David Wallace-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

From Intentions to Text: Developing, Implementing, and Testing Intentions in Writing

Author: David Wallace
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 1991

I began this study with the assumption that students' intentions, the conscious goals that they can articulate about their writing, are critical for writing research and pedagogy. The study investigates how students move from intentions to text by examining how they develop, implement, and judge the fulfillment of their intentions for writing. I asked two questions: (1) is there a relationship between the usefulness of the intentions that students develop and the effectiveness of their texts in meeting those intentions, and (2) can students judge the effectiveness of their texts in fulfilling their intentions?

To answer these questions, I asked 39 community college and university students to write a letter of application to a fictional job screening service. The writing assignment specified five criteria for the students to meet. From collaborative planning sessions, I drew measures of the students' development of initial intentions in response to the application criteria. Measures of the effectiveness of their texts were based on expert judges' assessments of their texts; measures of the students' ability to judge the success of texts in meeting the application criteria were drawn from post hoc interviews in which the students rated both their own and other students' texts.

The results indicate a consistent link between the measures of the usefulness of students' initial intentions and the effectiveness of their texts. That is, students who developed more useful initial intentions also tended to write more effective texts. There were less consistent effects for the school grouping. The results also indicated that the students were not good judges of the effectiveness of their own and other students' texts in meeting the application criteria. In two of the four analyses, the students showed a bias in favor of their own texts over the texts written by other students, and there were some tenuous relationships between the measures of usefulness of initial intentions and ability to judge, suggesting that students who developed more useful initial intentions also tended to be better judges of text effectiveness. The students identified problems in other students' texts that they could not see in their own texts.