Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Information

Major Professor

Carol Tenopir

Committee Members

Dania Bilal, Cindy Welch, Daniela M. Corbetta


This study explored the relationship between how students are taught to write in first-year English composition classes and what they are expected to read as part of the general education requirements at a publically-funded large university in the southeast (PLUS), and then to determine whether a gap exists. If a gap is found to exist between the preparation of students and their ability to read material that has been assigned by the teaching faculty, these students are less likely to be considered information literate by any rubric.

This study uses a mixed-methods approach. Content analysis is employed to examine the assigned readings students encounter, and interviews are conducted to explore how students make sense of the academic writings assigned in general education classes. Research questions included (1) What are the overall structures of both (a) instruction composition and (b) scholarly journal articles assigned for reading in subsequent general education classes in the disciplines of psychology and history at PLUS? (2) How can these structures be identified? (3) What are the top-level structural patterns of composition within these two academic disciplines and how do they differ? and (4) Do these differences create contradictions in how students are taught to write in freshmen composition courses and the composition of the journal articles they are expected to read in their required general education classes?

Thirty-one texts taken from general education syllabi were analyzed for incidence and placement of specific structural elements such as topic sentences and signal words.

This study also explored perceptions of these differences from the standpoint of college students. Interviews of twenty-two students were conducted using Dervin’s Sense Making Methodology. These interviews were analyzed in terms of situations, gaps, bridges, outcomes, as well as thematic concepts that consistently arose during the interviews.

Significant differences existed between readings from English Composition classes and assigned scholarly journal articles in history and psychology in incidence and placement of topic sentences, use of signal words or phrases, and readability. In addition, thematic analysis of the interviews of students found that they experienced gaps between their expectations of text composition and their experience reading assigned journal articles.

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