Syntactic Complexity of Reading Content Directly Impacts Complexity of Mature Students’ Writing

Yellowlees Douglas, Samantha Miller


Increasingly, schools and colleges of business focus on the quality of their students’ writing, reflecting complaints from business and industry about the quality of writing of entry-level employees. These concerns about student writing have led to some changes in the curricula and admittance of students into graduate programs, including analytical writing essays on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). However, research also suggests that reading content and frequency may exert more significant impacts on students’ writing than writing instruction and frequency. This study surveyed a cohort of MBA students on their regular reading content and sampled their writing. We then used algorithm-based software to assess the syntactic complexity of both reading content and writing samples. Our findings reveal strong correlations between students’ most common reading content and their writing on widely-used measures of writing sophistication: mean sentence length and mean clause length. Several mechanisms may account for the dramatic influence exerted by reading content on mature students’ writing—including synchrony, priming, and implicit learning. But, irrespective of these mechanisms, undergraduate and graduate programs in business should emphasize ongoing reading of syntactically complex content both during and after students’ schooling to address the sophistication of their writing.

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International Journal of Business Administration
ISSN 1923-4007(Print) ISSN 1923-4015(Online)


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