Complex Question Phrases

Some question structures were changed from complex question phrases to simple question words.

Original: At which of the following times . . . ?

Revision: When . . . ?

Original: Which is the best approximation of the number . . . ?

Revision: Approximately how many . . . ?

In the first example, the complex question phrase in the original version was replaced with a single question word in the revision. The single-word structure is simpler syntactically, and the placement of the question word at the beginning of the sentence gives it greater salience. The longer question phrases occur with lower frequency, and low-frequency expressions are generally harder to read and understand (Adams, 1990).

Concrete versus Abstract or Impersonal Presentations

In some instances, an abstract presentation mode was made more concrete.

Original: The weights of three objects were compared using a pan balance. Two comparisons were made . . .

Revision: Sandra compared the weights of three objects using a pan balance. She made two comparisons . . .

In this example, the problem statement was made more story-like by the introduction of “Sandra.” Abstract or nonsituated items may employ the passive voice, but not all passive constructions are abstract or nonsituated; abstract or impersonal presentations may also employ modals or generic nominals, for example. A problem expressed in concrete terms may be easier for students to understand than an abstract problem statement (see, e.g., Lemke, 1986).

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