Using Diagrams in Writing Explanations: How Crucial is
Instruction for Such Use to be Beneficial?

Emmanuel Manalo, Ouhao Chen, and Jin Wang

Full paper


The purpose of this study was to examine (1) the benefits, or otherwise, of asking students to use a diagram in writing explanations of what they have learned, and (2) the extent to which instruction and practice may be necessary for such use to be beneficial. The participants were 45 undergraduate university students for whom English was a foreign language (EFL). Many EFL students experience some challenges in communicating in the language they are learning, so these students were deemed ideal as participants for this study. Data were collected in three phases, during each of which the students were asked to read a passage and then construct an explanation of it in English. In Phases 2 and 3 they were asked to include at least one diagram in their explanation and, prior to Phase 3, they were provided instruction and practice in the use of various kinds of diagrams. Results revealed that representation of key points in text generally decreased, while representation in diagrams increased. More importantly, the combined number of key points represented in the explanations increased across the three phases. However, there were indications that the kind of diagram required mattered, and that students may need more instruction and practice in the construction of more abstract diagrams (e.g., arrays in tables).

2 Replies to “A1”

  1. I think diagrams have the advantage of conveying specific information (e.g., distance) without being redundant. I wondered whether the training of diagrams reduced redundancy in the text.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Mari. Yes, we found that with training, the students not only increased in their visual representation of important information (using diagrams), but there was also a corresponding decrease in text representation. There was less duplication of representations after instruction, and more of the key points were represented (even when duplication was eliminated). (We conducted other analyses that we were not able to report within the 3-page limit of Abstract-only submissions.) Thanks again:)

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