What’s in an Essay: A Study of International Student Writing Growth over Two Terms


What’s in an Essay: A Study of International Student Writing Growth over Two Terms
Amber Rynearson
Faculty Sponsor
Cornelia Paraskevas
Gavin Keulks
Academic language is a specific variation of language that is marked by its own grammatical features. It is one register, or specific variation of language characterized by certain types of vocabulary and grammatical structures; others include fiction writing, news writing, spoken language, magazine writing, etc. All of these registers differ both grammatically and lexically. In order to become proficient in a specific type of writing, one must become familiar with using the different rules and guidelines (both spoken and unspoken; the conventions) of that type of writing. For academic writing, which is learned over time, writing growth can be observed in various ways, such as through vocabulary usage, thematic development, use of nominalizations, use of non-finite clauses, use of prepositional phrases, and use of embedded clauses. This growth can be observed over time through a writer increasing in the number of appropriate grammatical choices based on the discipline or style they choose to write in; the more advanced syntax they use, the more they’ve grown in their writing ability. Many of these aspects of writing are difficult for native speakers to grasp, more so for non-native users of English. This is because academic language has to be learned by all- it is no one’s native language. The following project seeks to investigate change and growth in specific areas of academic writing (such as vocabulary, thematic development, lexical density, and reading level) of international students throughout twenty weeks (two terms) and chart their improvement. Further, the study will connect the various aspects of writing growth with self-reported survey data inquiring about the student’s own beliefs on what constitutes good academic writing, and how they feel about their own writing and 5 language growth. This survey allows for connections to be made between the areas in which students produced the most growth and the grammatical features they see as most important. It also allows a glance into their self-confidence when producing their second language, which is a crucial aspect of success in a second language. This project will be based in both quantitative and qualitative data sets and will utilize corpus software and manual analysis.
Honors Thesis
Honors Program
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