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Recognizing Multiplicity and Audience across the Disciplines: Developing a Questionnaire to Assess Undergraduates' Rhetorical Writing Beliefs

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How do students feel about expressing uncertainty in their academic writing? To what extent do they think about their readers as they compose? Understanding the enactment of rhetorical knowledge is among the goals of many rich qualitative studies about students' reading and writing processes (e.g. Haas & Flower, 1988; Roozen, 2010). The current study seeks to provide a quantitative assessment of student' rhetorical beliefs based on a questionnaire. This study reports on (1) the development of the Measure of Rhetorical Beliefs and (2) demonstration of the measure's construct validity and utility by comparing undergraduates' rhetorical and epistemological beliefs, as well as their composing process, across different majors. The new Measure of Rhetorical Beliefs (MRB) was administered to engineering, business, and liberal arts and science majors, along with the Inventory of Process in College Composition (Lavelle and Zuercher, 2001) and the Epistemological Belief Inventory (Schraw, Bendixen, and Dunkle, 2002). Findings suggest that rhetorical writing beliefs are a measurable construct distinct from, but related to, epistemological beliefs and composing practices and that students from different majors may have different rhetorical beliefs and composing practices. Implications for use of the Measure of Rhetorical Beliefs are discussed, to include further validation of the instrument and its potential use for research, program evaluation, and instructional practice.

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