Does Topic Matter? Topic Influences on Linguistic and Rubric-Based Evaluation of Writing


Nia Dowell, Sidney K. D'Mello, Caitlin Mills and Arthur C. Graesser

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Although writing is an integral part of education, there is limited knowledge on how assigned topics influence writing quality both in terms of micro-level linguistic features and macro-level subjective evaluations by human judges. We addressed this question by conducting a study in which 44 students wrote short essays on three different topics: traditional academic-based topics such as the ones used in standardized tests, personal emotional experiences, and socially charged topics. The essays were automatically scored on five linguistic dimensions (narrativity, situation model cohesion, referential cohesion, syntactic complexity, and word abstractness). They were also manually scored by human judges based on a rubric focusing on macro-level dimensions (i.e., introduction, thesis, and conclusion). The results indicated that topic-related differences were observed on both the rubric-based and linguistic assessments, although there were weak relationships between these two measures.


Writing quality; Linguistics; Coherence; Coh-Metrix; Cohesion