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Perceptions of Writing Skills

Breland, Hunter M.; Jones, Robert J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-82-47, CBR-82-04
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Discourse Analysis, English Composition Tests, Essay Tests, Grading, Writing Skills


A random sample of 806 essays was taken from over 80,000 essays written for the College Board's English Composition Achievement Test (ECT) during December 1979. Using a special taxonomy of 20 writing characteristics, these essays were subjected to a second special reading in September 1980 to determine which of these 20 writing characteristics most influenced judgments of writing quality. Among other analyses, scores developed for the quality of each of the 20 writing characteristics were used to "post-dict" holistic scores on the same essays obtained for the regular ECT administration. The results showed that certain characteristics of discourse, in contrast to syntactic and lexical characteristics, influenced judgments the most. The characteristics of discourse included organization, transition, use of supporting evidence, and the originality of ideas presented. In the sample examined, traditional syntactic emphases--such as subject-verb agreement, punctuation, and pronoun usage—had less influence on scores assigned. The results suggest that instruction in English composition courses should emphasize discourse skills. (68pp.)

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