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The three concepts of unity, support and coherence serve as a quick means of analyzing the

overall form (rather than just content) of an argument. An author who can control these three
elements should communicate their points clearly and effectively. See the list of questions at the
very bottom of the page to help in applying these concepts to your analysis, and use the after-the-
fact outline with every paper.


Unity in writing means that all material is clearly relevant to an essay's main point (thesis). Any
paragraphs that are off-topic or that lead you, the writer, away from your thesis will lead your
audience away from your point as well. Consequently, such material must be revised or deleted.

Just as all paragraphs within an essay must directly support the thesis, all material within each
paragraph must support the one main idea of that paragraph. This single main idea is most often
stated in the topic sentence that opens the paragraph. When all material within the paragraph
directly supports the topic sentence (which in turn supports your essay's thesis), the paragraph
is unified.

If, however, you find you have more than one main idea within a paragraph, your paragraph lacks
unity and will be confusing. The following is an example of a paragraph that lacks unity:

Philip Randolph, the great African-American champion of labor and civil rights, led
confrontations with three very popular presidents. Mr. Randolph called for a march on
Washington by thousands of African-Americans on July 1, 1941, if President Roosevelt
would not take action to end discrimination in defense industries during World War II.
Mr. Randolph was born in Florida. After much delay, the president met with Randolph
and one week later, opened many defense jobs to black workers. A few years later, in
1948, Mr. Randolph threatened mass civil disobedience if President Truman did not end
segregation against African-Americans in the military. On July 25, Truman approved the
order that integrated the armed services. The last confrontation was with John F.
Kennedy, who sought to stop the 1963 civil rights March on Washington. The march
featured the Reverend Martin Luther King's unforgettable "I Have a Dream" speech.

At least two of the sentences in the quote above do not directly support the topic sentence
and, therefore, should be deleted.


The substance of any essay consists of its support--the specific statements that clarify and back
up the thesis statement of the paper. Support is not general; it is specific. It can come from
many sources: statistics, facts, quotations, names, dates and examples.

While general statements are not hard to write, it is often difficult for writers to move from the
general to the specific and thereby provide solid support for their thesis statements and topic
sentences. As a result, such essays are weak and have little to offer their audience. Below are
two sample paragraphs. Which one is replete with generalities and which uses specifics?:

Our run-down city block was made special by a lot called The Community Garden. The
lot was planted with all sorts of plants, vegetables, and flowers. There was a path curving
through it. We went there to think. The Community Garden made our block special.
Though our neighborhood was known as "tough," no one ever vandalized the garden.

Our run-down city block was made special by a once-vacant lot called The Community
Garden. I'm not sure who first had the idea, but the thin soil had been fertilized, raked,
and planted with a surprising assortment of vegetables and flowers. Anyone interested in
gardening could tend green pepper plants, string beans, fresh herbs, even corn. Others
planted flowers, which changed with the seasons--tall red dahlias, white and purple iris,
and taxi-yellow marigolds to discourage the insects. A narrow path curved gracefully
among the plants, paved with bricks no doubt left over from the building that once stood
here. The Community Garden was our pride, the place we went to think and to be still.
Though our neighborhood was known as "tough," no one ever vandalized the garden.

All academic writing requires support at both the essay level and at the paragraph level. The
details of each paragraph must adequately support your main point. For this to happen, you
should not begin writing without a fairly focused thesis statement. With your thesis in mind, you
develop your ideas for support in the prewriting stage and flesh out these ideas as you write.

Support and Prewriting: Before you write use as many prewriting techniques as you can in
order to discover the ideas that will form the basis of your support. Use brainstorming, freewriting,
clustering, or listmaking, for example. Be free with your ideas--do not critique or limit yourself in
the prewriting stage. Once you've exhausted your prewriting, review the ideas you have
generated. This is the time to be critical. Remember your audience. What details does it need to
know? Focus on the good ideas and points of clear support; eliminate or modify the rest.

Next, does review of your prewriting suggest that you have sufficient points of support to sustain
your argument? To determine this, ask who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about
your thesis. The answers to these questions will help you determine which other points of support
you may need to include. For example, you could not effectively write about non-violence in the
Civil Rights Movement while neglecting the influence of Martin Luther King.

Sometimes, after prewriting and developing appropriate points of support, you will discover that
your original thesis statement does not clearly reflect the support you are considering. If this
happens, simply revise your thesis before continuing.

