Editing your Writing for Content, Coherence and
What is editing?
You should always edit your assignments very carefully before submitting them for
assessment. Some people equate editing with proofreading: checking for grammar, spelling
and punctuation mistakes. This type of editing is important (see the EDU handout Editing your
Writing for Grammar Mistakes). However, your assignments will also require another kind of
editing. You may not have selected the appropriate theory and practical examples to respond
to the question, or there may not be a smooth flow of ideas. Before editing your assignments
for grammar, punctuation and spelling, you also need to edit them for content, coherence and
What should you do when editing for content?
Read through what you have written and ask yourself:
Is all the content relevant?
Is any one section too long?
Is there anything missing, or anything that is redundant?
Is the discussion of theory and concepts balanced by use of examples?
Are references provided for all the ideas and information you have taken from published
What should you do when editing for coherence?
When you are sure the content of your assignment is appropriate, you should edit for
coherence – for the manner in which all the parts of your assignment fit together to make one
well connected answer to the assignment question.
Read through what you have written and ask yourself (or ask a friend to read your writing and
Does the assignment make sense to someone who is not in your course?
Is the argument consistent?
Are the ideas presented in a logical order?
Have you made the structure of your argument explicit?
If there are headings, are they expressed in a parallel form?
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Does each paragraph have one idea and is it expressed clearly in a topic sentence?
Are there phrases or sentences that provide a clear transition from one paragraph to the
next? (It is often the case that the consistency of the argument is made clear in these
transition phrases or sentences.)
What should you do when editing for cohesion?
Coherence refers to the overall connectedness of the ideas in a piece of writing. Cohesion
refers more specifically to connections between sentences. There are a number of ways in
which you can create cohesion between sentences:
Transition from old information to new
Transition from old information to new
Place known information at the beginning of each sentence and place new information at the end
of each sentence. The new information that is placed at the end of the first sentence then becomes
known information to be placed at the beginning of the next sentence.
Example: From the moment you wake each morning to the moment you fall asleep again at night,
your life is filled with choices. Your first choice is when to get up … (McTaggart, Findlay & Parkin
1999, p. 1.4).
This also involves transition from old information to new, but instead of beginning the next
sentence with the same or a similar word to the one with which the previous sentence ended, you
begin the new sentence with a word that summarises several words in the previous sentence or
the whole idea. The summary word is usually used together with a reference word such as “this” or
Example: At any one point in time, there is a fixed amount of labour, land,
capital, and entrepreneurship. These resources can be used to produce
goods and services … (McTaggart et al. 1999, p. 2.4).
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The theme of a sentence is the word or phrase that begins the sentence. If the sentence beginnings
all relate to the main idea of the paragraph it is easier for the reader to focus on that idea.
Example: Scarcity is not poverty. The poor and the rich both face scarcity. A
child wants a 75 cent can of soft drink and a 50 cent chocolate bar but has
only $1 in her pocket. She experiences scarcity. Faced with scarcity, we
must choose among the available alternatives (McTaggart et al. 1999, p.
In this passage there are two related themes: one that relates to scarcity and one that relates to the
people who experience it.
If sentences in which the ideas are connected have similar patterns it is easier for the reader to see
the relationship between the sentences.
Example: In ordinary speech, the word ‘market’ means a place where people
buy and sell goods such as fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables. In economics,
a market has a more general meaning (McTaggart et al. 1999, p. 2.9).
The repetition of words or synonyms in a paragraph assists the reader to see the connection
between the sentences.
Example: Markets coordinate individual decisions through price adjustments.
To see how, think about your local market for hamburgers. Suppose that too
few hamburgers are available so that people who want to buy hamburgers
are not able to do so. To make the choices of buyers and sellers compatible,
buyers must scale down their appetites or more hamburgers must be offered
for sale (or both must happen). A rise in the price of hamburgers produces
this outcome. A higher price encourages producers to offer more
hamburgers for sale. It also curbs the appetite for hamburgers and changes
some lunch plans. Fewer people buy hamburgers, and more buy hot dogs.
(McTaggart et al. 1999, p. 2.10).
In this paragraph there are many words that have to do with buying and selling: market, buy, sell,
sale, buyers, sellers, and price. There is also another string of related words that have to do with
decisions, choice and plans. In addition, there is a third string that connects with food: hamburgers,
appetite, lunch, hot dogs.
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Transition signals are words or phrases that introduce a sentence and indicate its relationship to the
Example: The opportunity cost of producing an additional tape is the number of
bottles of cola we must forgo. Similarly, the opportunity cost of producing an
additional bottle of cola is the quantity of tapes we must forgo (McTaggart et al.
1999, p. 3.3).
There are many different transition signals. There are transition signals to indicate sequence; logical
divisions of an idea; time; example; comparison; contrast; addition; opposition and conclusion. Go to
the following site for lists of transition signals and their meanings:
NOTE: Be careful in your use of transition signals. A good piece of writing, like a well-constructed
freeway, should not need many signal/signposts to keep the reader on the right track. And if you use
the wrong signal or signpost the result can be disastrous. At all costs you need to avoid sending the
readers’ comprehension off in the wrong direction.
Reference words are words that point back to words in previous sentences, for example, the, the other,
another, the others, some, this, these, that, those. Comparative expressions can also act as reference
Example: A feature of the labour market for young workers is a system of
minimum wage rates that have to be paid. These rates are an example of a
minimum price law…. The minimum wage rate system is a consequence of
government intervention in the labour market…. In other cases, instead of
setting the price, governments fix a quantity…. Even more frequently,
governments impose taxes…. In yet other cases, governments try to ban
markets. Those for drugs like heroin are obvious examples (McTaggart et al.
1999, p. 7.2).
Reference words are very useful cohesive devices. Care should be taken to ensure that their reference
Examples were taken from McTaggart, D. Findlay, C. & Parkin, M. 1999, Economics, 3rd
edn., Addison Wesley Longman, Melbourne.
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