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CHAPTER 13 Cueing the Reader

Pronouns form a chain of connection with antecedent.

friend’s secret to another little girl, she may find herself with a new best friend. The secrets themselves may or may not be important, but the fact of telling them is all-important. It’s hard for newcomers to get into these tight groups, but anyone who is admitted is treated as an equal. Girls like to play cooperatively; if they can’t cooperate, the group breaks up.

Little boys tend to play in larger groups, often outdoors, and they spend more time doing things than talking. It’s easy for boys to get into the group, but not everyone is accepted as an equal. Once in the group, boys must jockey for their status in it. One of the most important ways they do this is through talk: verbal display such as telling stories and jokes, challenging and sidetracking the verbal displays of other boys, and withstanding other boys’ challenges in order to maintain their own story — and status. Their talk is often competitive talk about who is best at what.

— DEBORAH TANNEN, That’s Not What I Meant!


Consider the variety and effectiveness of the topic sentences in your most recent essay. Begin by underlining the topic sentence in each paragraph after the first one. The topic sentence may not be the first sentence in a paragraph, though it will often be.

Then double-underline the part of the topic sentence that provides an explicit transition from one paragraph to the next. You may find a transition that is separate from the topic sentence. You may not always find a topic sentence.

Reflect on your topic sentences, and evaluate how well they serve to orient your readers to the sequence of topics or ideas in your essay.

Cohesive Devices

Cohesive devices guide readers, helping them follow your train of thought by connecting key words and phrases throughout a passage. Among such devices are pronoun reference, word repetition, synonyms, sentence structure repetition, and collocation.

Pronouns connect phrases or sentences.

One common cohesive device is pronoun reference. As noun substitutes, pronouns refer to nouns that either precede or follow them and thus serve to connect phrases or sentences. The nouns that come before pronouns are called antecedents.

In New York from dawn to dusk to dawn, day after day, you can hear the steady rumble of tires against the concrete span of the George Washington Bridge.

The bridge is never completely still. It trembles with traffic. It moves in the wind. Its great veins of steel swell when hot and contract when cold; its span often is ten feet closer to the Hudson River in summer than in winter.

— GAY TALESE, “New York”

This example has only one pronoun-antecedent chain, and the antecedent comes first, so all the pronouns refer back to it. When there are multiple pronoun-antecedent chains with references forward as well as back, writers have to make sure that readers will not mistake one pronoun’s antecedent for another’s.

Word repetition aids cohesion.

To avoid confusion, writers often use word repetition. The device of repeating words and phrases is especially helpful if a pronoun might confuse readers:

Some odd optical property of our highly polarized and unequal society makes the poor almost invisible to their economic superiors. The poor can see the affluent easily enough — on television, for example, or on the covers of magazines. But the affluent rarely see the poor or, if they do catch sight of them in some public space, rarely know what they’re seeing, since — thanks to consignment stores and, yes, Wal-Mart — the poor are usually able to disguise themselves as members of the more comfortable classes.

— BARBARA EHRENREICH, Nickel and Dimed

In the next example, several overlapping chains of word repetition prevent confusion and help the reader follow the ideas:

Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory — the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations. Natural selection is defined by Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest,” but what does this famous bit of jargon really mean? Who are the fittest? And how is “fitness” defined? We often read that fitness involves no more than “differential reproductive success” — the production of more surviving offspring than other competing members of the population. Whoa cries Bethell, as many others have before him. This formulation defines fitness in terms of survival only. The crucial phrase of natural selection means no more than “the survival of those who survive” — a vacuous tautology. (A tautology is a phrase — like “my father is a man” — containing no information in the predicate [“a man”] not inherent in the subject [“my father”]. Tautologies are fine as definitions, but not as testable scientific statements — there can be nothing to test in a statement true by definition.)

— STEPHEN JAY GOULD, Ever Since Darwin

Cohesive Devices


Repeated words

Repeated words with some variation of form

Synonyms connect ideas.

