Cohesion: The known-new contract

When we say writing is cohesive, we mean that relationships between ideas are easy for a reader to follow. Cohesion is often a component of what many students call “flow,” meaning that ideas are smoothly strung together to create a clear discussion, exposition, or argument. Writers may use several methods to create cohesion in their writing, one of which is the “known-new contract.”

The known-new contract

The known-new contract is a process we can follow in writing to improve cohesion at both the sentence and paragraph level. Logical relationships between ideas are created by first introducing what is considered “known” information before including “new” information that furthers the discussion or argument.

What is “known-information”?

Information that you have previously discussed or defined for your reader within the same work, usually in the previous sentence or somewhere in the same paragraph.

What is “new information”?

Information that is new to your reader, meaning you have not yet made a statement with this idea or information. It is the information that furthers or develops your paper.

The typical structure for this known-new pattern looks like this:

[Known information]... [New information]. [Known information]... [New information].

In this pattern, the bolded words represent new information that becomes known information for the next sentence. A writer can be sure to introduce known information first, or early-on, in a sentence or paragraph through a few different strategies:

Restating what had been new information from the previous clause as known information

  • Example: Jazz music has become a cherished aspect of American culture, despite maturing in a climate of disapproval. The poor regard many kept it in had a minimal effect, as jazz continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1920s and beyond.

Transition phrases that signal the relationship between the information, such as conversely, therefore, afterward, as a result, etc.

  • Example: The most obvious fault in Odysseus’ leadership is an excessive absence from his defenseless estate. As a result of his carelessness in his travels, he leaves all of Ithaca- including his family- unguarded and vulnerable for twenty years.

Using a noun phrase or pronoun (he, she, they, that, this, etc.) to reference what was previously considered new information

  • Example: Before proper management policies for children with hearing loss were set in place, children could go through decades of schooling and come out reading at only a third or fourth grade level. This issue was of interest to Marion Downs, who pursued the so