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Iranian academics Paaws for thought

Iranian English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Learners’ Argumentative Writing Performance in Private Language Institutes is a clear well-written investigation, presented informally enough for even non-academic ELT journalists to follow. Its introduction includes detail on how most Iranian students will study English at school but often acquire their ‘communicative skills in the English language’ only through supplementary classes at private language schools. A total of 69 ‘argumentative essays’ (putting forth a point of view) in this study were written by students at one of these private languages schools – often preparing students for Ielts or Teofl. The authors note that little research had been done on this sector of Iranian EFL.

The English essays were scored by two EFL specialists trained to MA level, each with at least nine years’ experience, using the established Prototype Analytic Argumentative Writing Scale (Paaws).

The Paaws scale includes ‘fulfilment’ (whether it actually answered the question) and various other aspects of essay-writing including ‘mechanics’. Unlike readers from a US-style liberal arts academic culture where English composition is taught to native speakers, I had to look up elsewhere what ‘mechanics’ means in this context. It turns out not to involve cogwheels, but is the technical part of writing that includes spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.

The essays the Iranians wrote in this study excelled in ‘content’ and ‘organisation’, and were competent when it came to completing the task as per the question. They were adequate at grammar but let down by their inadequate grasp of the aforementioned ‘mechanics’. I would have liked the study to have included some actual examples of this.