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The effects of content and audience awareness goals for revision on the persuasive essays of fifth- and eighth-grade students

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of revising goals focused on content and audience awareness on the persuasive writing of fifth- and eighth-grade students. Students were randomly assigned to three different goal conditions: a general goal; a goal to improve content; and a goal to improve content and communication with an audience. Final drafts of essays were scored for elements of persuasive discourse relevant to content and audience and for overall persuasiveness. Students in the audience goal group were more likely than both other groups to consider opposing positions and rebut them. Students in both the content and audience goal groups wrote essays that were more persuasive than essays by students in the general goal group. The results also indicate that eighth-grade students wrote more persuasively than fifth-grade students and that girls wrote more persuasively than boys.

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Correspondence to Ekaterina Midgette.

Appendices

Appendix A

Primary Trait Scoring Rubric

Persuasive writing attempts to influence readers to change their thinking or behavior. It involves having a clear awareness of what arguments might be most effective for an audience. In evaluating the quality of persuasive writing, several factors are important. First, a position or opinion is clearly stated. Second, reasons are provided to support the position. Third, the reasons are supported and elaborated, using facts, examples, principles, or other techniques. Fourth, the essay anticipates alternative positions and responds to them in some way. Fifth, the essay should be clear, logical, cohesive, and include relevant information and contain a conclusion or a summary statement. The rubric includes all of these elements. However, your task in scoring the essays is to evaluate overall persuasiveness. Thus, it is important to balance all of the above factors in making a judgment.

  1. 0

    Response to topic. Paper responds to the topic in some way but does not provide an opinion on the issue.

  2. 1

    Undeveloped opinion. Papers states an opinion but no reasons are given to support the opinion, or the reasons given are unrelated to or inconsistent with the opinion, or they are incoherent.

  3. 2

    Minimally developed. Paper states a clear opinion and gives one or two reasons to support the opinion but the reasons are not explained or supported in any coherent way. The reasons may be limited plausibility and inconsistencies may be present.

  4. 3

    Between the standards for 2 and 4.

  5. 4

    Partially developed. Paper states an opinion and gives reasons to support the opinion plus some explanation or elaboration of the reasons. The reasons are generally plausible though not enough information is provided to convince a reader (audience awareness). There maybe some inconsistency, irrelevant information, or problems with organization and clarity.

  6. 5

    Between the standards for 4 and 6.

  7. 6

    Well developed. Paper states a clear opinion and gives reasons to support the opinion. The reasons are explained clearly and elaborated using information that could be convincing to the reader. May mention opposing opinion and give reasons against it. The essay is generally well organized and may include a concluding statement. The paper is free of inconsistencies and irrelevancies that will weaken the argument.

  8. 7

    Elaborated and addresses opposition. Meets the criteria for previous level. In addition, the paper deals with opposing opinions, even with refutations or alternative solutions. Overall, the essay is persuasive.

Appendix B

Scoring Rubric for Evaluating Elements of Persuasive Discourse

  1. I.

    Content Revision

    1.   a)

      Position (3 to 0)

      • Point 3:

      • –   Position explicitly or implicitly stated, responsive to the topic and well developed.

        • Position stated explicitly and clearly

        • Responsive: stays focused on the topic—sharp/distinct

        • Elaborates on the position in some way (e.g., delineating conditions, modifications)

      • Point 2:

      • –   Position explicitly stated or implicit but clear; responsive to the topic, and not fully developed.

        • Position implicitly or explicitly stated

        • The author’s position clear

        • Responsive to the topic

        • The position is not elaborated

      • Point 1:

      • –   Vague or poorly developed position; may be only partially responsive to the topic; may give more than one point of view without choosing one.

      • Point 0:

      • –   No position stated or not responsive to the topic.

    2.   b)

      Reasons and Elaborations: Rate each of the 3 reasons and each of the elaborations supporting a particular reason separately. Add the two scores together.

    3. (i)

      Reasons (2 to 0; Maximum = 6; Minimum = 0); and

      • Point 2:

      • –   Reason is clear, relevant, and significant.

        • Relevant—that strengthens the argument

        • Clearly expressed and distinct from the other reasons

        • Generally significant or important

      • Point 1:

      • –   Reason is relevant but may lack clarity or be of minor significance.

        • Relevant—that strengthens the argument

        • May lack clarity though it is possible to tell what the writer means

        • May be immature or of minor significance

      • Point 0:

      • –   Reason is not relevant or contradictory to the position or not clear.

        • Not relevant or responsive to the issue

        • So unclear it is impossible to tell the meaning

        • There is no other reason

    4. (ii)

      Elaborations (2 to 0; Maximum = 6; Minimum = 0)

      • Point 2:

      • –   Reason is supported by distinct and relevant elaboration.

        • The elaboration includes examples based on evidence, experience, or both.

        • It is relevant to the reason, supporting the main argument and not contradictory.

        • Well developed examples and evidence

        • Clear and complete information

      • Point 1:

      • –   Reason is supported by relevant elaboration, however it may lack clarity

        • The elaboration includes examples based on evidence, experience, or both.

        • It lacks clarity

        • May not be well-developed

        • May have incomplete information.

      • Point 0:

      • –   The reason is not supported by the elaboration or the elaboration is irrelevant or contradictory to the reason or main position.

