What does a "good" essay look like? Rainbow diagrams representing essay quality

Whitelock, D.; Twiner, A.; Richardson, J. T. E.; Field, D. and Pulman, S. (2018). What does a "good" essay look like? Rainbow diagrams representing essay quality. In: Technology Enhanced Assessment (TEA 2017). Communications in Computer and Information Science (Ras, E. and Guerrero Roldán, A. eds.), Springer, Cham, 829 pp. 1–12.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97807-9_1


This paper reports on an essay-writing study using a technical system that has been developed to generate automated feedback on academic essays. The system operates through the combination of a linguistic analysis engine, which processes the text in the essay, and a web application that uses the output of the linguistic analysis engine to generate the feedback. In this paper we focus on one particular visual representation produced by the system, namely “rainbow diagrams”. Using the concept of a reverse rainbow, diagrams are produced which visually represent how concepts are interlinked between the essay introduction (violet nodes) and conclusion (red nodes), and how concepts are linked and developed across the whole essay – thus a measure of how cohesive the essay is as a whole. Using a bank of rainbow diagrams produced from real essays, we rated the diagrams as belonging to high-, medium- or low-scoring essays according to their structure, and compared this rating to the actual marks awarded for the essays. On the basis of this we can conclude that a significant relationship exists between an essay’s rainbow diagram structure and the mark awarded. This finding has vast implications, as it is relatively easy to show users what the diagram for a “good” essay looks like. Users can then compare this to their own work before submission so that they can make necessary changes and so improve their essay’s structure, without concerns over plagiarism. Thus the system is a valuable tool that can be utilised across academic disciplines.

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