Coherence, the Fifth C of Writing, is the golden thread that ties all the parts together into a unified whole. It has to do with continuity and flow, with ample connections among the ideas and markers like signposts along the path to Clarity.
Much of the writing I have the privilege of fixing is basically a mass of bullet points. For some reason, that’s how engineers think. When they try to tie multiple bandoliers of bullets together to show how they are all related to the same overall system, they often end up being wordy.
Webster defines coherence as “systematic or logical connection or consistency, an integration of diverse elements or relationships.”
The Grumpy Grammarian says: “It’s helpful to have a logical mind, one capable of arranging ideas so that one point leads logically to the next. If closely related ideas are kept together, a coherent flow of thought will evolve all by itself.”
Effective writing has all five attributes: Coherence, Control, Conciseness, Correctness, and Clarity – all balanced and not overdone so that it looks easy. Of course, it’s not easy; if it were, I wouldn’t have a job. Ideally, the reader thinks it was easy because it flows so smoothly that reading and understanding it is effortless. “It’s like the performance of a skilled athlete or artist,” the Grammar Curmudgeon says. “We appreciate their performance partly because we know that what they are doing requires hard work, but it is done so well that the work doesn’t show.”
With lots of practice, we can become a skilled writing athlete. With the basic skills of grammar and organization under our belts, our flow of thoughts onto the page becomes automatic, even cathartic. Get in the zone and “Be the ball(point pen).” Once the skills have been mastered, then you can focus on becoming the virtuoso, the artist who, with a turn of phrase, a word picture, and a dash of humor, can craft a masterpiece that people will actually enjoy reading.
Today, that’s a rarity; so let’s just work on Clarity. (Hey, that rhymes!)