Writing is an important tool, probably the most efficient L2 learning tool available for learning a language (Wolff, 2000, as cited in O’Brian, 2004). As Richards and Renandya (2002) state, one of the most difficult skills for L2 learners to master is the writing skill, which its difficulty lies in generating and organizing ideas and also, in translating those ideas into a readable text.
The National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges (2004) described writing as a threshold skill for employment and promotion and indicated that people who cannot write well are less likely to be hired, retained, and/or promoted.
Historically, those engaged in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) have given little sustained attention to the development of the writing ability in the learners. According to Blaya (1997), most EFL practitioners have taken the position that writing is a secondary or less crucial skill than listening, speaking, and reading. He further states that despite a large number of studies analyzing the way writers compose in second language settings, research on EFL writing is quite scarce.
The complexity of the writing skill and the wrongly-held views about writing as being a secondary skill may account for the paucity of EFL writing research. Among the small number of researches in the realm of writing, only few have been conducted to deal directly with the instructional procedures for teaching second language (L2) writing (e.g., Bougey, 1997; Terry, 1989; Wei, Shang, &Briody, 2012).
Since writing in the L2 is a challenging task for EFL learners, it is imperative that they should be equipped with the strategies and skills with which they are better capable of controlling their own learning and improving their writing.
Accuracy is generally defined as syntactic, lexical and mechanical correctness, as opposed to other writing skills such as the organization of ideas, style, rhetoric and the like (Semke, 1984). When focusing on grammatical accuracy, one contentious aspect of pedagogy for foreign language writing is effective error correction, or corrective feedback. Accordingly, to mark or not to mark, when to mark, how to mark, and what to mark, along with something as seemingly insignificant as what color of ink to use for marking become viable issues in error correction of writing performance in a foreign or second language (Semke, 1984; Dukes &Albanesi, 2013).
In terms of writing prompt, there is lack of studies that this issue can be considered as a problem also as a novelty to the present studies. Prompting and its different categories such as bare and prose writing prompt has been defined before. In a review of literature in L1 writing, Huot (2005) discusses a number of prompt factors that affect writing tests’ scores including, among others, discourse mode or purpose for writing (Hoetker, 2000; Quellmaiz, Capell, & Chou, 1982), and degree of rhetorical specification (Brossell, 2000). Defining what is meant by prompt difficulty is not as straightforward as it may seem. Prompt difficulty is usually thought of in terms of scores, that is, prompt that elicit lower scoring essays are considered more difficult than those that elicit essays receiving higher scores.
1.1. Background and Purpose
The application of English as an international language has been well known in any field of life. Four skills of this language are divided into two categories, productive skills (speaking and writing) and receptive skills (listening and reading). Within the productive skills like writing, the term accuracy is of prime importance. Writing accuracy refers to the accurate form of writing. In fact in writing accuracy, the focus is on correct use of grammar in the writings.
Writing accuracy has been studied by different researchers. For example, Rajabi and Dezhkam (2014) in a study entitled “the effect of explicit grammar instruction on improving writing accuracy” aimed to discover the impact of explicit grammar instruction on the writing accuracy of 70 computer Software major students studying English as a general English syllabus in Shahid Beheshti University at undergraduate level in Tehran as an EFL context.. The results showed that in the long run, spotlighted explicit grammar instruction as a scaffolding device provided a fertile ground for students to improve writing accuracy.
One important way to achieve this optimal goal is through different testing strategies or prompts such as bare and prose prompts in order to raise learners’ awareness of generic features such as rhetorical structures, discourse markers, the relation between the writer-reader, purpose of writing, voice, topic expectations, and medium of communication, and making these parts of their schemata. In testing situations, the stimulus for the student to respond to is referred to as a prompt. Bare prompt is a type of writing stimulus (topic) containing nothing more than pure sentences requiring writers to write about a subject. Prose prompt is a writing stimulus (topic) which presents a model of a paragraph or more of a similar type of writing to show the writers how to write about the subject. Regarding the key terms, the current study aims at exploring the effect of bare and prose prompt on the writing accuracy of Iranian EFL learners at upper-intermediate level.
As stated before, many EFL teachers complain and wonder why their students do not show considerable improvement in their writings every time they check the students’ writings. This shortcoming on the part of a student’s maybe partly due to personality traits and partly due to atmosphere of the class which is more traditional and teacher-centered, both in terms of instruction and testing. Due to the lack of studies in the area of testing in general and prompts in writing in particular, this study aims at exploring the short and long term effectiveness of bare and prose prompts on writing accuracy of EFL upper-intermediate level learners in a context like Iran.