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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coherence-Building in Multiple Document Comprehension


The current study examined the extent to which the cohesion detected in readers’ constructed responses to multiple documents was predictive of persuasive, source-based essay quality. Participants (N=95) completed multiple-documents reading tasks wherein they were prompted to think-aloud, self-explain, or evaluate the sources while reading a set of four texts. They were then asked to write a source-based essay based on their reading. Natural Language Processing techniques were used to automatically analyze the cohesion of the constructed responses at both within- and across-documents levels. Results indicated that within-document cohesion was negatively related to essay quality, whereas across-documents cohesion was positively related to essay quality. Further, these relations differed by instructional condition such that strategic instructions to either self-explain or evaluate sources seemed to promote across-text integration, compared to thinking aloud. Overall, this study indicates that the cohesion of constructed responses to text can provide insights into the coherence of the mental representations readers construct while reading multiple documents.

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