We conduct four main types of analysis. Example findings are on the Research Results page.
1) Genre Analysis:
We investigate the micro-purposes associated with different chunks of texts, the sequencing of these chunks, and the formatting that writers use. These features are part of the "genre conventions" - i.e., expectations that readers have for purpose, content, organization, and formatting in certain types of texts, such as a tech memo or a proposal. More specifically, we identify the “rhetorical functions” that writers express and how they organize them. “Rhetorical functions” are meanings such as “provide background context,” “report results of analysis,” or “make recommendations for design” – that is, the micro-purpose of a chunk of text that contributes to the overall purpose of the entire text. We compare practitioner and student versions of specific genres and identify weaknesses in student papers. After the use of one of our new "genre-based units," we analyze whether student papers are more effective in meeting the expectations for the genre.
2) Linguistic Analyses:
We investigate how students and practitoners use vocabulary and grammar. In some analyses, we do simple studies of word choices, such as misuse of vague terms or superlatives (e.g. a lot, best, ensure). In others, we consider a grammar choice, such as active vs passive voice. In still others, we examine the co-occurrence patterns of lingusitic features - in other words, how writers use many different language features at once. An especially noteworthy investigation has concerned the number of complex vs simple sentences writers use, considering whether there is a difference between the student papers and practitioner texts and what impact the student choices would likely have in engineering practice.
3) Grammar and Mechanics Errors:
We analyze the number of errors writers make in grammar and mechanics. We have analyzed senior-level student papers, junior-level student papers, and practitioner texts, asking these questions: Is there a statistically significant difference in the frequency of grammar and punctuation errors in papers written by practitioners, students at the senior level, and students at the junior level? How do any differences reflect concerns in engineering practice?
4) Holistic evaluations of effectiveness:
In phase 2 of the project, as we compare student papers written after the use of new teaching materials to previously written papers, we ask engineering practitioners to conduct holistic evaluations of papers' effectiveness. This measure allows us to see whether discrete changes in language features correspond with an improvement in overall effectiveness.