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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fractures in perspectives on good student writing Wiebe, Sunita

Abstract

While university students are expected to be good academic writers, there is little consensus on what constitutes good writing. The purpose of this study was to document fractures in instructors' and students' perspectives on good academic writing by surveying 157 instructors and 523 students about first-year writing at the University of British Columbia. The survey instrument consisted of a four-part questionnaire. The author used three composition pedagogies (Current Traditional Rhetoric, Expressivism and Social Construction) to ascertain how instructors and students ranked and graded three sample paragraphs of first-year student writing and assessed the importance of 45 writing attributes. Respondents' scores of the 45 attributes were aggregated into seven attribute families (Mechanics, Author's Voice, Social Analysis, Paragraph Structure, Academic Inquiry, Figurative Language and Academic Conventions). The author also measured the extent to which assessments of good writing were shaped by faculty's world views and personal characteristics, or their academic situations. Of the 14 measures used (three ranking options, three grading options, and assessments of importance of seven attribute families and combined attributes), there were nine fractures dividing instructors from students. The biggest involved Academic Inquiry (which instructors favoured), Social Analysis and Author's Voice (both of which students favoured). There was no consensus among instructors. All three paragraphs received a wide range of grades. Every paragraph was ranked top, middle or bottom with no majority opinion for any one paragraph about how best to write. Of the 14 measures, there were six fractures between instructor operations (paragraph ranking and grading) and preferences (importance of different writing attributes). Situational variables had more influence on instructors' paragraph assessments while personological characteristics were more predictive of the importance they assigned writing attributes. Instructors were most divided by employment status and world view. They were also divided by gender, country of birth and first language. Fractures in perspectives on good writing divide instructors from students as well as faculty themselves. Centralized Writing Departments that use a three-pronged research/pedagogical/administrative approach should therefore be established to investigate fracture points; navigate students through such fractures; and provide writing researchers, instructors, and program planners administrative and funding support.

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