Comparative analysis of letters and reports in an upper-division lab

Charles L. Ramey, Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Beth Thacker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


In redesigning the Modern Physics Lab at Strive University, we focused its purpose on developing writing skills. In doing that, we implemented the pedagogical method Letters Home, which offers students the ability to practice communication in the form of letters to experts and non-experts. Students were additionally tasked with writing traditional lab reports. This case study investigates 6 students’ completion of 6 writing assignments (letters and reports) to a real audience. We used the AAPT guidelines to develop a qualitative coding scheme with 8 categories, and we used a linguistic analysis software program called LIWC to evaluate the assignments’ authenticity, clout, tone, and analytical thinking. Our results indicate 6 of the 8 coding categories appear in at least 50% of the data. Also, letters to experts and non-experts indicated similarities in analytical thinking. Authenticity scores were higher for letters to non-experts than experts. Overall, letters and reports are similar in terms of both the AAPT-inspired codes and linguistic dimensions probed by LIWC. The similarities between the letters and lab reports from our study may be due to our curriculum redesign.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2020
EditorsSteven Wolf, Michael Bennett, Brian Frank
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9781931024372
StatePublished - 2020
EventPhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 22 2020Jul 23 2020

Publication series

NamePhysics Education Research Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1539-9028
ISSN (Electronic)2377-2379


ConferencePhysics Education Research Conference, PERC 2020
CityVirtual, Online


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