Influences of Thematic Progression on Quality of EFL Argumentative Writing

Main Article Content

Sudthida Pavavijarn


Textual coherence is an important part of writing. This study examines whether textual coherence affects the quality of argumentative essays by evaluating papers written by 22 EFL university students. Firstly, the argumentative essays were evaluated by two raters using an AP English Argumentative Writing rubric available on Turnitin, an online program for checking plagiarism. Then, by drawing on Daneš’ (1974) Thematic Progression, the Theme and Rheme development in the essays were identified. Two essays – one from a low-score group and one from a high-score group – were selected as examples. The findings reveal that the low-score essays lacked a coherent thematic progression due to the frequent occurrences of brand-new Themes, and some constant Themes or Thematization of Rhemes. In contrast, the high-score essays included various patterns of thematic progression, including constant Themes, thematization of Rhemes, and several split Rhemes. The findings suggest that thematic progression, specifically with the choice and development of Themes, has influenced the coherence of whole essays, contributing to the essay scores. In addition, local cohesion strategies at a sentence level, particularly lexical cohesion, contributed to the connectivity of arguments and their supporting evidence that were expressed and realized in the forms of Themes and Rhemes. The concept of thematic progression can benefit the teaching and learning of argumentative writing in EFL contexts.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

Author Biography

Sudthida Pavavijarn, English Department, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

A lecturer of English language at the English Department, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. She is interested in the teaching and learning of EFL (academic) writing, reading-to-writing, and assessing writing.


Alagozlu, N. (2007). Critical thinking and voice in EFL writing. The Asian

EFL Journal, 9(3), 118-136.

Alarcon, J. B., & Morales, K. N. (2011). Grammatical cohesion in students’ argumentative essay. Journal of English and Literature, 2 (5), 114

– 127.

Bacha, N. N. (2010). Teaching the academic argument in a university EFL environment. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9, 229- 241.

Belmonte, I. A., & McCabe-Hildalgo, A. (1998). Theme-rheme patterns in L2 writing. Didáctica, 10, 13 – 31.

Bloor, T., & Bloor, M. (2004). The functional analysis of English: A Hallidayan approach (2nd ed.). Arnold.

Chanyoo, N. (2013). A Corpus-based study of connections and thematic progression in the academic writing of Thai EFL students. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Pittsburgh.

Chanyoo, N. (2018). Cohesive devices and academic writing quality of Thai university students. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 9(5), 994-1001.

Crossley, S. A., Varner, L. K., & McNamara, D. S. (2013). Cohesion-based prompt effects in argumentative writing. Proceedings of the twenty-sixth international Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society Conference. 202 – 207.

Daneš, F. (1974). Functional sentence perspective and the organization of the text. In Daneš, F. (Ed.), Papers on functional sentence perspective (106-128). Mouton.

Eggins, S. (2004). An introduction to systemic functional linguistics. Continuum.

Fontaine, L., & Kodratoff, Y. (2003). The role of thematic and concept texture in scientific text: Comparing native and non-native writers of English. 721&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Fries, P. H. (1995). Themes, methods of development, and texts. In Hasan, R. & Fries, P. H. (eds.), On subject and theme: A discourse

functional perspective. John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Gao, L. (2012). Examining argumentative coherence in essays by undergraduate students of English as a foreign language in mainland China and their English-speaking peers in the United States. Doctoral Dissertation: Florida International University.

Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2014). Halliday’s

introduction to functional grammar. Routledge.

Halliday, M. A. K., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. Longman.

Herriman, J. (2011). Themes and theme progression in Swedish advanced learners’ writing in English. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 10(1), 1-28.

Hirose, K. (2003). Comparing L1 and L2 organizational patterns in the argumentative writing of Japanese EFL students. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12(2), 181-209.

Ka-kan-dee, M., & Kaur, S. (2014). Argumentative writing difficulties of Thai English major students. West East Journal of Social Sciences, 3(2), 56 - 70.

Keskin, D., & Koçbaş Demir, Bünser Dilara. (2021). The role of theme and theme in thematic progression patterns in English argumentative essays by Turkish university students.

Kirkpatrick, A. (2017). How important is argument? Journal of Second Language Writing, 36, 81-82.

Le, D. T., & Wijitsopon, R. (2012). Using theme-rheme to analyze ESL/EFL learners’ writing. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 9, 2. paper/Ms.%20Le%20Thuy%20Dzuong.pdf

Liu, F., & Stapleton, P. (2014). Counterargumentation and the cultivation of critical thinking in argumentative writing: Investigating washback from high-stakes test. System, 45, 117-128.

Lu, D., & Xie, Y. (2019). The effects of a critical thinking oriented instructional pattern in a tertiary EFL argumentative writing

course. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(5),


McCagg, P. (1990). Toward understanding coherence: A response proposition taxonomy. In Connor, U. and Johns, A., (Eds.), Coherence: Research and pedagogical perspectives. TESOL.

Plakans, L., & Gebril, A. (2017). An assessment perspective on argumentation in writing. Journal of Second Language Writing,

, 85-86.

Qin, J., & Karabacak, E. (2010). The analysis of Toulmin elements in

Chinese EFL university argumentative writing. System, 38(3),


Qin, J., & Liu, Y. (2021). The influence of reading texts on L2 reading-to-write argumentative writing. Front. Psychol. 12:655601.

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.655601

Rosa, R. N., & Padang, F, U. (2007). Thematic progression as a means to keep cohesion in exposition text. Journal Bahasa dan Seni, 8 (2), 94-103.

Soleymanzadeh, L., & Gholami, J. (2014). Scoring argumentative essays

based on thematic progression patterns and IELTS analytic scoring criteria. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 98,


Stapleton, P. (2001). Assessing critical thinking in the writing of Japanese university students: Insights about assumptions, content

familiarity and biology. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]

University of Leicester.

Stapleton, P., & Wu, Y. (2015). Assessing the quality of arguments in students' persuasive writing: A case study analyzing the relationship between surface structure and substance. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 17, 12-23.

Thompson, G. (2014). Introducing functional grammar (3rd Ed.). Routledge.

Toadithep, N., & Kaewcha, N. (n.d.). Relationship between cohesive

devices and writing quality in Thai EFL students’ written works. ithep.pdf

Truc, D. D. H. (2019). Thematic progression problems in student

argumentative research writing. Proceedings: The 7th

Open TESOL International Conference 2019. 541 – 562.

Turnitin Program. (2021).

Wang, L. (2007). Theme and rheme in the thematic organization of

text: Implications for teaching academic writing. Asian EFL

Journal, 9(1), 164 – 176.

Wei, J. (2016). Theme and thematic progression in Chinese college students’ English essays. Springer.

Wei, J. (2017). Effects of instruction on Chinese college students’ use

of thematic progression in English essays. Journal of

Education and Practice, 8(8), 84-97.

Wingate, U. (2012). ‘Argument!’ helping students understand what essay writing is about. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11,


Yan, Y. (2015). On the patterns of thematic progression in the argumentative writing of non-English majors. US-China Foreign Language, 13(3), 222-229. doi:10.17265/1539-8080/2015.03.007

Zhang, Y. (2018). An investigation into the development of structure and evidence use in argumentative writing. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 8(11), 1441-1448.