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Empirical evidence supporting strategic writing

The road to writing competence is long and never fully achieved (Bazerman et al.,

2018) , as there are many different forms of writing, approaches to writing, and ways to continually improve as a writer within different communities. Movement along this road arises, at least in part, from changes in strategic writing behaviors. Graham (2006) examined if the available empirical evidence with students in grades 1 to 12 supported this proposition, and has returned to examine it multiple times in the ensuing years (e.g., Graham et al., 2019). He argues that the following tenets should be supported if strategic writing is important to writing development: (1) skilled writers are more strategic than less skilled writers, (2) developing writers become more strategic with age and schooling, (3) individual differences in strategic writing behaviors predict individual differences in writing performance, and (4) instruction designed to increase strategic writing behaviors improves writing performance.

While it is important to remember that Grahams analyses involved school writing and were mostly focused on planning and revising, his review and subsequent analyses provided evidence which supports each of the four tenets. In terms of the first tenet, Graham (2006) found that skilled writers are more planful and better at revising than less skilled writers. For example, in a study by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987), college students planned their entire composition during a scheduled preplanning period, generating multiple and abbreviated lists of ideas that were connected by lines or arrows. They also included conceptual planning notes, evaluative statements, and structural markers. Less skilled writers primarily generated content when asked to plan. Similarly, less skilled writers devote little attention to revising, and the nature of their revising differs from that of more skilled writers, as their revisions are mostly superficial, aimed at making small word changes and correcting errors (Chanquoy, 2001)

Graham (2006) also found that the planning and revising of developing writers becomes increasingly sophisticated with schooling and experience (tenet two). This was the case in Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) above, as the number of planning notes students produced between grades four and six doubled, and conceptual planning increased from grades four and eight. Likewise, students’ revising becomes more sophisticated over time, as older writers revise more often, revise larger units of text, and make more meaning-based revisions (MacArthur, Graham, & Harris, 2004).

Graham (2006) indicated that the available data mostly supported one aspect of the third tenet: individual differences in planning behavior predict writing performance. He found, however, that revising behavior is generally unrelated to overall writing performance until high school or later, probably because younger children do not revise much (Fitzgerald, 1987). Subsequent research by Graham and colleagues (e.g., Graham et al.,

2019) provide even greater support for the positive relation between strategic behavior and writing, showing that intermediate grade students who are more planful and strategic are better writers than students who are less planful and strategic, even after controlling for writing knowledge, writing motivation, writing skills, reading skills, and gender.

The fourth tenet, teaching strategic behaviors improves writing, was strongly supported in Graham (2006) and subsequent analyses (e.g., Graham, Kiuhara, McKeown, & Harris, 2012). In a meta-analysis by Graham and Harris (2017) involving 42 true-and quasi-experiments conducted with students in grades 1 to 12, teaching students strategies for planning, revising, or both had a strong impact on improving overall writing quality (effect size = 1.26). A separate meta-analysis involving 53 single subject-design studies (Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013) also found positive effects of writing strategy instruction for writing quality, structural elements, and number of words written.

Another meta-analysis by Santangelo, Harris, and Graham (2013) provided further support for the importance of strategic behavior in writing. They reported that a variety of instructional procedures designed to support or enhance one or more strategic behaviors improved the quality of writing produced by students in grades 1 to 12. This included goal setting (effect size = 0.73), self-evaluation (effect size = 0.51), emulating models of good writing (effect size = 0.30), forming mental images (effect size = 0.76), and prewriting activities for generating and organizing information (effect size = 0.55). Graham and Harris (2017) also found that the process writing approach, which stresses the importance of engaging in planning, drafting, revising, and editing, improved the quality of grade 1 to 12 students’ writing (effect size = 0.34).

While the findings from the reviews above do not address all aspects of strategic writing behavior or the impact of such behavior in a broad range of different writing communities (as they are mostly limited to school contexts), they do support the contention that strategies and strategic processes are an important ingredient in becoming a stronger writer. They also provide strong evidence that instructional procedures aimed at enhancing one or more strategic behaviors can lead to better writing, especially when students are taught strategies for carrying out specific aspects of writing. This approach to improving students’ strategic writing behavior is commonly called writing strategy instruction, and it is examined next.

 
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