Viewing written work using the five filters of accuracy, brevity, clarity, objectivity and formality provides a pragmatic way to respond to academic and scientific writing. The five-filters approach makes it easy for novice writers to understand both what needs to be done and how they can do so. The key to responding to writing effectively is to provide writers with actionable easy-to-understand feedback.
Teachers of academic and scientific writing may be faced with multiple submissions by many students over a semester. Teachers of writing need to maintain a work-life balance, and so there is invariably a trade-off between quantity and quality of responses. The expectations of writers vary; some valuing a quick turnaround with pithy comments while others prefer to wait longer for more detailed comments.
In order to write appropriately, it is necessary to be able to adhere to the expected conventions of the target genre in terms of content, form and format. A template analysis (King, 2004) of the pedagogic literature on scientific writing was conducted which uncovered three major criteria: accuracy, brevity and clarity; and two minor criteria: objectivity and formality.
Practical applications in which writers, peers and teachers can harness the five filters will be demonstrated. No-tech, low-tech and high-tech ways to harness the five-filters approach will be shared. The high-tech method uses a genre-specific online automated error detector tailored for writers of short articles in computer science. The errors for this detector were extracted from a learner corpus of all computer science theses (n = 629) submitted from 2014 in the University of Aizu, Japan. Where possible, regular expressions and easy-to-understand actionable advice were created for each error. Scripts were written that automatically colour, highlight, and display advice on the matched strings. A web interface was created to enable text submission around the clock.
Responding to scientific writing using the five-filters approach
Center for Language Research, University of Aizu
Responding to scientific writing
using the five-filters approach
1. Background: responding to scientific writing
2. Pedagogic literature: survey and analysis
3. Five filters: description
4. Practical applications:
A. No-tech: paper-based
B. Low-tech: word processor-based
C. High-tech web-based
Teacher or student?
Write thesis (i.e. short research article) or don`t graduate
• Reluctant to ask for help
• do not read feedback (e.g. thesis morphed)
• misinterpret feedback
• cannot understand feedback. (e.g. illegible, too pithy)
Busy or lazy
• Time eater (one-many ratio)
• Predictable surface-level mistakes
• Expectations of “correction”
• Intended vs. perceived message
• Lack of empirical evidence
1: Background: How to respond
Some of the choices
• product-focus vs. process-focus
• positive aspects vs. negative aspects Sugaring the pill (Hyland & Hyland, 2001).
• grammar vs. style - Teachers tend to focus on errors (Lee, 2008).
• all vs. some
• first instance vs. each instance
• teacher vs. peer vs. self
• text vs. audio vs. video
• code vs phrases vs. full sentences
• discontinuous vs. continuous
• stand-alone vs. consultation
• group vs. individual
• open (all students) vs. closed (only one student)
• direct vs. indirect
• automated vs. manual
• same-day vs. next-day vs. delayed
• actionable vs. not actionable
• Immediately better vs. long-term focused
Hyland, F. & Hyland, K. (2001).
Sugaring the pill: Praise and
criticism in written feedback.
Journal of Second Language
Writing 10, 185-212.
Lee, I. (2008). Understanding
teachers` written feedback
practices in Hong Kong
secondary classrooms. Journal of
Second Language Writing, 17 (2),
1. Background: Errors
Brown , H. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Edge, J. (1990). Mistakes and correction. Harlow: Longman.
Orr, T., & Yamazaki, A. K. (2004). Twenty problems frequently found in English research papers
authored by Japanese researchers. In Professional Communication Conference Proceedings
International (pp. 23-35).
Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language
Teaching, 10(3), 209-231
• Intralingual vs. interlingual errors (Selinker, 1972; Brown, 2000)
• Accidental slips, ingrained errors vs. attempts (Edge, 1990)
• Learner-induced vs. teacher-induced
Form and frequency
• Lexical, grammatical vs. discoursal
• Grammatical category (Orr & Yamazaki, 2004)
• Intrusive vs. non-intrusive errors
• Errors that lead to rejection/failure vs. other errors My focus
1: Background: Reasons for rejection
Bordage, 2001; McKercher et al, 2007; Pierson, 2004; Thrower,
2012 and others report the main reasons as:
• Flawed (method, analysis, etc.)
