National Writing Project

TR 22. Promises of Coherence, Weak Content, and Strong Organization: An Analysis of the Student Text

By: Margaret Kantz
Publication: National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Technical Report
Date: May 1989

Summary: This report describes the ways that readers saw the structures in a set of freshman essays and discusses the problems the judges had in agreeing on how some students had interpreted the writing assignment.

 

Excerpt

When we tried to place the essays on a continuum of idea-transformation, from those which summarize (tell ideas) to those which transform for an original rhetorical purpose (transform and use ideas), we found a group of essays in the middle of the continuum in which structural signals did not match the treatment of ideas. We found, for instance, apparent summaries sprinkled with comments and evaluations of the source text, arranged in an implied chronological order. We also found texts in which unrelated pieces of source material were arranged as a list and presented with other cues that were apparently meant to suggest a logical sequence. These oddly linked summaries were often framed in the introduction and conclusion by a larger idea that had an implicit topical relationship to the essay content but that did not in any way control the discussion or presentation of the content. These mismatched textual signals made it very difficult for the raters to decide what approach to the task the writers had been trying to use.

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