Composition inverted : understanding coherence from the top down

Griffin, June Anne, Department of English, University of Virginia
Colomb, Gregory G., Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan B., Department of English, University of Virginia
Drucker, Joanna, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia
Martin, Worthy, Department of Computer Science, University of Virginia

"Composition Inverted: Understanding Coherence from the Top Down" argues that textual coherence is not a property of a text but rather a property of a reader's experience of a text. After first exploring the sources and consequences of writing studies' continued allegiance to inadequate notions of coherence, I offer a more detailed account of the reading process than is typically found in the literature of composition studies. I augment the commonly held assumption that reading is a constructive process (that is, readers do not passively receive the meanings embedded in texts but rather actively construct them) by looking to recent research in cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, and linguistics for more thorough descriptions of how people store and access knowledge. I describe reading as a cognitive activity that is both situated (shaped and determined by all aspects of the situation in which it occurs) and distributed (divided and shared between reader and text - the text acts as a cognitive artifact, participating in the computations necessary for comprehension and altering the kind of processing the reader engages in). Although much of the coherence experience depends on factors outside of a writer's control, there remains a great deal within her control - namely, the text. I discuss the structures within texts (rhetorical, argumentative, and textual) that readers rely on when they construct their understanding of a text. I argue that although understanding involves both bottom-up and top-down processing, a reader's sense of a text's coherence depends to offer explicit principles for guiding a writer's practice. more on top-level structures. By elucidating how readers understand texts, I am able I conclude by exploring the implications my theory of textual coherence offers for college-writing curricula. In particular, I propose a model for college-level writing curricula that modifies First Year Composition and Writing Across the Curriculum designs, better integrating the two.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
textual coherence, composition inverted

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:23.

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