The essay writing skills of undergraduate students.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Students are often criticised for their poor writing ability, though few studies appear to have been made of tertiary level writing skills. The present enquiry i~ an attempt to determine whether students at the tertiary level in two Arts departments differed in their adoption of various techniques when writing essays as part of their formal in-term coursework. Also the importance of various essay features required by markers in the same two departments is investigated. Two studies were conducted. The principal study focussed on 276 undergraduate students in the Education and English Departments of the University of Canterbury who were enrolled for first- and third-year courses in 1978. Their responses to a 76 item Essay Writing Questionnaire were scored and factor analysed yielding ten substantially independent essay writing dimensions. Students' factor scores on these dimensions were tallied and used in a series of multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) in order to determine whether students varying in sex, age, status, qualifications, subject taken and year at university significantly differed in their adherence to the procedures or attitudes represented by each of the essay writing dimensions. An ancillary, but complementary, study was conducted which focussed on 12 staff members (six in each of the above departments) responsible for marking the essays of the students who participated in the main study. Their responses to a nine question Marking and Significant Features of Essays written by Undergraduate Students Questionnaire were analysed by comparing their comments. Emphasis was placed on their relative rankings of twenty positive ('ideal') and twenty negative ('inappropriate') essay features in order to determine the extent of agreement among the markers and between the departments regarding the importance of the essay features. The first study revealed several significant differences on some of the essay writing dimensions between the groups of students in their factor scores. Males rated themselves higher than females on two factors, while females rated themselves higher than males on two factors. Students taking English rated themselves higher on one factor than the Education students, while the Education students rated themselves higher than the English students on three factors. Students aged 21 or over rated themselves higher than those aged 20 or below on five factors. A significant interaction effect showed that a more highly qualified group of parttime students rated themselves lower on four factors than a less highly qualified group of part-time students. Some reasons for these differences are discussed. The second study indicated that staff in each department appeared to emphasise certain essay features more than others when compared to the other departments, although there was a reasonable measure of agreement among staff with respect to the importance of some essay features. Staff findings are used to inform the student study, particularly to assist interpretation of the differences between Education and English students. Finally some limitations and implications of the present investigation are discussed.