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Syntactic complexity as a predictor of adolescent writing quality: Which measures? Which genre?

Abstract

This study examined the relationship of different measures of syntactic complexity with rated quality for two genres of text produced by middle school students. It was hypothesized that different measures would be associated with distinct aspects of syntactic complexity; words per clause with greater use of structures more typical of expository texts, and clauses per T-unit with structures more typical of conversational or narrative registers. A sample of 41 seventh and eighth grade students from suburban middle schools composed a narrative and persuasive essays. Texts were rated for quality and coded for syntactic features including words per clause and clauses per T-unit. Syntactic complexity as measured in words per clause was positively correlated with quality for essays but not for narratives. Clauses per T-unit was positively correlated with quality for narratives, but negatively correlated with quality for essays. The relationships between syntactic complexity and text quality were thus found to be dependent both on the genre of the text, and the measure of syntactic complexity used.

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Beers, S.F., Nagy, W.E. Syntactic complexity as a predictor of adolescent writing quality: Which measures? Which genre?. Read Writ 22, 185–200 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-007-9107-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-007-9107-5

Keywords

  • Syntax
  • Writing
  • Writing quality
  • Syntactic complexity
  • Genre