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Abstract

Background & Objectives This study investigates effects of source texts and writing prompts on university students' writing. In courses across the curriculum, students are required to write analytical, argumentative essays based on sources and in response to prompts provided by the instructor. However, variation in source texts and prompts can greatly impact students' written productions. Much existing research on these effects has focused on quantitative measures of writing quality, such as number of words and clauses, or on raters' scores of writing quality. In addition, most research has focused on high-stakes assessment situations, such as TOEFL or IELTS testing. These leave us with little information about the effects of source texts and prompts on university classroom writing. Drawing on data from a larger 4-year longitudinal study of academic writing development at an English-medium university in Qatar, this study investigates effects of source texts and essay prompts on students' writing of argumentative history essays. Methods Student essays written based on two source texts, and in response to one of four prompts for each source (N=90 essays), were qualitatively analyzed using an established taxonomy of history genres. Students' essays were classified as Textual Recounts (include information directly from the source text), Descriptive Explanations (focus on causes and effects), and Arguments (argue for a claim using evidence from the source text). To supplement our analysis of the student writing, we also draw on interviews with students, interviews with the history professor, assignment descriptions, and grading rubrics. This additional data provides insight into the professor's and the students' perspectives, and informs and enhances our interpretations of the analysis of student writing. Results Results showed dual constraints of source text and prompt on produced genres. Overall, the analysis found that although the professor expected students to write Arguments, only 45% of the essays were Arguments. Many students in the study resorted to writing Recounts and Explanations, engaging in "knowledge telling" rather than "knowledge transformation" through argumentative writing. When the source was non-argumentative, prompts asking students to synthesize or evaluate information more often resulted in argumentative essays than prompts asking for description or comparison. However, when the source itself was argumentative, few students wrote an argument, and only in response to prompts that explicitly invited an evaluation of the source text. With argumentative source texts, most students simply mimicked the argument of the source text in a Recount. Conclusions Consistent with previous research, our findings suggest that students are drawn to and can achieve better results in their writing depending on the source text genre and also the wording of the prompt. Based on these findings, we make recommendations for source text selection and prompt construction for eliciting argumentative writing. We also suggest additions to history genre typology that take university-level writing expectations into account.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2014.SSPP0588
2014-11-18
2020-04-10
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