Analyzing Topic Differences, Writing Quality, and Rhetorical Context in College Students’ Essays Using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count
Keywords:LIWC, assessment, machine analysis, essay compositions, rhetorical context.
Machine methods for automatically analyzing text have been investigated for decades. Yet the availability and usability of these methods for classifying and scoring specialized essays in small samples–as is typical for ordinary coursework–remains unclear. In this paper we analyzed 156 essays submitted by students in a first-year college rhetoric course. Using cognitive and affective measures within Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), we tested whether machine analyses could i) distinguish among essay topics, ii) distinguish between high and low writing quality, and iii) identify differences due to changes in rhetorical context across writing assignments. The results showed positive results for all three tests. We consider ways that LIWC may benefit college instructors in assessing student compositions and in monitoring the effectiveness of the course curriculum. We also consider extensions of machine assessments for instructional applications.
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