CUE (Coherence, Unity, and Emphasis)

Student studying
Geber86 / Getty Images

CUE is an acronym for three traditional principles of composition:

This acronym was popularized in composition instruction at the high-school level by John Baker Opdycke in his textbook Composition Planning, 1913 (see below).

Examples and Observations

  • "The old-fashioned instruction, CUE--coherence, unity, and emphasis, is not often taught these days, but it is one high school instruction I remember and try to follow:
    Unity Everything in the paragraph should be about one thing.
    Coherence One thing should logically lead to the next.
    Emphasis The main point of the paragraph should be clear."
    (Donald Murray, The Craft of Revision, 2nd ed. Harcourt Brace, 1995)
  • "It is helpful to begin each paragraph with a topic sentence followed by supporting sentences that illustrate, explain, or clarify your main point. Supporting information might include a specific fact, statistic, direct quotation, anecdotes, and so on. Be sure not to write extra-long paragraphs because they are overwhelming to readers. Also, don't write single sentences as paragraphs. Murray (1995) reminded us to use the old-fashioned 'CUE' method to develop paragraphs. . . . Remember to pay particular attention to the last sentence of each paragraph, for it's the critical springboard to the following paragraph."
    (Carol M. Roberts, The Dissertation Journey: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation, 2nd ed. Corwin, 2010)
  • "There are three very old principles of Rhetoric which we must understand if we would make our writing all that it should be. . . . They are
    The initial letters--C U E--suggest to us that they may be the 'cue' to much of our success in writing if we study them closely. They apply with equal force to the sentence, the paragraph, and the whole composition.

    "By Coherence is meant the harmonious co-hering or interrelating or dovetailing of the various ideas in our writing--be it sentence, paragraph or composition. . . . We must be careful that every idea we give expression to in company with other ideas bears some consistent relation to those other ideas, and has therefore a justifiable place in our work as a whole. Our successive sentences must lead from those gone before to those following. This, and only this, will give our completed writing Coherence. . . .

    "The principle of UNITY is closely related to that of Coherence. Coherence deals with the relations among words, sentences, and paragraphs; unity deals with the relation of words, sentences and paragraphs to the subject of the composition. Probably, if one of these qualities is lacking from the composition, the other will be also, for sentences that are related to the same subject must be related to each other. . . . In our common parlance unity means 'sticking to the subject.' . . .

    "By Emphasis we mean the placing of material in our composition, oral or written, where it will be most effective, most emphatic. The emphatic places in sentences, paragraphs, or compositions are at the beginning and the end. The conclusion of a piece of work however is a more emphatic place than the beginning, for here it is important to leave an impression, a conviction perhaps, upon our audience; here we want to build up and emphasize our statement or our argument with great force. But we have heard also that first impressions are lasting ones. At the beginning of our work, then, we should state forcefully and strikingly what our purpose is to be and what the importance of our subject is. At the end we must show that we have proved that importance."
    (John Baker Opdycke, Composition Planning. D. Appleton, 1913)
  • "After teaching the principles, we may insist that our students apply to each of their given compositions these three tests:
    1. Do the parts stick together?
    2. Do all these parts in combining say but one main thing?
    3. Are the parts so apportioned and so placed as readily to make the strongest appeal?"
    (Charles Swain Thomas, The Teaching of English in the Secondary School. Houghton Mifflin, 1917)