Reading and Writing

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 705–720 | Cite as

Beyond spelling: the writing skills of students with dyslexia in higher education

  • W. Tops
  • C. Callens
  • E. Van Cauwenberghe
  • J. Adriaens
  • M. Brysbaert


To have a clearer idea of the problems students with dyslexia may face during their studies, we compared writings of 100 students with dyslexia and 100 age matched control students in higher education. The aim of this study was to compare the writing of young adults with dyslexia and young adults without dyslexia. The study was carried out in Belgium with writers of Dutch. First, we studied the number and type of spelling errors, the quality of the texts produced, the use of words, and the handwriting, both in a précis writing task (writing a summary of an informative text) and in a dictation task (sentence writing). Our results showed medium to large effect sizes for spelling errors: d = 0.93 for morphosyntactic spelling errors, d = 0.55 for memory-related spelling errors, and a medium effect size for punctuation and capitalization errors, d = 0.40. Second, experts who were blind to the aims of the study were asked to judge the quality of the writing of both groups based on transcriptions that were free from spelling errors. The quality of the texts produced was judged lower for students with dyslexia than for the controls, d = 0.61 for text structure and d = 0.56 for agreeability, even though the number and types of words used by both groups were very much the same. There was no significant difference in the quality of the handwriting, d = 0.15. Given that remedial teaching has been shown to be effective for essay-writing skills, educational support along these lines may be helpful for students with dyslexia.


Adult dyslexia Dictation Précis writing Spelling Writing 



This study was made possible by an Odysseus Grant awarded by the Government of Flanders to MB. The authors thank Valérie Van Hees and Charlotte De Lange from Cursief for their help in the study and the recruitment of participants. They also thank Joke Lauwers for her assistance in testing the participants, and Annemie Desoete and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


