Coherence in EFL Student-Written Texts: Two Perspectives


  • Abdullah Shakir (Ph.D., University of Manchester, England) is Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics and Translation at Yarmouk University, Irbid, Jordan.


ABSTRACT What EFL school teachers view as most harmful to coherence in their student-written texts is an area which has received very little attention from EFL researchers in the Arab world. This article aims to explore this area and to identify the aspects of focus of a group of EFL teachers in Jordan in evaluating a student-written text for coherence.

Two EFL texts of general expository nature, drawn from a corpus of 45 texts written by first-year students in the English Department at Yarmouk University, were given to twenty-four EFL secondary school teachers. The teachers were asked to evaluate each text for coherence (on a scale of 1–25), and to record on a separate sheet the weaknesses which, in their view, impeded coherence in each text. The teachers' comments were then collected, categorized, and analyzed.

At a later stage, the two texts were analyzed for coherence and cohesion by the researcher. The analysis was based on the most recent developments in text linguistics. The rationale for the analysis was to investigate what rendered each text coherent or incoherent, and to find out to what extent the features the analysis revealed were taken into account by the teachers when they evaluated the texts.

The analysis of the teachers' comments showed that the majority of the comments were concerned with weaknesses related to sentence structure, although, as the analysis of the texts showed, such weaknesses were not the major factors behind breakdown of coherence in the two texts. The analysis revealed that the texts suffered, in addition to poor grammar, three major flaws:

1. aurality of the mode of presentation;

2. inability to stay with initial ideas and general statements, and lack of depth and substantiation;

3. deviation from the intended rhetorical function of the writing task.

The article concludes with a section on the implications drawn from the findings of the study and provides some suggestions regarding the teaching of writing at text level in an EFL context.