Abstract A novel two-stage coagulant addition strategy applied in a coagulation-ultrafiltration (UF) process for treatment of humic-rich water at neutral pH was investigated in this study. When aluminum sulfate (alum) doses were set at a ratio of 3:1 added during rapid mix stage and half way through flocculation stage, the integrated process of two-stage alum addition achieved almost the same organic matter removal as that of conventional one-stage alum addition at the same overall dose. Whereas membrane fouling could be effectively mitigated by the two-stage addition exhibited by trans-membrane pressure (TMP) developments. The TMP developments were found to be primarily attributed to external fouling on membrane surface, which was closely associated with floc characteristics. The results of jar tests indicated that the average size of flocs formed in two-stage addition mode roughly reached one half larger than that in one-stage addition mode, which implied a beneficial effect on membrane fouling reduction. Moreover, the flocs with more irregular structure and lower effective density resulted from the two-stage alum addition, which caused higher porosity of cake layer formed by such flocs on membrane surface. Microscopic observations of membrane surface demonstrated that internal fouling in membrane pores could be also remarkably limited by two-stage alum addition. It is likely that the freshly formed hydroxide precipitates were distinct in surface characteristics from the aged precipitates due to formation of more active groups or adsorption of more labile aluminum species. Consequently, the flocs could further connect and aggregate to contribute to preferable properties for filtration performance of the coagulation-UF process. As a simple and efficient approach, two-stage coagulant addition strategy could have great practical significance in coagulation-membrane processes.