Corpora in assessing students writing
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Corpora in assessing students’ writing. Elena Tarasheva, PhD New Bulgarian University. Conclusions at last year’s BETA conference. Method and effect of the previous study. 2 corpora: students’ writing – film analysis; 1 st & 2 nd draft

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Corpora in assessing students’ writing

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Corpora in assessing students’ writing

Elena Tarasheva, PhD

New Bulgarian University

Conclusions at last year’s BETA conference

Method and effect of the previous study

2 corpora: students’ writing – film analysis; 1st & 2nd draft

Analysis of the message of Michael Palin’s Travel series about Eastern Europe

The first draft corpus revealed features of informal style, lack of cohesive devices through Key words; Concordancing revealed racial language.

The second draft showed improvement

Corpora and method for this study

  • Students’ summaries of a text; 300 words long

  • The text for the summary

    Key words for the summaries are compared to the key words for the text

    Concordancing reveals how each key word is used for the summaries and in the original

    Word lists suggest common mistakes in the writing

The corpora

  • 13 student summaries

  • 1st year students at Sofia University

  • Language proficiency – C1

  • Taught about cohesion, coherence, linking devices, text flow

  • 4 hours of teaching per week

  • The summary was set as a homework. The work was submitted via the electronic platform Moodle


  • tokens (running words) in text2,667

  • types (distinct words)729

  • type/token ratio (TTR)27.33

  • standardised TTR basis1,000

  • mean word length (in characters)4.99

  • sentences2,792

  • mean (in words)18.99

  • paragraphs377

  • mean (in words)100.93

Key words

  • Calculated via a statistical procedure

  • An automatic function of The Word Smith

  • Compares the frequency list of a task corpus to the frequency list of a balanced corpus – in this case: the British National Corpus

  • The words with a frequency higher than in the balanced corpus tend to show the ‘about-ness’ of a text, specific language idiosyncrasies, particulars of the style etc.

  • The words with a frequency lower than in the balanced corpus show what the author avoided

Key words in the original

Key words in the summaries

  • Rhetoric

  • We

  • Writing

  • Radical

  • Writer

  • Toward

  • Our

  • Conservative

  • Student

  • Composition

  • Honest

  • Coherence

  • Learns

  • Rhetoric

  • Writing

  • Conservative

  • Writer

  • Radical

  • Liberal

  • Coherence

  • Text

  • Composition

  • Examples

  • Author

  • Doesn

  • s


  • All the cases when a word is used in the corpus

  • The word is highlighted

  • The context to the left and right is shown

  • The concordances can be arranged to criteria pre-set by the researcher – L or R, -2, +3 etc.

The degree of formality

The possessive ‘s

The Use of linking devices

Linking devices

Linking devices


  • Automatically calculated by the Word Smith

  • Words which occur together

  • The number of words can be pre-set – 3, for this study, but it can be 4, 5, 6

Major key words in context

Original collocates

Summary collocates

A missing key word


  • In this case – arranged according to -L1

  • Because the word is a noun and we are interested in the attributes used with it

  • If it was a verb and we wanted to see what objects follow, then we would arrange for +R1



Relative clauses

Relative clauses

Language Functions

Language functions

Negative keyness




  • Comparing the key word lists of a text and its summary reveal whether the gist of the text has been grasped

  • Concordances show differences in focus, suggests possible misunderstandings

  • Word lists allow assessing the acquisition of grammatical features, such as relative clauses, linking words etc.

  • High key-ness can reveal language functions

  • Word lists also reveal adherence to a style

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