    5.   c)

      Coherence (2 to 0):

      • Point 2:

      • –   Organization

        • Opening statement, body, and conclusion should adhere to the main position

        • Each paragraph deals with one overall idea

      • –   Smooth flow

        • Well developed and relevant arguments

        • Well thought—the ideas are well organized in order

        • Logical order and sequencing is maintained

      • Point 1:

      • –   Organization

        • Opening statement, body, and conclusion should adhere to the main position

        • May or may not have conclusion

        • May or may not have separate ideas into distinct paragraphs

      • –   Smooth flow

        • Somewhat like knowledge telling: choppy presentation of ideas and elaborations.

        • The ideas and elaborations are somewhat logical but not well-sequenced

      • Point 0:

      • –   Organization and Smooth flow

        • Vague introduction, body and conclusion or no conclusion

        • Pure knowledge-telling

        • Ideas are not organized sequentially, i.e., all the reasons are clumped together.

        • There is no order or logic in the presentation of the argument

  2. II.

    Audience Awareness:

    1.   a)

      Opposing Reasons and Rebuttal: Rate each opposite reason and rebuttal separately.

    2. (i)

      Opposing reasons (2 to 0; Maximum 4 and Minimum 0)

      • Point 2:

      • –   The opposite view is relevant, opposite of the main argument/position, significant and clearly expressed.

        • It explicitly or implicitly challenges or it brings out the contradictory issues.

        • Relevant—that strengthens the opposite view

        • Significant

        • Clearly expressed

      • Point 1:

      • –   The opposite view is relevant, but may lack clarity, or be of minor significance or just acknowledges an alternative position

        • Is relevant

        • The challenging view may be implicit, or it brings out the contradictory issue.

        • May lack clarity though it is possible to tell what the writer meant

        • May be immature or not significant in general

        • Acknowledges alternative position.

      • Point 0:

      • –   The alternative view is not relevant or not clear

        • Not relevant or responsive to the issue

        • It is unclear to the extent that it is impossible to tell the meaning

    3. (ii)

      Rebuttal (2 to 0; Maximum 4 and Minimum 0):

      • Point 2:

      • –   Explicitly and directly responsive to the opposite view is rebutted by relevant elaboration, strengthens and does not contradict the original position of the author.

        • It does not contradict the main position of the author—it connects back to the original position

        • Directly and effectively refutes the opposite view.

        • Clearly expressed

        • The elaboration includes examples based on evidence, anecdotal account or both

        • Well developed examples and evidence

      • Point 1:

      • –   The opposite view is implicitly/explicitly rebutted by relevant elaboration which may lack clarity

        • It does not contradict the main position—it connects back to the original position.

        • The elaboration may or may not include examples based on evidence (facts) or anecdotal account or both.

        • It lacks clarity

        • May be partially developed

      • Point 0:

      • –   The elaboration supporting the rebuttal is irrelevant or contradicts the author’s original position.

    4.   b)

      Direct Engagement (2 to 0)

      • Point 2:

      • –   Degree of engagement of the audience in the argument development is high. The presentation of the argument is explicitly dialogical in nature. Emotionally appealing to the reader.

        • Author engages the reader (e.g., have you ever thought about it; how would you feel; imagine that)

      • Point 1:

      • –   Degree of engagement of the audience in the argument development is less, but present. The author does not appeal to the reader effectively. The presentation shows the marks of the dialog, but it is not rhetorically developed.

        • Author engages the reader somewhat (e.g., excessive use of the pronoun you)

      • Point 0:

      • –   There is not an evidence of the effort to engage the audience. The author is writing to oneself or in a vacuum.

        • Appeals to oneself (i.e., when I watch movies I get to eat popcorn)

        • Writes in a vacuum (i.e., watching shows is fun)

    5.   c)

      Tone (2 to 0):

      • Point 2:

      • –   The writer develops the argument pragmatically. There is evidence of adapting the language to be acceptable by the reader.

        • Considers the topic seriously (e.g., not be flaky, not making fun of the topic)

        • Purposeful use of markers of politeness (e.g., I think, In my humble opinion, I feel, this is not always true, sometimes, it may be a good idea)

        • The tone is respectful

        • The author shows the ability to adapt the tone and style of language to his target audience. For example, uses formal language while addressing the teacher, or the newspaper editor, whereas uses informal language while addressing his peers.

        • No rude or angry expressions

      • Point 1:

      • –   The writer does not have the complete understanding of pragmatics. The adaptation to the audience is limited.

        • Considers the topic seriously (e.g., not be flaky, not making fun of the topic)

        • Sporadic use markers of politeness (e.g., I think, I feel, this is not always true, sometimes, it may be a good idea)

        • The tone is respectful

        • The author might occasionally use inappropriate tone of style of language while addressing target audience. For example, using colloquial language while addressing adult audience.

        • No rude or angry expressions

      • Point 0

      • –   There is no evidence of the author’s understanding of pragmatics. There is no adaptation of the language to be acceptable by the reader.

        • Disregards the topic (e.g., does not take the topic seriously, makes fun of it)

        • May or may not use markers of politeness. (e.g., I think, I feel, this is not always true, sometimes, it may be a good idea)

        • The tone is not respectful

        • The author abundantly uses colloquial language

        • There are rude or angry expressions in the essay

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Midgette, E., Haria, P. & MacArthur, C. The effects of content and audience awareness goals for revision on the persuasive essays of fifth- and eighth-grade students. Read Writ 21, 131–151 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-007-9067-9

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Keywords

  • Argument
  • Audience
  • Goals
  • Revision
  • Writing