Psychology

Clarity of Writing

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Science  23 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5990, pp. 370
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5990.370-a
CREDIT: M. HICKS/SCIENCE

Teacher evaluations of nonstandardized homework can be vulnerable to various sources of bias. Handwritten work in particular may be susceptible to the valuation that the teacher assigns to good penmanship. Greifeneder et al. describe a systematic bias induced by more pleasing script. When university students were tasked with grading physics essays, work of similar quality was rated more highly (on average, 0.5 grade points higher on a 6-point scale) when legible than when hard to read. The authors suggest that this is due to fluency—that is, information from legible essays can be extracted more easily than from illegible ones. Awareness of the bias was shown to negate its effects, and calling attention to this potential bias would therefore seem particularly important when grading handwritten essays. Those with indecipherable penmanship may be well advised to opt for the keyboard if given the choice.

Soc. Psychol. Pers. Sci. 1, 230 (2010).

  • * Alexandra E. Levitt is an intern at Science.

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