Cohesion and avoiding repetition

This lesson shows you different ways you can improve the cohesion of your writing and avoiding repetition – killing two birds with one stone. These are extremely important skills to master and the good news is that much of the language you need here is simple language. Simple is very often best.


See how it works

This paragraph is a model of how you should write your sentences and paragraphs so that they are cohesive and avoid unnecessary repetition. As you read it, you should see there are different ways I link my sentences together. Most of techniqueshave something in common in that I use a word in every sentence that links back to something that has come earlier. What this means is that the readers finds it easier to follow my argument, because as they read they can make the connections between my sentences. This is cohesion. You might also notice that I tend not to repeat words very often, but that I do choose words with a similar meaning which is also something you should aim to do. There are several different ways I achieve this. Perhaps the most important one is by the use of pronouns which are among the most common words in English. Although you should also not forget about using synonyms and different word forms – two more advanced language skills.

Not all repetition is bad

One danger is that you try and change all the words in your writing. That can be a mistake. Sometimes you will need to repeat some words. Here are two times you should consider doing it:

using technical words

Some words have very precise meanings and don’t have synonyms. It would be a mistake to try and replace these words with other less precise words. In the paragraph above I do repeat wordssentence and paragraph.

emphasising connections

Variety is good but if you vary things too much you may confuse. A possible danger is that if you change the word, the reader may think you’re talking about something different and not the same thing. Sometimes it’s better to repeat words just to make connections clear.

Variety using pronouns

Pronouns are words such as:

  • he/she/it
  • this/that/these/those
  • one
  • both

The way these words work is that they refer back to something already mentioned and replace that word. So used well, they help you avoid repeating words and link your writing.

Try using former/latter/respectively/such

These words work in much the same way and are typical of more academic writing. You should note:

  • former and latter are used with the
  • such is typically used with a word following it: e.g. “such a case”

Or there and then

Another way you can use this type of linking language is when you are writing about times and places. The key words here are “there” and “then”, though you can also use “at that time” and “in that country”

Don’t forget about synonyms

This is a key technique. The idea is that you don’t repeat the word, you use another similar word or phrase. Very often, you will need to use phrases and not individual words to do this well.

You can also change word form

Sometimes it is often enough to change the form of the word from a verb to a noun or a noun to an adjective. By doing this, you are showing how you can use language flexibly. You should note that when you are learning words, you should learn the different forms of the words (see my academic word list exercises for more on this).

Test yourself

Take a look at these exercises based on my sample essays and task 1 reports. Fill in the missing link words and look to see which words they refer back to.

cohesion and repetition exercises

Other lessons to try

If the idea of cohesion is new to you, then could look at my introduction to cohesion.

More advanced candidates could try my lesson on band score 8 vocabulary. There is a close connection between cohesion and using vocabulary better.

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