Syntactic Fluency and Cohesive Ties in College Freshmen Writing

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The purpose of this study was to investigate certain predetermined types of syntactic constructions and cohesive ties college freshmen exploit in a persuasive writing task. To accomplish this purpose, two sets of papers rated high and low, respectively, in holistic scoring, was compared in terms of types and frequencies of certain syntactic constructions and cohesive ties per 100 T-units. The study was conducted at a large urban university in the District of Columbia in September, 1985. Writing samples were generated by freshmen students enrolled in twelve sections of English III. The writing task was administered by classroom teachers. To insure anonymity, each original writing sample was photocopied and coded to conceal the writer's name, section and teacher's name. The photocopied writing samples were scored by three experienced teachers of college freshman composition who were currently doctoral candidates in English Education at the University of Maryland. The scoring was done on a 1-8 scale (8 being the highest score). This scale was established by the Educational Testing Service in 1975. The ratings were based on a three-level "Criteria for Holistic Rating of a Persuasive Writing Task" (high: 7-8; middle: 5-6; low: 1-4) the investigator adapted from Cooper's Holistic Evaluation of Writing (1977). Further analysis of these essays included a frequency count of T-units and types and frequencies of certain syntactic constructions and cohesive ties in ten essays (five rated high and five rated low) per 100 T-units. Then a comparative description of the two sets of papers was done. The findings indicate that the college freshmen engaged in this study used at least four types of syntactic constructions and at least five types of cohesive ties in varying degrees of proficiency. The set of five papers rated high used almost twice as many syntactic constructions and cohesive ties as did the set of five rated low. Further research should focus on: 1) how, what, and when good and poor writers make decisions about syntactic constructions and cohesive ties they use in their writing task, and 2) the relationship between these two indexes of good writing and different types of persuasive topics.