The Usefulness of a Suggested Paradigm for Improving Paragraph Coherence

Fiona Kwai-peng Siu


This study aims to explore the effectiveness of a paradigm to teach native Cantonese-speaking university students the hierarchical structure of expository prose to improve paragraph coherence. Most of the diagnostic argumentative essays the participants in this study wrote in the course were incoherent, failing to meet readers’ expectation of “topic maintenance” (Connor & Farmer, 1985), nor did the essays show any of the progression patterns, as identified by Lautamatti (1987). Above all, the students seemed unaware that most English expository texts are characterized by a hierarchy of ideas.  Accordingly, a paradigm in which causation or aspect constitutes major text structure, was devised. Minor elaboration skills (e.g., definition) were suggested for lower-level ideas. The paradigm was first introduced in two lessons of two hours each and then reinforced through two individual teacher-student advising sessions, in which a three-layer mind map was used to demonstrate the thinking process of generating a hierarchy of ideas.


The experimental group (75 participants) scored significantly higher marks in Discourse Competence (DC) and in Task Fulfillment (TF) than did the control group (75 participants) in the end-of-course writing examination.  Findings from questionnaires suggested that most participants found the paradigm conceptually useful. However, it was difficult to put it into practice for lack of adequate ideas and for unfamiliarity with writing deductively, which might arise from their “employing a rhetoric and a sequence of thoughts” (Kaplan, 1966, p.4) typical of their L1 writing.


Paragraph coherence; second language writing; contrastive rhetoric; elaboration skills; argumentative essays

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ISSN 2045-4031. University of Central Lancashire 2010-2013.