses and be motivated enough to care about it and its solution to read on purposefully and attentively.
Writers motivate purposeful reading with the following plan for introductions:
Common Ground + Problem + Solution
Readers create coherence by using the cues they find in what they read so that they can organize the knowledge they get out of it.
What follows is a way to diagnose how well one’s writing does that.
4. Can readers see the point of each
5. Can readers see throughout the writing
the key ideas they saw In the introduction and will see in the conclusion?
6.Can readers see how everything is relevant to a point?
7. Can readers see how subject/topics in sentences in a section are a related string of familiar characters?
Go through each of the above items and circle the areas indicated. Revise and clarify where necessary so that each segment serves a clear purpose within the whole.