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Some Research Conclusions About the Teaching of Writing

(adapted from John C. Bean.  Engaging Ideas.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 1996.)

1.   College teachers have always railed against errors in student writing.

2.   Students' prose contains fewer mistakes than teachers sometimes perceive.

3.   Readers vary widely in the kinds of errors that bother them.

4.   Much of what constitutes "error" really involves stylistic choices --issues of rhetorical effectiveness and grace rather than right-or-wrong adherence to rules.

5.   Our students have more linguistic competence than the surface features of their prose sometimes indicate.

1.  At least half of student errors result from inattentive editing and proofreading (Haswell, 1983).

2.  When asked to read their drafts aloud, students unconsciously correct many of their mistakes (Bartholomae, 1980).

3.  Student errors are systematic and classifiable (Shaughnessy, 1977).

6.  Errors in student writing increase with greater cognitive difficulty of the assignment.

The more cognitively difficult the task, the more an examinee's sentence structure breaks down (Schwalm, 1985; Williams).

"The research points to a relationship between grammatical competence and a writer's control over the ideas being expressed.  Since each new course immerses students in new, unfamiliar ideas, the quality of students' writing, predictably, degenerates.  Teachers can help counter this phenomenon by building requirements for multiple drafts into their  assignments so that students can use early drafts to clarify their thinking" (Bean, p. 64).

7.  Errors often disappear in students' prose as they progress through multiple drafts.

8.  Teachers can expect to see sentence problems in first drafts and on essay exams.

9.  Traditional procedures for grading and marking student papers may exacerbate the problem.

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Writing Center
100A Roberts Hall
phone: (570) 577-3141
© Bucknell University 2002
comments to: Sabrina Kirby
last updated:
01/30/2004