An evaluation of the effects of external writing feedback on design specific writing skills

Presented by: Sarah M. Urquhart and Marta Halaczkiewicz

Interior designers must effectively use a variety of communication methods (CIDA, 2014). In interior design education, focus is placed most heavily on teaching visual communication methods. While visual communication is critical in design, the accompanying written information should theoretically ground the design solution with an articulate rationale (Guerin et al., 1999). While research on facilitating articulate writing in design has increased slowly over the past several decades (Guerin et al., 1999; Beecher, 2006), this skill receives little focus in the classroom and students often struggle to articulate the rationale behind their designs. The goal of this study was to explore the effectiveness of external writing feedback via a classroom level university offered program in a freshman level interior design course. The research questions were: Would the intervention affect design specific writing skills and would any improvements in writing correlate with improvements in design skills?

Writing has long been presented as an effective means of enhancing learning. This approach of using writing to facilitate learning is often called writing-to-learn. Writing-to-learn is based in constructivism and the belief that students must actively reason with and construct their own knowledge about material presented in order to reach deep understanding (Klein, 1999).  Previous research indicates that writing affects learning and can produce better understanding of content between pre and post-test conditions. In addition, writing is thought to facilitate the transformation of knowledge between modes including visual to linguistic (Siegel, 1995), which is the aim for writing-to-learn in design. While these studies have been done in a variety of disciplines, few have been done looking at the effect of writing-to-learn based interventions in the interior design classroom. This is problematic because research in this area also indicates that learning outcome results tend to be discipline specific and cannot be easily generalized between areas of expertise (Klein, 1999).

A quasi-experimental design using a pretest, treatment, and posttest strategy was used to explore the effects of a structured writing intervention on design writing skills and correlations between improvements in writing and design abilities.  Our hypothesis was twofold: First that design writing improvement and design strength improvement will affect each other; secondly, feedback from writing experts outside the field of design increases the effect.

Students from two sections of a freshman level interior design course (N=112; See Table 1) completed the same assignments and were taught identical content by the same instructor. One section of the course was randomly selected to participate in a writing support program providing a writing tutor for every 10 students (See Appendix). Students in both sections turned in a rough draft (pretest) and final draft (posttest) for two design writing assignments. Students in the experimental section were required to work with a writing tutor prior to submitting a final draft. Students in the control section completed the assignment on their own. In addition, all students completed a final writing and design project without tutor assistance. Design work was scored based on strength of design by two trained raters before and after the intervention. Writing was scored by 2 trained raters and the ETS scoring engine.

Preexisting conditions were not likely compounding factors as no statistically significant relationship existed between pretest design and writing abilities in either section. Statistically significant correlations were found in posttest results between writing ability and design ability (p=.006) and design writing ability and writing ability (p=.001 See Appendix 1). While the writing assignments clearly strengthened student writing and design ability, participation in the intervention did not predict or increase the effect.


  • Beecher, M. (2006). Designing criticism: Integrating written criticism in interior design education. Journal of Interior Design, 31(3), 54-61.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation. (2014). Council for Interior Design Accreditation Professional Standards. CIDA.
  • Guerin, D., Olson, M., Zborowsky, T., & Lim, Y. (1999). Exploring writing-to-learn in design. Journal of Interior Design, 25(1), 26-36.
  • Klein, P. (1999). Reopening inquiry into cognitive processes in writing-to-learn. Educational Psychology Review, 11(3), 203-270.
  • Siegel, M. (1995). More than words: The generative power of transmediation for learning. Canadian Journal of Education, 20, 455-475.

Appendix File 1
Appendix File 2