Whenever I ask students to improve coherence, they say that they already know all linking words. But knowing linking words and improving coherence are two different things. Here, I want to discuss important concepts and their applications that help IELTS students improve their coherence. As a result, they are directly rewarded in IELTS Writing and Speaking and indirectly in IELTS Listening and Reading sections. But before we begin, let’s ask ourselves.
The formal definition of coherence, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is as follows.
Coherence: The quality of having logical connections to integrate different elements or ideas.
Now, let me admit when students learn these definitions, they are clueless. But don’t worry. To explain in simple terms, let’s take examples of a couple of movies. If you haven’t seen them, then watch them. They are great to improve your English.
We will compare two of his films of the actor called Tom Hanks: Inferno and the Terminal. Inferno is a mystery and a thriller based on historical facts, but all events take place in the present, whereas The Terminal is a story of a man held up in an airport due to visa issues. Overall, audiences have hated the first but loved the second one. Many have even reported that while watching Inferno, they were distracted many times since the storyline paused to narrate the relevant history. But, on the other hand, the second film, The Terminal, was loved as there were no distractions and the story went on gradually step by step.
Let’s apply the definition of coherence to these film. The first movie, Inferno, had discontinuations created by the extra scenes in the storyline. It means the movie could integrate or connect the ideas well, and hence it lacks coherence. On the contrary, the second movie, The Terminal, had one smooth storyline from beginning to end. As a result, audiences did not struggle to understand it. Hence, it has good coherence.
To develop coherence, we must understand the logical organisation of information. Understanding these concepts can help you to improve your coherence.
Each IELTS section follows a logical order. If there is no logical organisation of information, the students can get confused and may not interpret the information well. Worse! Different students may understand different things based on the same details.
Let’s understand the types of logical organisations used on IELTS
Ideas grouped together on a specific basis would always help the reader or listener to understand an audio or reading passage better. This grouping could be based on any criteria. For example, if we are reading about farming techniques in different countries, then we may expect one paragraph dedicated to each country. As a result, we can know that the first paragraph is for country A, whereas the second paragraph is for country B and so on.
Consider the following paragraph.
It is interesting to visit foreign countries. One can meet new people. They may eat different kinds of food. They are expensive. One can see the way other people live.
Now, in the above simple paragraph, by reading the first couple of sentences, we realise that we are talking about the advantages of visiting foreign countries. However, the sentence “They are expensive.” is a distraction since it is not an advantage. Also, the pronoun ‘they’ doesn’t clarify what is expensive. If you remove the sentence, the paragraph becomes more coherent.
I know this is a simple example, but the idea can be helpful in all four sections of IELTS. For example, when you are writing advantages of something, focus only on writing those. Similarly, when you are reading about, let’s say, different scientists in a field, you can track which scientist is mentioned in the paragraph. As a result, you need not waste time re-reading everything.
When certain events are described in the order of their occurrence, we can understand them better. We have already seen the example of the movie The Terminal. Consider another simple example of the ‘organisation by time’.
I had a terrible Sunday. First, I woke up an hour late because my alarm clock in mobile failed as the mobile was discharged. Then, I was in such a hurry that I burned my hand when I was making breakfast. After breakfast, I rushed for the Soccer practice. I really feel that everyone should play soccer in life. As I reached the bus stop, I realised I had left my wallet at my desk. I literally sprinted back home and collected the wallet. I had to wait for 20 minutes as bus frequency on Sunday is comparatively rare. By the time I reached the ground, my friends were almost halfway through the practice. My coach was angry. After training, on my way back, I first went to the supermarket to buy groceries and then to the laundry to pick up my clothes.
When I show this example to my class and ask them to find a mistake, they say they know there is a mistake, but they cannot point it out. Well, re-read and notice the sentence ‘I really feel that everyone should play soccer in life.’ But, again, this is an opinion and not an event. So, again, if you remove that sentence from the paragraph, it becomes coherent.
When you are writing an IELTS essay that explains the consequences of any actions, you can use organisation by time. Also, you can use the organisation to take notes on a reading passage based on history. Such notes can give you a clearer idea about the passage. Similarly, you can tell an interesting story on the IELTS Speaking cue card by following the sequence of events.
This is the easiest one. Arrange the information based on its importance. For example, if you want to advise someone about learning a new language, you may find the following paragraph helpful.
There are many ways to learn a new language. The best way is to talk with native speakers. One way is to spend a lot of time watching television and listening to the radio. Another way is to take classes at a language school or university.
While discussing the most critical reasons for something on IELTS essays or telling vital reasons for your opinion on IELTS Speaking organisation
As the name suggests, when you write information about surroundings in a room or a house or a map, you must begin with a certain item. For example, if I wish to describe my bedroom, I may write,
My bedroom is a special place. Like most rooms, it is a rectangle. When you walk in the door, the first thing you notice is the large window on the back wall. It has a beautiful view of the garden. Near the window, one can sit on a sofa to read a book a watch movie on the TV. Besides the table, I have my comfortable bed.
One of the significant applications of the ‘organisation by space’ is in Writing Task 1 for IELTS Academic. In this section, students are often asked to write a report on a map. These maps usually describe the changes in a town or at an activity centre. If the IELTS students can note those changes well with respect to space, the IELTS examiner can understand the report well. Another application could be in the IELTS Listening section as well. Again, if one can pay attention to the typical words used to describe space, it is easy to answer these questions.
Organisation by Grouping
The information is presented by grouping ideas by forming logical groups.
Such organisation is instrumental in writing IELTS essay paragraphs. You can write all advantages in one paragraph while the disadvantages in another.
Organisation by time
The information is presented with respect to time. Usually, a historical passage or a story of changes in society employ chronological order.
The famous IELTS Reading passage on Calisthenics tells us when it originated in the past first, then describes how callisthenics changed in between and lastly, how it has changed in the modern days.
Again the name order of importance reveals that the sequence of information that we may listen to or read would be according to its importance.
Many monologues on the IELTS Listening section employ such order of information.
Organisation by space
The information is arranged with respect to a specific map or room or any surroundings.
It is handy in writing IELTS Academic writing task 1. Also, understanding such organisation of information is helpful in the IELTS Listening section to solve questions based on maps.