• Poor language My focus
Bordage G. (2001). Reasons reviewers reject and accept manuscripts: the strengths
and weaknesses in medical education reports. Acad Med, 76(9), 889–896
McKercher B, Law R, Weber K, Song H, Hsu C (2007). Why referees reject
manuscripts. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 31(4): 455-470
Pierson D.J. (2004). The top 10 reasons why manuscripts are not accepted for
publication. Respiratory Care, 49(10): 1246-52.
Thrower, P. (2012). Eight reasons I rejected your article. Elsevier connect.06
2. Pedagogic literature
King, N. (2004). Using templates in the thematic analysis of text. In C.Cassell & G. Symon (Eds.),
Essential guide to qualitative methods in organizational research (pp. 256–270). London: Sage.
• Survey of all English-language books on scientific writing provided
in national research institution for researchers
• Survey of top ten web results using keywords provided by Japanese
• Used template analysis (King, 2004) and coded advice according to
• Refined code during analysis (e.g. tense grammar accuracy)
cf. Grounded approach – Template analysis – Content analysis
• 15 English language books on scientific or research writing
• 5 catch-all groups
Type Typical problem areas
Accuracy* mistakes in facts, meaning, grammar, usage
Brevity* too many words to say something simple
Clarity* vague or ambiguous terms
Objectivity overly subjective terms
Formality abbreviations, contractions and informal
3. Five filters
* Initial coding used only three types.
Type Example errors
Accuracy The population of Japan is 12,734,100 
Brevity …providing the user with various XXX and
asking him/her to...
Clarity Referring to Smith , Jones notes that
Objectivity We are confident that XXX will become…
Formality A bunch of IT engineers collaborated and
3. Five filters: example errors
Rule-based pattern matching
1. Writer inputs text.
2. Text is searched.
3. Errors are identified.
4. Actionable feedback is displayed.
5. Writer acts on feedback.
Specific genre with high generic integrity (Bhatia, 1993)
• can target to user errors
• can rule out unsuitable phraseologies unlike MS and
Grammarly , e.g. There happened (to be a solution).
629 graduation theses
(2014 – 2017)
Error collection and
Identify, classify and
Design, develop, deploy
1. The population of Japan is 12,734,100 .
2. There are two types of… First,.. Second, ..Third,..
3. All students …
4. XXX will play a key factor in the near future.
5. form XX to YY
6. p < 0.5 cf. (p < 0.05) cf. (p = 0.03)
1. Factual errors related to world knowledge
2. Factual errors related to research topic
3. Overgeneralization errors
4. Overly bold claims
5. Spelling and grammar errors, esp. LaTeX users
6. Statistical errors
1. The concept that was chosen as the primary
focus of this research is XXX
2. ..providing the user with various XXX and asking
him/her to XXX.
3. We analyze XXX regarding the XXX qualities, XXX
qualities and XXX qualities.
1. Using multiple vague words
2. Redundant words
3. Repeated words
1. XXX is something which is XXX from XXX of
somewhere of, is something which XXX
2. Referring to Smith , Jones notes that he…
3. XXX found two AAA and one BBB, which CCC
4. The journal plans to publish this paper were just a
*not in corpus
1. We are confident that XXX will become XXXX
2. We are pleased to announce that XXX
3. …such as services to your XXX, to your XXX, and
* ‘taming’ one’s subjectivity (Peshkin,1988)
Peshkin, A. (1988). In search of subjectivity. One`s own.
Educational Researcher, 17 (7), 17-21.23
1. Focus on people & feelings, not things & ideas
2. Emotive wording
3. Excessive personalization, e.g. use of pronouns
1. To be more precise, act doesn’t directly cause
the effect (E).
2. This is the RQ of this paper.
3. They launched the website right after the
Online writing tool: Corpus-based error detector
• Less intrusive
• Key given outside text
• Reduces repetition of text
• Enables specific feedback
e.g. C2-1, C2-2, C2-3
• Key given outside text
• Reduces repetition
Benefit for students
• Bitesize actionable filters
• Great for multiple drafts
• Online tool: Accessible anytime anywhere
Benefit for teachers
• Reduces repetitive “correction”
• Time-saving so can focus on deeper
learning (or your own research)
Any questions, comments