Baseline assessment in writing research: A case study of popularization discourse in first-year undergraduate students
Keywords:baseline assessment, popularization discourse, student writing, science communication, higher education
In popularization discourse, insights from academic discourse are recontextualized and reformulated into newsworthy, understandable knowledge for a lay audience. Training in popularization discourse is a relatively new and unexplored research topic. Existing studies in the science communication field suffer from under-utilized baseline assessments and pretests in teaching interventions. This methodological problem leads both to a lack of evidence for claims about student progress and to a gap in knowledge about baseline popularization skills. We draw the topic into the realm of writing research by conducting a baseline assessment of pre-training popularization skills in first-year undergraduate students. Undergraduate science communication texts are analyzed to identify instances of popularization strategies using a coding scheme for text analysis of popularization discourse. The results indicate a lack of genre knowledge in both academic and popularized discourse: textual styles are either too academic or overly popularized; the academic text is misrepresented; and the essential journalistic structure lacking. An educational program in popularization discourse should therefore focus on the genre demands of popularization discourse, awareness of academic writing conventions, the genre change between academic and popularized writing, the role of the student as a writer, and stylistic attributes.
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