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May 15, 2019 at 11:04 am

Lee and Alum Co-Author Article on Relationship Between Syntactic Complexity and Writing Quality in Student Writing

Ohio University alum J. Elliott Casal & Ohio University professor Dr. Joseph Lee co-author article
J. Elliott Casal and Dr. Joseph Lee

J. Elliott Casal ’14M, Ohio University alum, and Dr. Joseph Lee, Assistant Director of the ELIP Academic & Global Communication Program, co-author an article, “Syntactic Complexity and Writing Quality in Assessed First-Year L2 Writing,” in the latest volume of the Journal of Second Language Writing.

Casal is a former ELIP TA and earned an M.A. in Linguistics from the College of Arts & Sciences, Ohio University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the Pennsylvania State University.

Abstract: This study explores the relationship between syntactic complexity and writing quality in assessed source-based research papers produced by ESL undergraduate writers in a first-year writing course through a combination of holistic and fine-grained measures of complexity. The analysis is based on a corpus of 280 student papers across three grade tiers: high, mid, and low. A one-way MANOVA was used to explore the statistical significance of differences of five commonly used syntactic complexity measures (assessed using Lu’s Second Language Syntactic Complexity Analyzer, 2010) across these grade tiers. Results reveal little variation in clausal subordination and coordination, but statistically significant lower complex nominal densities, mean length of clauses (phrasal measures), and mean length of T-units (global measure) in low-rated papers. Analysis of complex nominal composition using the Stanford Tregex with differences assessed with a one-way MANOVA shows that the highest densities of complex nominal types are present in high-rated papers, with statistical significance in adjectival pre-, prepositional post-, and participle modification, and the lowest densities in low-rated papers. While clausal complexity did not demonstrate a relationship with assessed quality, both global and phrasal complexity features appear to be important components. We conclude with implications for syntactic complexity research and ESL composition pedagogy.

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