Syntactic Variety and Writing Quality: An Investigation on EFL Students’ Argumentative Writing


The variety of syntactic structure of sentences has regarded as an important indicator of sentence fluency and writing proficiency. However, previous research on the relationship between syntactic variety and text quality has failed to reveal consistent patterns. Therefore, this study aims to examine the relationship of a single measure of syntactic variety with the quality of argumentative writing. It is hypothesized that sentence variety will be strongly correlated to essay scores. The primary data included 60 timed-essays written by EFL undergraduates in a medical university in Taiwan. The data represented for three groups of proficiency levels rated as 2, 3, and 4. Syntactic variety was analyzed based on the twenty-three sentence patterns. Rater reliability is established to recognize confidence levels by two raters. The results indicate moderately strong correlations between essay scores and frequency counts of sentence patterns. Essays with lower scores reveal more homogenous descriptive statistics on sentence varieties. It is found that test takers with low proficiency produced limited types of sentence patterns whereas those with relatively higher proficiency produced more different types of sentence patterns. However, the ability to produce a variety of sentences is a necessity but is probably not sufficient condition for writing high-quality texts. Some of the lower rated essays were identified a variety of sentence patterns, which were composed of incorrect syntactic structures. Finally, this study offers pedagogical implication on the effectiveness of sentence construction and sentence level practices tailored for ESL learners according to different proficiency levels.

Author Information
Yu-Shan Fan, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: ACLL2017
Stream: Linguistics

This paper is part of the ACLL2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon