A well-structured piece of academic work that flows in a logical way is much easier to follow and understand. If a piece of work has issues with structure and coherence tutors will often make comments such as:
- "Where are you going with this?"
- "Unclear, illogical."
- "Introduction of concepts seems rather random."
What to look for
If you receive this feedback, revisit your work and look at the overall structure, the structure of the paragraphs and how you transition or signpost to guide people between points.
Introductions and conclusions
Academic work needs a clear introduction, setting out what it hopes to cover, and a conclusion summarising the main points.
Check what you are being asked to cover in your introduction and conclusion; for example, some introductions should detail the content and structure of your work, whereas others might be broader. Some conclusions should state nothing new whereas in others you may be able to leave the question open. Follow guidance in your module handbook or from your tutors.
Structure and paragraphs
Within the body of a piece of work, bring together similar concepts or arguments, discuss these and then develop them into the next idea. In this way, you can build your ideas from one to another and make connections, rather than jumping around.
Use a paragraph for each of your ideas or topics: state the idea, back up your claim with evidence (usually references) and then explain its significance to your overall argument. Keep your paragraphs a similar length for consistency.
Transitions and signposting
Signposting from one idea to the next is essential: it explains how a piece of writing is ordered and helps the reader understand the flow of your argument.
Words such as "however", "on the other hand" or "likewise" help the reader to know how your next paragraph relates to the last one.
Print out this table of tips on structure and coherence (PDF).
Refer to the following examples if you are unsure:
- Example of an introduction (PDF) which was adapted from Wrasse under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0.
- Example of a well-structured paragraph (PDF) taken from a first class third year Politics essay.
- Example of a conclusion (PDF), adapted from University of Manchester Library, University of Manchester under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 4.0.
- Example of signposting and transitioning (PDF) taken from a model essay.
How to feed it forward
To improve the structure and coherence of your writing:
- Check your module handbook and marking criteria for any guidance on the assignment structure.
- Organise your ideas into themes, perhaps using a mind-map.
- Make a plan for the structure and stick to it.
- Bring key ideas together to focus your writing, using one paragraph per idea.
- Signpost from one idea to the next.
- Review your introduction and conclusion.
For further help with this topic, please visit our structuring your writing page.