Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2007

Writing That Is Logical and Coherent

TechEdit

According to the 18th century English minister Isaac Watts, "It was a saying of the ancients, 'Truth lies in a well;' and to carry on this metaphor, we may justly say that logic does supply us with steps, whereby we may go down to reach the water." Whatever we are writing, our readers will only reach the water, or understand what we have written, if our writing is logical. If we are writing to entertain, our readers may just give up if they find our writing hard to follow. If our technical or academic writing lacks logic, they may have no choice but to struggle for comprehension. However, in either case, without a logical development of the material, our message may be lost, causing the objective of our writing to go unfulfilled.

There are several logical methods that we can use to organize our writing. If we are telling a story, we might relate the events in chronological order. For instance, a biography would logically start with the individual's birth and end with their death, with the story of their life told in between. A fictional story would likewise progress from beginning to end, with events related in chronological order.

In academic papers, the problem and solution method is often used. The introduction might give the reasons that the writers felt that a particular line of research was needed. This usually includes an outline of the work that has already been done in this area, with the limitations and failings of this research. The rest of the paper then gives a detailed explanation of the solution that the writers have come up with to solve these problems.

The cause and effect method is very similar to the problem and solution method. This might be used for an article in a medical journal. The article could begin with a description of a particular lifestyle and then move on to describe the effects of this lifestyle. A more technical article might introduce a new drug and then give a detailed explanation of the effects of this drug.

Technical documents, such as manuals or newsletters, often use a topical approach. For example, a software manual may be divided into sections, with each section explaining a different feature of the software. Providing a table of contents in the front and an index in the back allows a reader to easily turn to a specific topic.

Of course, these are just examples. Other methods are also available and the methods mentioned above may be used for other forms of writing. The point is: does what we've written approach the subject in a logical way? Is the material organized so that it makes sense to the reader? Do they understand how we got from point "A" to point "B"? Does it accomplish what we're seeking to accomplish? Does it entertain? Does it explain? Does it educate?

In addition to applying logic to the overall organization of our writing, each section, paragraph, and individual sentence should also be logical. This seems like an obvious point. Every writer wants to be understood; he wants his writing to make sense. Yet often, even when all the facts are present, they are difficult to comprehend. For a piece to make sense, it must be coherent. The parts must be logically connected, they must stick together. You might compare this to a jigsaw puzzle. For a jigsaw puzzle, or a piece of writing, to make sense, obviously the pieces must all be there. Yet more is required. The pieces must also be put together in the proper order, and if a piece doesn't fit, it has to either be left out or moved to a place where it will fit. If these rules are not followed, the resulting picture will be difficult to discern.

A common mistake in writing is trying to force pieces together. This can cause confusion. How many times have you read a sentence and then struggled to understand the point being made? As an example, consider the sentence, "The women loved to cook, and there were three of them." When you read a sentence like that, do you wonder whether there is some significance to the fact that there were three women? Often a writer will connect two thoughts together that are not directly related. Sometimes this is done because he wants to include a fact and doesn't know where else to put it. In this example, if the writer needs to inform the reader that there were three women, it would be simpler to say, "The three women loved to cook." In this way the reader can file away the fact that there were three women, without wondering whether this fact has some special significance that he is missing.

In the above example, if there is some special significance to the fact that there were three women, further explanation should be provided to make this clear. This can be done either in the same sentence or in a second sentence. For instance, "The women loved to cook, and since there were three of them, the kitchen was often crowded." Or, "The women loved to cook. Since there were three of them, this meant that the kitchen was often crowded." By using the words "since" and "this meant," the reader clearly understands the relationship between the fact that they loved to cook and the fact that there were three of them.

In other cases, it may be that no relationship exists between two parts of a sentence. Two phrases may have been put together simply out of convenience. For example, "The women loved to cook, and the sky was very dark that day." If these two phrases have no relationship, the reader will be confused. Even dividing them into separate sentences will not be enough. The reader will still be looking for a relationship. If none exists, he will feel that he has missed something. In this case, the whole paragraph may need to be revised, moving one of these 'pieces of the puzzle' to a place where it makes more sense.

To ensure that each sentence logically follows the one before, it may be helpful to think in terms of connective words. To continue a thought, you might use words like in addition, likewise, moreover, etc. To enumerate a list of facts you could use words or phrases such as initially, next, following this, etc. To show how one thing is the consequence of another, words like consequently, therefore, and admittedly might be helpful. Contrasts can be highlighted with words or expressions like however, on the other hand, nonetheless, in contrast, etc. Other connective words include certainly, obviously, undoubtedly, for example, in conclusion, finally, since, etc. These words might be used to connect two phrases together, or at the beginning of a sentence to connect it to the one before. Of course, it is not necessary to use a connective word for each sentence. It would probably sound strange if we did. Still, it is good to think in terms of connective words. It should be obvious that each sentence is connected to the one before it. It is helpful to read the piece out loud, perhaps with someone else listening. Does it flow smoothly? Does each sentence lead naturally to the next, or does it seem to jump from one point to another?

To summarize, writing should be logical. It should be coherent, flowing smoothly from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. The reader should not have to guess at the relationship between subsequent statements. This is true regardless of the type of writing involved. Various methods can be used to organize our writing in a logical way, including chronological order, problem and solution, cause and effect, and a topical arrangement.

If our writing is logical and coherent, we will have succeeded in reaching down into our personal 'well of truth,' providing our readers with the waters of understanding.
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