Linguistically-driven text formatting improves reading comprehension for ELLs and EL1s

Jack Dempsey, Kiel Christianson, Julie A. Van Dyke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Typical print formatting provides no information regarding the linguistic features of a text, although texts vary considerably with respect to grammatical complexity and readability. Complex texts may be particularly challenging for individuals with weak language knowledge, such as English language learners. This paper investigates the usefulness of a text format referred to as Linguistically-Driven Text Formatting (LDTF), which provides visual cues to grammatical structure for in-the-moment language support during reading. We assessed reading comprehension in adult English Language Learners after a two-session exposure to the new format (also called Cascade Format). Participants’ primary languages were Mandarin and Korean, which have substantially different syntactic structures from English. Ninety participants (30 L1 English, 30 L1 Mandarin, 30 L1 Korean) were randomly assigned to either the traditional or the LDTF format and read six English passages across two sessions within the same week. Comprehension was assessed via questions that probe sentence comprehension and global text properties. Participants also completed a TOEFL assessment, presented in either LDTF or traditional format. Bayesian analyses showed that the Cascade Format improved sentence comprehension relative to control participants for all language groups and experience levels. Effects on the TOEFL assessment, which taps inferencing and meta-linguistic skills, were not observed. Syntactic knowledge plays a fundamental role in reading comprehension, and LDTF appears to support comprehension by providing visual cues to this knowledge that can be used at the very moment of meaning construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalReading and Writing
StateE-pub ahead of print - May 12 2024


  • English language learners
  • Lingusitically-driven text formatting
  • Reading comprehension
  • Syntactic knowledge
  • Text formatting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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