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Examining Argumentative Coherence in Essays by Undergraduate Students of English as a Foreign Language in Mainland China and Their English Speaking Peers in the United States

By Lianhong Gao


I conducted this study to provide insights toward deepening understanding of association between culture and writing by building, assessing, and refining a conceptual model of second language writing. To do this, I examined culture and coherence as well as the relationship between them through a mixed methods research design. Coherence has been an important and complex concept in ESL/EFL writing. I intended to study the concept of coherence in the research context of contrastive rhetoric, comparing the coherence quality in argumentative essays written by undergraduates in Mainland China and their U.S. peers. In order to analyze the complex concept of coherence, I synthesized five linguistic theories of coherence: Halliday and Hasan’s cohesion theory, Carroll’s theory of coherence, Enkvist’s theory of coherence, Topical Structure Analysis, and Toulmin’s Model. Based upon the synthesis, 16 variables were generated. Across these 16 variables, Hotelling t-test statistical analysis was conducted to predict differences in argumentative coherence between essays written by two groups of participants. In order to complement the statistical analysis, I conducted 30 interviews of the writers in the studies. Participants’ responses were analyzed with open and axial coding. By analyzing the empirical data, I refined the conceptual model by adding more categories and establishing associations among them. The study found that U.S. students made use of more pronominal reference. Chinese students adopted more lexical devices of reiteration and extended paralleling progression. The interview data implied that the difference may be associated with the difference in linguistic features and rhetorical conventions in Chinese and English. As far as Toulmin’s Model is concerned, Chinese students scored higher on data than their U.S. peers. According to the interview data, this may be due to the fact that Toulmin’s Model, modified as three elements of arguments, have been widely and long taught in Chinese writing instruction while U.S. interview participants said that they were not taught to write essays according to Toulmin’s Model. Implications were generated from the process of textual data analysis and the formulation of structural model defining coherence. These implications were aimed at informing writing instruction, assessment, peer-review, and self-revision

Topics: Contrastive Rhetoric, Argumentative Coherence
Publisher: FIU Digital Commons
Year: 2012
OAI identifier: oai:digitalcommons.fiu.edu:etd-1664

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