Syntactic predictors for text quality in Dutch upper-secondary school students’ L1 argumentative writing

Jimmy van Rijt, Brenda van den Broek, Sven De Maeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Among other things, learning to write entails learning how to use complex sentences effectively in discourse. Some research has therefore focused on relating measures of syntactic complexity to text quality. Apart from the fact that the existing research on this topic appears inconclusive, most of it has been conducted in English L1 contexts. This is potentially problematic, since relevant syntactic indices may not be the same across languages. The current study is the first to explore which syntactic features predict text quality in Dutch secondary school students’ argumentative writing. In order to do so, the quality of 125 argumentative essays written by students was rated and the syntactic features of the texts were analyzed. A multilevel regression analysis was then used to investigate which features contribute to text quality. The resulting model (explaining 14.5% of the variance in text quality) shows that the relative number of finite clauses and the ratio between the number of relative clauses and the number of finite clauses positively predict text quality. Discrepancies between our findings and those of previous studies indicate that the relations between syntactic features and text quality may vary based on factors such as language and genre. Additional (cross-linguistic) research is needed to gain a more complete understanding of the relationships between syntactic constructions and text quality and the potential moderating role of language and genre.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-465
Number of pages17
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Argumentative writing
  • Dutch language
  • Secondary education
  • Syntactic complexity
  • Text quality


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