In addition to word repetition, you can use synonyms, words with identical or very similar meanings, to connect important ideas. In the following example, the author develops a careful chain of synonyms and word repetitions:

Over time, small bits of knowledge about a region accumulate among local residents in the form of stories . These are remembered in the community; even what is unusual does not become lost and therefore irrelevant. These

Synonym sequences:

region, particular landscape

local residents, native

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stories, narratives

are remembered, does not become lost

intricate, . . . view, complex . . . “reality”

Cueing the Reader

narratives comprise for a native an intricate, long-term view of a particular landscape. . . . Outside the region this complex but easily shared “reality” is hard to get across without reducing it to generalities, to misleading or imprecise abstraction.

— BARRY LOPEZ, Arctic Dreams

The result is a coherent paragraph that constantly reinforces the author’s point.

Repeats the if/then sentence structure

Sentence structure repetition emphasizes connections.

Writers occasionally use sentence structure repetition to emphasize the connections among their ideas, as in this example:

But the life forms are as much part of the structure of the Earth as any inanimate portion is. It is all an inseparable part of a whole. If any animal is isolated totally from other forms of life, then death by starvation will surely follow. If isolated from water, death by dehydration will follow even faster. If isolated from air, whether free or dissolved in water, death by asphyxiation will follow still faster. If isolated from the Sun, animals will survive for a time, but plants would die, and if all plants died, all animals would starve.

— ISAAC ASIMOV, “The Case against Man”

Collocation creates networks of meaning.

Collocation — the positioning of words together in expected ways around a particular topic — occurs quite naturally to writers and usually forms recognizable networks of meaning for readers. For example, in a paragraph on a high school graduation, a reader might expect to encounter such words as valedictorian, diploma, commencement, honors, cap and gown, and senior class. The paragraph that follows uses five collocation chains:

housewife, cooking, neighbor, home

clocks, calculated, progression, precise

obstinacy, vagaries, problem

sun, clear days, cloudy ones, sundial, cast its light, angle, seasons, sun, weather

cooking, fire, matches, hot coals smoldering, ashes, go out, bed-warming pan

The seventeenth-century housewife not only had to make do without thermometers, she also had to make do without clocks, which were scarce and dear throughout the sixteen hundreds. She calculated cooking times by the progression of the sun;

her cooking must have been more precise on clear days than on cloudy ones. Marks were sometimes painted on the floor, providing her with a rough sundial, but she still had to make allowance for the obstinacy of the sun in refusing to cast

Transitions 555

its light at the same angle as the seasons changed; but she was used to allowing for the vagaries of sun and weather. She also had a problem starting her fire in the morning; there were no matches. If she had allowed the hot coals smoldering under the ashes to go out, she had to borrow some from a neighbor, carrying them home with care, perhaps in a bed-warming pan.



Now that you know more about pronoun reference, word repetition, synonyms, sentence structure repetition, and collocation, turn to Brian Cable’s essay in Chapter 3 and identify the cohesive devices you find in paragraphs 1–5. Underline each cohesive device you can find; there will be many. You might also want to connect with lines the various pronoun, related-word, and synonym chains you find. You could also try listing the separate collocation chains. Consider how these cohesive devices help you read and make sense of the passage.


Choose one of your recent essays, and select any three contiguous paragraphs. Underline every cohesive device you can find; there will be many. Try to connect with lines the various pronoun, related-word, and synonym chains you find. Also try listing the separate collocation chains.

You will be surprised and pleased at how extensively you rely on cohesive ties. Indeed, you could not produce readable text without cohesive ties. Consider these questions relevant to your development as a writer: Are all of your pronoun references clear? Are you straining for synonyms when repeated words would do? Do you ever repeat sentence structures to emphasize connections? Do you trust yourself to put collocation to work?


A transition serves as a bridge to connect one paragraph, sentence, clause, or word with another. It also identifies the kind of connection by indicating to readers how the item preceding the transition relates to the one that follows it. Transitions help readers anticipate how the next paragraph or sentence will affect the meaning of what they have just read. There are three basic groups of transitions, based on the relationships they indicate: logical, temporal, and spatial.

Transitions emphasize logical relationships.

Transitions help readers follow the logical relationships within an argument. How such transitions work is illustrated in this tightly and passionately reasoned paragraph by James Baldwin:

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Transitions reinforce the logic of the argument.

