8.2 Maintaining coherence - 8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

8.2 Maintaining coherence
8 Textual development: structure, coherence, argument and critical thinking

Just as the ideas in paragraphs need to be connected, so too do the ideas in a longer text made up of a number of paragraphs and sections. Headings and sub-headings, the explicit structure of the text, together with a clear Introduction, can help to guide the reader though the text. However, there must also be an implicit internal logic, reflected in the way the points or ideas are organised and connected, which guides the reader through your description, analysis or argument. This involves logical ordering of paragraphs with clear transitions (explicitly signalled, or just clear from the context), and good use of repetition to guide the reader. It is very important to think about how you begin and end paragraphs. It is also important that you signal the importance of the points you wish to foreground or emphasise so that the reader is alerted to them.

Explorative Task

1) What do you understand by the term ’masonry’?

2) Read the text on masonry and complete the table which follows from the list below:

history; definition; main techniques; technical analysis on a key point; basic principle

Paragraph 1

Over the last three decades the term ’masonry’ has been widened from its traditional meaning of structures built of natural stone to encompass all structures produced by stacking, piling or bonding together discrete chunks of rock, fired clay, concrete, etc., to form the whole. ’Masonry’ in this wider sense is what these chapters are about. In contemporary construction most masonry in the UK is built from man-made materials such as bricks and blocks. Stone, because of its relatively high cost and the environmental disadvantages of quarrying, is mainly used as a thin veneer cladding or in conservation work on listed buildings and monuments.

Paragraph 2

Second to wood, masonry is probably the oldest building material used by man; it certainly dates from the ancient civilisations of the Middle East and was used widely by the Greeks and Romans. Early cultures used mud building bricks, and very little of their work has survived, but stone structures such as the Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples and many structures made from fired clay bricks have survived for thousands of years. The Romans used both fired clay bricks and hydraulic (lime/pozzolana) mortar and spread this technology over most of Europe.

Paragraph 3

The basic principle of masonry is of building stable bonded (interlocked) stacks of handleable pieces. The pieces are usually chosen or manufactured to be of a size and weight that one person can place by hand but, where additional power is available, larger pieces may be used, which give potentially more stable and durable structures. This greater stability and durability is conferred by the larger weight and inertia, which increase the energy required to remove one piece and make it more resistant to natural forces such as winds and water as well as human agency.

Paragraph 4

There are four main techniques for achieving stable masonry:

1) Irregularly shaped and sized but generally laminar pieces are selected and placed by hand in an interlocking mass (e.g. dry stone walls).

2) Medium to large blocks are made or cut very precisely to one or a small range of interlocking sizes and assembled to a basic grid pattern either without mortar or with very thin joints (e.g. ashlar or thin-joint).

3) Small to medium units are made to normal precision in a few sizes and assembled to a basic grid pattern, and inaccuracies are taken up by use of a packing material such as mortar (e.g. normal brickwork).

4) Irregularly shaped and sized pieces are both packed apart and bonded together with adherent mortar (e.g. random rubble walls).Type (4) structures and thin-joint systems depend significantly on the mortar for their stability; all the other types rely largely on the mechanical interlocking of the pieces. Figure V.1 shows typical examples.

Paragraph 5

These descriptions are given to emphasise that most traditional masonry owes much of its strength and stability to interlocking action, weight and inertia while the mortar, when present, is not acting as a glue but as something to fill in the gaps resulting from the imperfect fitting together of the pieces. Most contemporary masonry is type (3) and although modern mortars do have an adhesive role much of the strength still derives from mass and friction between interlocking shapes; it is important to remember this in design.

Fig V.1 The main types of masonry: (a) dry stone wall, (b) ashlar stonework, (c) jointed brick and block work, (d) rubble masonry

(Domone and Illston, 2010: 247—248)



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3) Does the text have a logical structure?

4) Did you find it easy to move from one paragraph to the next?

5) Which word is repeated in the first sentence of all the paragraphs? Why do you think this is?

6) How do the expressions in bold help to link different parts of the text?

7) Which words/phrases does the writer use to give focus to his analysis in the last paragraph?

8) Does the inclusion of the photographs enhance your understanding of the text?

It is clear that sentences at the beginning of a paragraph can connect both to what comes next and what has gone before in the previous paragraph.


1) What do you understand by the term ’bioweapons’?

2) Read the following text and decide which of these sentences fits at the beginning of each paragraph, underlining any words or phrases which help you:

a) Perhaps more importantly, the initial symptoms may not lead health care providers to suspect bioterrorism.

b) Biological attacks have occurred throughout history and are likely to continue in the future.

c) The biggest consequence of a bioterrorist attack may not be the physical casualties but the psychological impact.

Paragraph 1

Bioweapons are cheaper to produce than chemical weapons and can cause mass destruction. Several countries have established bioweapons programs for experimentation, and a number of other countries are suspected of possessing harmful biological agents. Additionally, individuals who possess knowledge of genetic engineering could alter simple biological agents to make them more virulent and resistant to antibiotics.

Paragraph 2

Just a few casualties, as seen in the 2001 anthrax attacks, could cause alarm. Even suspicion of a biological weapon being released could instigate mass panic and disruption of communities, health care systems, and governments.

Paragraph 3

As a result, proper precautions may not be taken at first, potentially increasing the number of people exposed and infected. A few initial exposures could quickly turn into mass casualties, especially when the infection is one that can be transferred through human contact.

(Adapted from Strelkauskas et al., 2010: 666)

3) How do the opening sentences of each paragraph focus the reader on the topic in that paragraph or on particular points?

4) Which opening sentence refers back to the preceding paragraph?

5) Complete the sentences to summarise the different strands of the argument developed in the text.

a) Bioweapons constitute a real threat in today’s society as _______

b) One reason bioweapons are so dangerous is that they not only cause physical damage, ______

c) Moreover, the effects of bioweapons can be difficult to deal with because ______