Support and the Writing Process: Once you have brainstormed for ideas, selected the best
support for your particular audience and argument, and organized that support (see Coherence
below), you may begin writing your first draft. As you write, think of what evidence best serves a
given topic sentence's paragraph. While paragraphs begin with a general, umbrella-type topic
sentence, they must be backed up with specific support. Remember that some points of support
may need to be broken down into separate, distinct examples for different body paragraphs.
Make sure that each of your points has adequate support.

For a more detailed discussion on the practicalities of using support (how to use and cite
quotations), see the MLA Citation and Plagiarism handout in the writing section of the class


Once you are satisfied with the overall order of your paragraphs, you can strengthen the
essay's coherence by making certain that appropriate transitions occur between paragraphs as
well as within paragraphs and sentences. The opening sentence of this paragraph is a good
example of a coherent topic sentence that ties two paragraphs together logically: the first part
looks directly back at the preceding section, while the second looks ahead to this one. Such
transitions can go at the end of paragraphs or at the beginning. Additionally, examples of
transition words and phrases appear in bold throughout this paragraph. Yet, you need not worry if
you miss including them in your first draft; they are easy to add in revision. These transitions
may indicate time, space, order, opposition and number, but should not detract from the overall
message. Also remember that the ultimate goal of these connections is to assist the reader's
journey through each paragraph.

Questions for Applying Unity, Support and Coherence or what I learned

from reading this handout.

Unity (think of unity as the overall skeletal structure of your essay):

1. Is there a clear thesis statement that gives the topic of my paper and my idea about that
2. Is all the material in the paper relevant to my thesis?
3. Is all the material in each paragraph relevant to the topic sentence of the paragraph?

Support (think of support as the "meat" of your essay):

1. Is there specific evidence that supports my main point?

2. Is there enough specific evidence for each point?

Coherence (think of coherence as what connects the meat of your essay to its skeleton......ick):

1. Does my essay have a clear method of organization?

2. Do I use transitions and other connecting words or phrases to move smoothly from one
paragraph to the next?
3. Do I use transitions and other connecting words or phrases to tie sentences and key
ideas together within the paragraphs?

After-the-fact Outline

The quickest way to apply the concepts of unity, support and coherence to any essay is to
perform an after-the-fact outline. After reading the essay, go back through it, writing in the margin
beside each paragraph or on a separate piece of paper a phrase (or perhaps just a word) that
summarizes every paragraph's main point. If you run into difficulties finding that word or phrase it
may be because the paragraph has extraneous information that is not necessary to the entire
argument (unity), or because the paragraph contains information that does not belong with that
particular point and should be developed in or moved to a different paragraph (support), or
because the information within the pargraph is simply poorly connected (coherence). The after-
the-fact outline provides a quick thumbnail of the entire argument and can be helpful either when
writing your own essay (showing you which paragraphs do and do not need work) or analyzing
another author's argument (showing you the strong or weak moments of their structure).

Achieve Unity by Linking Ideas

In order to achieve paragraph unity, writers can utilize several methods:

1. Use conjunctions and other transitional words and phrases: These are words and
phrases like “neither/nor, but, yet, not only/but also, similarly, besides, on the
other hand, furthermore, for example, adjacent to, for this purpose, in brief, in the
meantime, as noted,” etc.
2. Repeat key words and ideas: Choose words and/or ideas that are worthy of
emphasis and repeat them; for example: “I was sick and tired of January, and sick
and tired of February following January year after year like famine and pestilence
following war. I was sick and tired of football, and sick and tired of football being
followed by ice hockey and basketball as pestilentially as February followed
January.” Russell Baker— “Confessions of a Three-Day Grouch” (Harbrace,
1986, p. 324)
3. Use pronoun reference: Instead of repeating nouns, use pronouns, but make sure
the antecedent is clear; for example: "When Merlin woke up that morning, he
realized the house sounded empty. In fact, it reverberated with the hollow
resonance of emptiness."Instead of “Merlin” being repeated in the first sentence,
the pronoun “he” takes its place; and “it” takes the place of house in the second
sentence. However, if the antecedent of those pronouns had been unclear, it would
have been better to repeat the nouns instead.
4. Repeat parallel structures: repeat sentence patterns and/or other grammatical
structures. For example, one might repeat the sentence pattern of an adverb
introductory clause and a short two-word independent clause, as John Carenen did
when he wrote, ”When I breathed in, I squeaked. When I breathed out, I rattled”
(Harbrace, 1986, p. 270). Or one might repeat two infinitive phrases: “To be or
not to be, that is the question.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1611)

The goal of all writers is, or at least should be, to express their thoughts so that readers
will easily understand them; and writers are far more likely to achieve this goal if the
paragraphs they write are well developed, coherent, and unified.

Read more at Suite101: What Is Paragraph Unity?: How to Write a Unified Paragraph