Cueing the Reader

The black man insists, by whatever means he finds at his disposal, that the white man cease to regard him as an exotic rarity and recognize him as a human being. This is a very charged and difficult moment, for there is a great deal of will power involved in the white man’s naïveté. Most people are not naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and to avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or his neighbors. He is inescapably aware, nevertheless, that he is in a better position in the world than black men are, nor can he quite put to death the suspicion that he is hated by black men therefore. He does not wish to be hated, neither does he wish to change places, and at this point in his uneasiness he can scarcely avoid having recourse to those legends which white men have created about black men, the most unusual effect of which is that the white man finds himself enmeshed, so to speak, in his own language which describes hell, as well as the attributes which lead one to hell, as being black as night.

— JAMES BALDWIN, “Stranger in the Village”

Transitions Showing Logical Relationships

To introduce another item in a series: first . . . , second; in the second place; for one thing . . . , for another; next; then; furthermore; moreover; in addition; finally; last; also; similarly; besides; and; as well as

To introduce an illustration or other specification: in particular; specifically; for instance; for example; that is; namely

To introduce a result or a cause: consequently; as a result; hence; accordingly; thus; so; therefore; then; because; since; for

To introduce a restatement: that is; in other words; in simpler terms; to put it differently

To introduce a conclusion or summary: in conclusion; finally; all in all; evidently; clearly; actually; to sum up; altogether; of course

To introduce an opposing point: but; however; yet; nevertheless; on the contrary; on the other hand; in contrast; still; neither; nor

To introduce a concession to an opposing view: certainly; naturally; of course; it is true; to be sure; granted

To resume the original line of reasoning after a concession: nonetheless; all the same; even though; still; nevertheless

Transitions can indicate a sequence in time.

In addition to showing logical connections, transitions may indicate temporal relationships — a sequence or progression in time — as this example illustrates:

That night, we drank tea and then vodka with lemon peel steeped in it. The four of us talked in Russian and English about mutual friends and American railroads and the Rolling Stones. Seryozha loves the Stones, and his face grew wistful as we spoke about their recent album, Some Girls. He played a tape of “Let It Bleed” over and over, until we could translate some difficult phrases for him; after that, he came out with the phrases at intervals during the evening, in a pretty decent imitation of Jagger’s Cockney snarl. He was an adroit and oddly formal host, inconspicuously filling our teacups and politely urging us to eat bread and cheese and chocolate. While he talked to us, he teased Anya, calling her “Piglet,” and she shook back her bangs and glowered at him. It was clear that theirs was a fiery relationship. After a while, we talked about ourselves. Anya told us about painting and printmaking and about how hard it was to buy supplies in Moscow. There had been something angry in her dark face since the beginning of the evening; I thought at first that it meant she didn’t like Americans; but now I realized that it was a constant, barely suppressed rage at her own situation.

— ANDREA LEE, Russian Journal

Transitions Showing Temporal Relationships

To indicate frequency: frequently; hourly; often; occasionally; now and then; day after day; every so often; again and again

To indicate duration: during; briefly; for a long time; minute by minute; while

To indicate a particular time: now; then; at that time; in those days; last Sunday; next Christmas; in 2003; at the beginning of August; at six o’clock; first thing in the morning; two months ago; when

To indicate the beginning: at first; in the beginning; since; before then

To indicate the middle: in the meantime; meanwhile; as it was happening; at that moment; at the same time; simultaneously; next; then

To indicate the end and beyond: eventually; finally; at last; in the end; subsequently; later; afterward

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Transitions to relationships of time

Transitions can indicate relationships in space.

Transitions showing spatial relationships orient readers to the objects in a scene, as illustrated in these paragraphs:

On Georgia 155, I crossed Troublesome Creek, then went through groves of pecan trees aligned one with the next like fenceposts. The pastures grew a green almost blue, and syrupy water the color of a dusty sunset filled the ponds. Around the farmhouses, from wires strung high above the ground, swayed gourds hollowed out for purple martins.

Transitions to show relationships in space

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