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Topic and comment development in EFL compositions
Published inStudia Philologica Jyväskyläensia
This study explores the way in which Finnish upper secondary school students convey information in their short compositions written in English. It focuses on how the students developed both topics and comments in their compositions, and the way in which it affects coherence in them. The compositions were written on the title Does watching television make it difficult to think independently?. The compositions were divided into three quality groups on the basis of the means and standard deviations as follows: High (one standard deviation above the mean, N=4), Mid (in between the High and the Low, N=9), and Low (one standard deviation below the mean, N=ll). Consequently, the data consisted of 24 compositions in all. The present study set out to find answers to three research tasks. The first task was to find out how topics and comments representing three quality categories are developed in EFL compositions. The second task was to determine whether there is a relationship between topic development and rated essay quality in compositions representing the three quality categories: High, Mid, and Low. The third research task was to discover what kind of topic/ comment development patterns occur in compositions representing three quality categories. To answer the first and third research questions, a descriptive topic/comment analysis was performed. In addition to that, Danes's (1974) two patterns of thematic progression were traced in the same compositions. As regards the first pattern of topical progression, the mid-quality writers favoured this strategy more than the better and the poorer writers. With regard to the second pattern of topical progression, the poorer writers used a constant topic more often than the writers in the other two categories. Thirdly, the poorer writers picked up propositions mentioned earlier in the text more often than the writers in the other two categories. Topical structure analysis (e.g. Lautamatti 1978, 1987; Noh 1985) was applied to the compositions to find out what kinds of patterns EFL writers in the three quality categories employ when developing topics in their compositions. The aspects of topical development that were explored in the essays were topical depth and topic shifts, and their relationship to writing quality was investigated. The x2 test showed that there was a correlation between writing quality and topical depth. The coefficient of determination (r2) indicated that approximately 23 per cent of the variation in writing quality was explained by variation in topical depth. Further studies of other indicators potentially contributing to writing quality could address interaction between coherence and writing quality in terms of models such as the Toulmin (1958) model of informal logic, which has been found to be successful in the teaching of argumentative/persuasive writing (e.g. Connor and Lauer 1988), and the model of meaning relations suggested by Laurinen and Kauppinen (1986). ...
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