Improve cohesion & coherence: Common techniques

Halliday and Hasan's (1976) study of cohesion noted the importance of what they called general words with such broad and vague meanings that they can play the role of lexical substitutes for a variety of nouns. In various analyses of written academic corpora in English, these nouns are also called enumerative (Partington, 1996; Tadros, 1994). Enumerative nouns are far more common in academic than other types of writing. One reason for this is that the construction This / these + noun allows you to to maintain flow in joining ideas together. Consider the following sentences:

ESL lecturers know that students need to understand the difference between formal and informal language. However, this understanding cannot usually be acquired quickly.

In recent years, the number of students applying to Ph.D. programs has increased steadily, while the number of places available has remained constant. This situation has resulted in intense competition for admission.

The bold words are summary nouns or words that refers back to the idea in the previous sentence. These phrases summarize what has already been said and pick up where the previous sentence has left off. You may have noticed in your academic reading that this is not always followed by a noun, that is, this is "unsupported." Keep in mind, however, that if there is a possibility your reader will not understand what this is referring to, your best strategy is to follow this with a noun so that your meaning is clear. In the table below you can find some of the most frequently used summary words.

enumerative "catch-all" nouns
approach event manner subject
aspect experience method system
category facet phase task
fact problem tendency
change factor process topic
characteristic feature purpose trend
circumstance form reason type
class issue result
difficulty item stage


These nouns can be very useful for establishing cohesive chains in academic text because, for instance, such nouns as approach-method, subject-topic, problem-difficulty, or tendency-trend can be employed interchangeably as lexical substitutes for other nouns with more specific meanings. A few examples from student papers illustrate the usefulness of enumerative catch-all nouns in text:

  • The author mentions pollution, water shortage, and loss of soil issues concerning the threat of overpopulation. In his article, he mostly talks about the environment but does not mention the health and nutrition problems. The health challenges are created when there are too many people in the world.
    Lexical ties/substitutions: issues-problems-challenges
  • For a long time, philosophers have been discussing the factors that create a happy marriage. We find characteristics of happy marriages in the work of Aquinas, Singer, and sociologist Wallerstein, who argue about the aspects of marriage to show which ones are happy and which ones are not and why.
    Lexical ties/substitutions: factors-characteristics-aspects
  • Americans are getting more and more uninterested in politics, and political scientists and educators have been trying to understand the trend that Americans do not care about politics. In my country, people think that they are powerless to control the political system, and they don't care about politics either. So, American researchers have been studying the tendency that many people do not even go to vote.
    Lexical ties: trend-tendency
On the whole, the number of enumerative nouns in English probably does not exceed a hundred, and learning them is well worth the time and effort because of the breadth of their meanings and their flexible contextual uses.

There are three effective ways of creating lexical ties and thus developing cohesion in your writing: paraphrasing, substitution & using connectors.


Paraphrasing means writing the same idea, but in different words

  • Use a different part of speech: The number of smokers rose for three years consecutively. This rise was largely because of successful advertising campaigns.
  • Use synonyms: More people bought video recorders that year compared to the previous year, when only 500 purchased a recorder.
  • Use summaries: Junior managers tend to feel under more pressure to work long hours than their superiors. This tendency is seen in many different sectors.

Pronoun Substitution

Substitution is writing a pronoun instead of a full name or phrase.

  • Use he / they etc: I spoke to John and he said that you would tell him.
  • Use this / this + noun: There were several repairs which needed to be carried out. This meant that production was significantly delayed. | The figures were much lower in European countries. This difference was largely a result of higher spending on education.
  • Use that / those after a comparative form: The incidence of illiteracy among women in Africa was significantly lower than that of their European counterparts. | In general the results for Shanghai were more positive than those of the other five cities in the survey.
  • Use such +(a) + noun: A large minority of visitors felt that the museum did not provide value for money. Such concerns were also raised by the leaders of school parties.
  • Use auxiliary + so: We cannot continue to ignore the problem. If we do so, the effects may become impossible to reverse.
  • Change a to the after the first mention: There was an increase in the amount of pollution in Bogota. The increase was largely due to the rise in population numbers.



Connectors are dealt with in the grammar section.