Coherence refers to the techniques writers use to make their sentences hang together in some logical way. Sometimes this is simply called flow. When words in sentences and sentences in sequence flow together, readers recognize their interconnections: one sentence offers a generalization and the following sentence elucidates it; one sentence sets forth a principle and the subsequent sentence lists examples of that principle in action; one sentence asserts one idea and the following sentence acknowledges a contrasting idea, and so forth. Discourse comes from the Latin term discurre, which means to run forward, and this is exactly what readers encountering several sentences must do: they must move from one sentence to the next, all the while understanding a sense of their direction as one sentence builds upon, predicts, contrasts with, exemplifies, reaffirms, another. To make sentences run smoothly along, the writer is responsible for supplying markers that signal to readers the relationship between one sentence (or one chunk of text) and another. Linguists calls the language that signals these relationships metadiscourse.
Literally “discourse about the discourse,” metadiscourse provides powerful shorthand tools for making your writing readable and for indicating various logical relationships between parts of your text. Sophisticated writing relies on metadiscourse to assist in the making of meaning. Without it, the reader is often left to infer relationships between sentences and other chunks of text—an extra step that can disrupt comprehension. We offer here an extensive list of metadiscursive signals. From time to time, it will be useful to quickly review them in order to refresh your mental lexicon of these tools. After practice, you’ll bring many of them automatically to mind.
Varieties of Metadiscourse