Computational analyses of multilevel discourse comprehension

Arthur C. Graesser, Danielle S. McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


The proposed multilevel framework of discourse comprehension includes the surface code, the textbase, the situation model, the genre and rhetorical structure, and the pragmatic communication level. We describe these five levels when comprehension succeeds and also when there are communication misalignments and comprehension breakdowns. A computer tool has been developed, called Coh-Metrix, that scales discourse (oral or print) on dozens of measures associated with the first four discourse levels. The measurement of these levels with an automated tool helps researchers track and better understand multilevel discourse comprehension. Two sets of analyses illustrate the utility of Coh-Metrix in discourse theory and educational practice. First, Coh-Metrix was used to measure the cohesion of the text base and situation model, as well as potential extraneous variables, in a sample of published studies that manipulated text cohesion. This analysis helped us better understand what was precisely manipulated in these studies and the implications for discourse comprehension mechanisms. Second, Coh-Metrix analyses are reported for samples of narrative and science texts in order to advance the argument that traditional text difficulty measures are limited because they fail to accommodate most of the levels of the multilevel discourse comprehension framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-398
Number of pages28
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Coherence
  • Cohesion
  • Computational linguistics
  • Discourse processes
  • Semantics
  • Text comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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