THE EFFECTS OF FORMAT AND NUMBER OF ARGUMENTS ON READING COMPREHENSION OF COLLEGE UNDERGRADUATES

DIANA JOY STONE, Fordham University

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of varying the format and the number of propositional arguments in text on the comprehension of college undergraduates. Passages written in standard format text were altered into a list format so that sentence components were presented on successive lines of print. In addition, passages contained either few or many arguments within propositions. Comprehension was measured by the number of propositions a subject was able to recall in writing.^ The theoretical foundation for the study was based upon Kintsch's theory that information can be represented propositionally, and that comprehension of text can be altered by the number of different arguments contained within propositions. It is further based upon the research findings of Frase, and Schwartz, Fisher, and Frase that text meaningfully segmented into a list format is more comprehensible than is standard format text.^ One hundred twenty college students attending Montclair State College in New Jersey, who scored one-half a standard deviation above, or one-half a standard deviation below, the mean on the reading comprehension subtest of The Diagnostic Reading Test: Survey Section were selected as subjects for this study and assigned into two groups, according to reading ability. The subjects were then randomly assigned from within the larger groups of skilled and unskilled readers, to the experimental groups.^ The experimental materials consisted of a booklet containing four passages, two written in standard format text and two in list format text. One passage in each format contained few arguments and one passage contained many arguments. The passages were alternated with blank pages for subjects' written recalls of the text. A proposition text base of 30 propositions was used to generate each of the passages. The passages written in standard format text were typographically manipulated into a list format, so that sentence components appeared on successive lines of print. The four passage conditions were: standard format text with many arguments within propositions, standard format text with few arguments within propositions, list format text with many arguments within propositions, list format text with few arguments within propositions.^ A three-way analysis of variance with repeated measures on two factors was performed on the number of propositions recalled with text format, number of arguments, and reading ability as the independent variables. The F ratios for reading ability, format, and arguments and the interaction between format and ability were significant at the .01 level.^ The findings indicated that: (a) scores for list format text groups were significantly higher than scores for standard format text groups; (b) fewer arguments within propositions in passages yielded significantly higher recall scores than passages written with many arguments; (c) the scores of skilled readers were significantly higher for list format text than for standard format text.^ A major conclusion was that skilled readers were able to utilize list format text to facilitate comprehension, while unskilled readers did not gain any advantage from the manipulated text. In addition, the number of arguments presented in a passage was a critical element affecting comprehension. The findings of the current study suggest that it is easier for subjects to process, comprehend, and recall information in passages written with few arguments than for those passages written with many arguments. It is further suggested that text written with many arguments, despite a manipulated format, overloads even the skilled readers' ability to comprehend. ^

Subject Area

Education, Reading

Recommended Citation

DIANA JOY STONE, "THE EFFECTS OF FORMAT AND NUMBER OF ARGUMENTS ON READING COMPREHENSION OF COLLEGE UNDERGRADUATES" (January 1, 1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8120079.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8120079

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