Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


What does “good writing” Really Mean? Linguistic Dimensions of Contrastive Rhetoric in Chinese and American Students’ College Essays




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



A perpetual intrigue in teaching writing is what counts as good writing. Composition specialists have designed rubrics to evaluate writing quality, rhetoricians have delineated patterns of clear thought, and linguists have looked to dexterity in the linguistic manipulation of texts. For writing teachers, these disciplinary perspectives guide them, largely at abstract levels, in informing students of characteristics of good writing. In the Chinese EFL context of teaching and judging writing, there is also a potential conflict of rhetorical traditions between the eight-legged orthodox of the East and five-paragraph linearity of the West. Kaplan's pioneering work on contrastive rhetoric has triggered a 40-year debate on the veracity of his thesis, while recent corpus-based research has identified clusters of co-occurring linguistic features of different registers. Yet, except for a cursory interdisciplinary esprit de corps where scholars of one field address the concerns of another, there is little effort in truly examining the interaction between a writer's control of linguistic skills and her rhetorical competence. This paper, based on a Sino-American joint study of 100 college essays written by Chinese and American students, explores the interrelatedness of linguistic skill and quality of writing. Through analysis of linguistic properties of student-produced texts and an rhetorical evaluation process, the research endeavors to reveal the following: 1) the relationship between linguistic felicity and rhetorical adroitness, 2) contrastive rhetorical patterns shown by Chinese and American college writers, and 3) pedagogical implications on what should be focused on in teaching English writing in both Chinese and American contexts.

Conference Name

16th World Congress of Applied Linguistics

Conference Location

Beijing, China

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