The effects of rhetorical specification in writing assignments on EFL (English as a Foreign Language) writing
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The purpose of the present study was to investigate the influence of rhetorical specification in writing assignments on the writing performance of EFL students from above average universities in Taiwan. Rhetorical specification refers to the amount of information provided in the writing assignment with regard to the purpose of a composition, its topic, audience, and ways of presenting ideas. The research questions were (1) How do writing assignments with varying degrees of rhetorical specification affect the overall writing quality, the content, and the rhetorical structure? (2) How do writing assignments with varying degrees of rhetorical specification affect EFL writers with varying amounts of writing instruction? (3) How do writing assignments with varying amounts of rhetorical specification affect the use of Chinese writing features in EFL students' English texts? (4) How do students assess the usefulness of rhetorical specification? Participants were assumed to be at three levels of proficiency, ranging from basic to advanced: 60 Non-English major freshmen, 50 English major freshmen, and 57 English major juniors. Each participant composed two essays in response to two writing tasks: a writing assignment that contained specific information about topic, purpose, and audience, and a task that contained little rhetorical information. Repeated measures ANOVA, paired-samples T-tests, and Chi-square statistic were undertaken to examine the effects of prompt types on several writing features. Also, the researcher interviewed 12 participants to explore their evaluations of the rhetorical information. The findings of the study are: (1) EFL students across groups benefited from rhetorical specification with regard to content richness and effective rhetorical structure. (2) English junior students were the most successful in utilizing the rhetorical information to represent a developed rhetorical problem and to compose better texts. (3) Rhetorical specification enabled Chinese-speaking EFL students to conform to English writing norms with less transference of Chinese writing features. (4) Most students indicated that among the rhetorical elements, purpose specification was considered most valuable in composing more effective essays, although they also reported that addressing the purpose demands was a challenging task.
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