How to Write Cohesive Paragraphs

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I speak to lots of people about the things they find most challenging about writing. Some struggle with ideas and others with punctuation; some with sentences and others with organisation; some with vocabulary and others with tone; and so on.

Today’s post is for you if you struggle with paragraphs, particularly if you find it difficult to link your paragraphs together smoothly and logically, so that your writing makes sense and your meaning is clear. Specialists use the word ‘cohesive’ to describe this key feature of effective writing. In plain language, cohesive writing holds together well, is easy to follow and guides the reader.

It sounds so straightforward, doesn’t it, to write paragraphs that flow? So why does this sometimes seem so tricky? What do cohesive paragraphs actually look like? And how do you write cohesively for yourself? Keep reading to find out …

In this post, I:

  • outline simple paragraph types and the ‘jobs’ they do that create cohesion;
  • show examples from my own writing; and
  • provide a commentary to help you improve yours.

Not sure if this applies to you?

If you want readers, you want cohesion. It’s that simple.

Your ideas may be interesting, your sentences succinct and your punctuation perfect. But if your readers have to pause and think about how each new paragraph follows on from the one(s) before, the chances are you’re going to lose them. At worst they’ll click away (and possibly avoid reading you in future); at best, they won’t understand your message (even if they do read to the end).

Paragraph Types

One key to writing cohesive paragraphs is to plan how each paragraph relates to those around it. It’s up to you, the writer, to design such relationships. Usually, for example, you want your first paragraph to grab readers’ attention and compel them to keep reading. You could grab attention by being (among other things) amusing, alarmist or outrageous, or by throwing down a challenge. However you go about it, your first paragraph should work like a good headline to draw readers in. This is its ‘job’.

Here’s a summary of common paragraph types and the jobs they do.

Scroll down for a real-life example and my commentary.

Table showing paragraph types and jobs

Summary of paragraph types and jobs

Example: A Blog Post

Here’s an extract from a blog post I wrote recently for a client. (The brief was to inform readers about the dangers of stress and the possibility of a condition called adrenal fatigue, and to encourage them to book into a yoga retreat.)

You could try using the table above to identify the ‘job’ of each paragraph in the example. Does it add detail? Explain something? Elaborate on a point? Give an example? Recap the main points? And so on. (The subheadings will help.)

Alternatively, scroll down for a free PDF download of my notes on how these paragraphs hold together well and flow smoothly and logically.

Restorative Yoga for Adrenal Fatigue

Stress is so commonplace in twenty-first century cities that we’ve normalised it. When someone asks, “How are you?” it’s become totally appropriate to answer, “Stressed!” But the prevalence of stress has repercussions – the rise of adrenal fatigue, a condition that describes a range of increasingly common symptoms.

Adrenal Fatigue – a 21st century condition

It’s well known that a certain level of stress is healthy for stirring us to action and motivating us to achieve, but many people experience far greater levels of stress that can be damaging.

Our lives are complex and as we struggle to cope with multiple pressures at work and in our finances, in relationships and with family, ‘burnout’ is common. If this sounds familiar, it’s worth considering adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of adrenal fatigue include general tiredness, muscle weakness, lethargy, listlessness, headaches, and feelings of anxiety or depression. Your hair and skin may feel dry and you may struggle to sleep well, and crave salty or sweet foods. You might use coffee or cola to keep you going, experience low sex drive, and feel constantly unwell and on the verge of illness, with signs of poor immune function. Every organ and body system can be affected by adrenal fatigue: metabolism, fluid/electrolyte balance, and cardio-vascular and respiratory health.

What’s going on?

One or more of the above symptoms may occur because your adrenal glands are so exhausted from responding repeatedly to high levels of stress that they stop functioning properly. The hormones you require for normal body function are simply not being produced. In particular, your adrenal glands no longer produce enough cortisol.

The importance of cortisol

Along with adrenaline, cortisol is one of the key hormones released by your adrenal glands in response to physical, psychological, and emotional stress. Cortisol has essential jobs to do that keep you on an even keel in times of stress: it mobilises nutrients; enables the body to fight inflammation; stimulates the liver to produce blood sugar; and helps control the amount of water in the body. Cortisol is a good guy, and we all need it.

Are you over-stressed?

Twenty-first century lifestyles can include such high levels of daily stress that our adrenal glands become over-stimulated and can no longer cope. Normal levels of cortisol (in particular) aren’t produced, and we begin to experience the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

Detection

Our adrenal glands are, quite literally, exhausted from overwork. Those experiencing adrenal fatigue have typically experienced one or more of the following: a prolonged single stressful event or repeated stressful events; chronic illness (especially respiratory such as bronchitis or pneumonia); ongoing stressful lifestyle choices (poor diet, substance abuse, too little sleep, too much pressure); and prolonged situations where you feel trapped (a difficult relationship, a job you hate, or poverty).

There are no clearly defined signs of physical illness with adrenal fatigue and there’s no definitive test for adrenal fatigue, with the result that many mainstream doctors don’t recognise it. Saliva testing – which monitors the levels of stress hormones over the course of a day – seems to be more accurate than blood testing but isn’t yet formally acknowledged either.

Nevertheless, it’s estimated that adrenal fatigue may affect millions of people in western cultures, including Australia of course.

Restorative yoga for adrenal fatigue

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, you’d do well to introduce lifestyle changes that support your adrenal glands. One of the most effective is regular yoga. However, it’s important that your yoga class isn’t highly physical as this can just make the situation worse.

According to yogini Bernadette Birney, “By confusing extremely vigorous kinds of yoga for stress management, we may just be compounding the modern problem”. You may also compound the problem by cramming a new commitment into your already over-crowded schedule – even if it’s a yoga class.

A much better option is to go on a yoga retreat. Honour yourself by organising the rest time your body clearly needs, and find a retreat that will help you establish the regular restorative techniques of relaxation, meditation, and controlled breathing. These practices are directly beneficial for exhausted adrenal glands, and support you to function healthily during stress. Your adrenal glands will thank you for it, and you’ll feel the benefits at work, home, and play.

etc.

Free PDF Download: Paragraphs that Flow

Click the image below to view/download a PDF containing notes on paragraph cohesion.

Clickable image of PDF download

Click this image to view or download notes on paragraph cohesion (PDF)

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Have a close look at your last piece of writing, paragraph by paragraph. Use the resources here to analyse your own paragraph cohesion. If you can’t see how the paragraphs flow, it’s unlikely that your readers will be able to.

If you need a hand, you’re welcome to email me some of your writing. I’ll be happy to suggest improvements … as an obligation-free and complimentary service 🙂

What other aspect of writing could you use help with? Let me know in the Comments below, and look out for future posts to help you.

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Comments

  1. Really great post – I struggle with every aspect of my writing most days, this makes a lot of sense and I know it will have an impact on my paragraph cohesiveness. Personally, the biggest struggle for me is with my tone and coming across the way I am in person in my writing. Thank you!

    • Hi Nina, I’m sure you’re not the only person who struggles to find the right tone. I’ll have a think and suggest a few tips in a future blog. Thank you for commenting and good luck with your writing. Alison.

  2. Brian Green says:

    Alison, I never cease to be amazed at the clarity of your advice. You have the knowledge, and ability to share the knowledge, with normal individuals like myself, making your suggestions so achievable. There are surely many readers who greatly value your help.
    Brian

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