What is it about?

Rhetorical Structure Theory is one of the many approaches to textual coherence. It assumes that the coherence of a text can be illustrated through a diagram where parts of the text are linked to each other to through relationships (e.g., causal, temporal). This study tests the claim of Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) that violations of the principles guiding the formation of such diagrams point to parts of a text where coherence seems disrupted to the reader. Previous studies have assumed the validity of this claim except Skoufaki (2009) and Ahmadi and Parhizgar (2017). The study reported here avoids the methodological shortcomings of these two studies and, consequently, makes a significant contribution to the testing of RST.

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Why is it important?

The present study’s finding that violations of RST diagram-formation principles predict coherence breaks may inform the teaching of writing and the assessment of writing skill. The findings of this study can inform teaching aiming to improve language learners’ understanding of coherence. Because of their visual impact, RST diagrams could help raise learners’ awareness of some kinds of coherence breaks.


This project builds on one that I conducted during my postdoctoral research fellowship at National Taiwan University.

Dr Sophia Skoufaki
University of Essex

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This page is a summary of: Rhetorical Structure Theory and coherence break identification, Text & Talk - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language Discourse Communication Studies, January 2020, De Gruyter, DOI: 10.1515/text-2019-2050.
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