  1. Agrestie, A. (2002). Categorical data analysis (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berninger, V. W., Fuller, F., & Withaker, D. (1996). A process model of writing development across the life span. Educational Psychology Review, 8, 193–218. doi: 10.1007/BF01464073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berninger, V., Nielsen, K. H., Abbott, R. D., Wijsman, E., & Raskind, W. (2008). Writing problems in developmental dyslexia: Under-recognized and under-treated. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 1–21. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2006.11.008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brus, B. T., & Voeten, M. M. (1999). Eén-Minuut Test (EMT) [One Minute Test]. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets.Google Scholar
  5. Callens, M., Tops, W., & Brysbaert, M. (in press). Cognitive profile of higher education students with an indication of dyslexia. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038081
  6. Castelijns, J., Hamers, J., & De Koning, E. (1994). Verkort Utrechts Classificatiesyteem voor Spelfouten (V-UCS): Verantwoording en Handleiding [Shortened Utrecht classification system for spelling errors: Manual and validation]. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  7. Connelly, V., Campbell, S., MacLean, M., & Barnes, J. (2006). Contribution of lower order skills to the written composition of college students with and without dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29, 175–196. doi: 10.1207/s15326942dn2901_9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cumming, G., & Finch, S. (2001). A primer on the understanding, use and calculation of confidence intervals based on central and noncentral distributions. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 61, 530–572. doi: 10.1177/0013164401614002.Google Scholar
  9. Defrancq, B., & Van Laecke, G. (2009). Leesbaar schrijven [Clear writing]. Antwerpen, Belgium: Garant.Google Scholar
  10. Depessemier, P., & Andries, C. (2009). Gletschr, Dyslexie bij +16- jarigen [Gletschr, dyslexia in young adults]. Antwerp, Belgium: Garant.Google Scholar
  11. Desoete, A., Brysbaert, M., Tops, W., Callens, M., De Lange, C., & Van Hees, V. (2010). Studeren met Dyslexie [Dyslexia in higher education]. Ghent, Belgium: Department of Diversity and Gender Ghent University.Google Scholar
  12. Farmer, M., Riddick, B., & Sterling, C. (2002). Dyslexia and inclusion, assessment and support in higher education. Philadelphia, PA: Whurr Publishers.Google Scholar
  13. Ghesquière, P. (1998). Algemene toets gevorderde spelling van het Nederlands (AT-GSN). Verantwoording en handleiding. Rapport van een specialisatiejaar: Onderzoek AT- GSN-dictee. [General Assessment of Advanced Dutch Spelling. Manual and validation. Research report of a specialised course]. Leuven, Belgium: Catholic University of Leuven.Google Scholar
  14. Goldberg, A., Russell, M., & Cook, A. (2003). The effect of computers on student writing: A meta-analysis of studies from 1992 to 2002. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 2. 4–51. Available at: jtla/article/viewFile/1661/1503.
  15. Gregg, N., Coleman, C., Davis, M., & Chalk, J. C. (2007). Timed essay writing: Implications for high-stakes tests. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40, 306–318. doi: 10.1177/00222194070400040201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hatcher, J., Snowling, M. J., & Griffiths, Y. M. (2002). Cognitive assessment of dyslexic students in higher education. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 119–133. doi: 10.1348/000709902158801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. S. (1980). Identifying the organisation of writing processes. In L. W. Gregg & E. R. Sternberg (Eds.), Cognitive processes in writing (pp. 3–30). Hillsdale, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  18. Iversen, S., Berg, K., Ellertsen, B., & TØnnessen, F. (2005). Motor coordination difficulties in a municipality group and in a clinical sample of poor readers. Dyslexia, 11, 217–231. doi: 10.1002/dys.297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kleijnen, R. (1992). Hardnekkige spellingfouten: Een taalkundige analyse [Persevering spelling errors: A linguistic analysis]. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.Google Scholar
  20. Kleijnen, R., Bosman, A., De Jong, P., Henneman, K., Pasman, J., Paternotte, A. Ruijssenaars, A., et al. (2008). Diagnose en behandeling van dyslexie. Brochure van de Stichting Dyslexie Nederland. Geheel herziene versie [Diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia. Brochure of the Dutch Dyslexia Foundation. Revision]. Bilthoven, The Netherlands: Stichting Dyslexie Nederland.Google Scholar
  21. Martensen, H., Maris, E., & Dijkstra, T. (2000). When does inconsistency hurt? On the relation between phonological consistency effects and the reliability of sublexical units. Memory and Cognition, 28, 648–656. doi: 10.3758/BF03201254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nicolson, R. I., & Fawcett, A. J. (2011). Dyslexia, dysgraphia, procedural learning and the cerebellum. Cortex, 47, 117–127. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.08.016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Osborne, P. (1999). Pilot study to investigate the performance of dyslexic students in written assessments. Innovations in Education and Training International, 36, 155–160. doi: 10.1080/1355800990360208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Stone, G. O., Vanhoy, M., & Van Orden, G. C. (1997). Perception is a two-way street: Feedforward and feedback phonology in visual word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 36, 337–359. doi: 10.1006/jmla.1996.2487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Swanson, L., & Hsieh, C.-J. (2009). Reading disabilities in adults: A selective meta-analysis of the Literature. Review of Educational Research, 79, 1362–1390. doi: 10.3102/0034654309350931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Therrien, W. J., Hughes, C., Kapelski, C., & Mokhtari, K. (2009). Effectiveness of a test- taking strategy on achievement in essay tests for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 14–23. doi: 10.1177/0022219408326218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. van den Bos, K., Spelberg, H., Scheepstra, A., & de Vries, J. (1994). De Klepel. Een test voor de leesvaardigheid van pseudowoorden: Vorm A en B [The Klepel. A reading test for pseudowords: Version A and B]. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Berkhout.Google Scholar
  28. Van den Bosch, A., Content, A., Daelemans, W., & De Gelder, B. (1994). Measuring the complexity of Writing Systems. Journal of Quantitative Linguistics, 1, 178–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Van der Sluis, S., de Jong, P. F., & van der Leij, A. (2007). Executive functioning in children, and its relations with reasoning, reading, and arithmetic. Intelligence, 35, 427–449. doi: 10.1016/j.intell.2006.09.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vanderswalmen, R., Vrijders, J., & Desoete, A. (2010). Metacognition and spelling performance in college students. In A. Efklides & P. Misailidi (Eds.), Trends and prospects in metacognition research (pp. 367–394). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Vellutino, F., Fletcher, M., Snowling, M., & Scanlon, D. (2004). Specific reading disability (dyslexia): What have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 2–40. doi: 10.1046/j.0021-9630.2003.00305.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Tops
    • 1
  • C. Callens
    • 1
  • E. Van Cauwenberghe
    • 1
  • J. Adriaens
    • 1
  • M. Brysbaert
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

Personalised recommendations