The bit in the middle and why it's important: A computational analysis of the linguistic features of body paragraphs

John C. Myers, Philip M. McCarthy, Nicholas D. Duran, Danielle S. McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


This study examines the relationship between the linguistic characteristics of body paragraphs of student essays and the total number of paragraphs in the essays. Results indicate a significant relationship between the total number of paragraphs and a variety of linguistic characteristics known to affect student essay scores. These linguistic characteristics (e. g., semantic overlap, syntactic complexity) contribute to two underlying factors (i. e., textual cohesion and difficulty) that are used as dependent variables in mixed-effect models. Results suggest that student essays with 5-8 paragraphs tend to be more linguistically consistent than student essays with 3, 4, and 9 paragraphs. Essays with totals of 5-8 paragraphs, considered by many educators to contain an optimal number of paragraphs, may include functionally and structurally similar paragraphs. These findings could aid writing researchers and educators in obtaining a clearer view of the relationship between the total number of paragraphs comprising an essay and the linguistic characteristics that affect essay evaluation. Consequently, writing interventions may become better equipped to pinpoint student difficulties and facilitate student writing skills by providing more detailed and informed feedback.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-209
Number of pages9
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011



  • Coh-metrix
  • Cohesion
  • Essay evaluation
  • NLP
  • Text difficulty
  • Writing ability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

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