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Pajares, Frank. Writing Self-Efficacy. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 2003. Posted 3/2/2015.


Pajares, Frank. “Self-Efficacy Beliefs, Motivation, and Achievement in Writing: A Review of the Literature.” Reading and Writing Quarterly 19 (2003): 139-58. Web. Educational researcher Frank Pajares of Emory University, writing in Reading and Writing Quarterly in 2003, reviews twenty years of research into Albert Bandura’s concept of “self-efficacy” as it relates to student writing. Self-efficacy, which measures one’s belief in one’s ability to complete or succeed at tasks, usually in particular areas, has been more widely studied as it affects success in mathematics and science, but Pajares reports increasing interest from language arts researchers since the 1980s as more scholars address the social and emotional aspects of writing (141-42). Findings indicate that self-efficacy, more than any other source of motivation, influences career choices and predicts success at writing, influencing such contributors to overall success as willingness to take on new, challenging tasks; willingness to persevere despite obstacles or failure; and ability to enjoy or value an activity (140). In fact, Pajares reports, individuals’ confidence in their abilities to succeed at a task may more strongly affect whether or not they succeed than their actual competence level (153). People acquire their self-beliefs from four sources: their sense of previously having “mastered” similar tasks; comparisons of their successes with those of others; their perceptions of others’ judgments about their abilities; and their experiences of stress or anxiety in relation to the task (140-41). Pajares cites findings that other kinds of self-belief that are commonly seen as components of motivation become “non-significant” when self-efficacy is included as a variable. These include writing apprehension; the student’s view of writing as a valuable activity; the student’s view of him- or herself as able to “self-regulate” by self-monitoring and independently adopting strategies for improvement; “self-concept,” a more generalized perception of one’s overall “self-worth”; and “achievement goals,” which capture why students want to succeed, such as intrinsic satisfaction from learning itself rather than a desire for the extrinsic satisfaction of being judged favorably by others (146-48). In other words, these factors may be a result of the individual’s level of self-efficacy rather than contributors to it. Only “preperformance assessment”—a measure of such factors as writing aptitude and prior success—equals self-efficacy as a predictor of writing success (148), and Pajares points to evidence that aptitude and prior success themselves are most likely the products of self-efficacy, so that measures of preperformance are in fact indirect measures of self-efficacy (145). Research indicates that self-efficacy in writing is most often assessed in three ways: as confidence in one’s mastery of particular skills, like punctuation and grammar; as confidence in one’s ability to complete a specific task, like write an essay; or confidence that one can earn a particular grade in a language-arts class (143-44). People hold differing self-efficacy beliefs depending on the task being undertaken; reporting Bandura’s guidelines for effectively evaluating the effects of self-efficacy on success at a task, Pajares cautions that the self-efficacy measures must correspond to the actual task to be assessed, that is, if the outcome is a task like a successful essay, the self-efficacy features to be examined must be those involved in actually producing an essay, not more basic skills such as handwriting competence or mechanics (142). According to Pajares’s review, findings on gender differences are mixed. Girls in lower grades tend to have more confidence in their writing than boys, but by middle school, even though girls believe they write better than boys, they no longer score higher on self-efficacy. Pajares reports speculation that at higher grades, school becomes more masculinized, affecting girls’ attitudes (148-49). Some researchers also posit that girls are less likely to express confidence because they have absorbed a “feminine orientation” that discourages boastfulness (149). Others suggest that girls think they write better than boys because writing, in contrast to math and science, is categorized as a component of a feminine orientation. Pajares reports findings that “gender differences in academic motivation may in part be accounted for by differences in the beliefs that students hold about their gender rather than by their gender per se” (150). Pajares finds less authoritative research on writing self-efficacy in minority students (151-52). Studies find that Hispanic students have lower self-efficacy with regard to their writing than non-Hispanic Whites; this was not the case with regard to math. Pajares raises the possibility that “entrenched, negative perceptions of one’s ability” may impede minority students in academic settings (151). He notes the need for broader research to follow up on these questions. In general, teachers must be aware of the power of self-efficacy beliefs to promote or derail learning. Research suggests that students’ efficacy beliefs about their abilities as writers declines as they progress through school, which further suggests that self-confidence may not be given its due as a factor in ongoing success (152). Efforts to break learning down into challenging tasks that students can succeed at and awareness of the impact of adults’ judgments on students’ self-confidence can prevent negative beliefs from limiting academic achievement (153). Significantly, according to Pajares, efforts to address such affective factors as writing anxiety will not improve outcomes unless the larger construct of overall writing self-efficacy is emphasized (146).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

3 thoughts on “Pajares, Frank. Writing Self-Efficacy. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 2003. Posted 3/2/2015.

  1. Thank you for this! Minor correction: the author’s name is spelled Pajares.


  2. It would be interesting to see a comparison, not that it can be obtained, from 30 years ago to present high school self-efficacy to see if there is a developing change in the attitudes. Additionally, what about the earlier hormonal development of children today, does that have any bearing on self-efficacy?