Content, domain, and word knowledge: Relationship to comprehension of narrative and expository text Academic Article uri icon


  • The influence of background knowledge on reader's comprehension of text has become a fundamental assumption associated with text processing. Background knowledge has been represented in a variety of constructs including specific text knowledge, general world knowledge, discourse knowledge, and domain knowledge. Our interest in the present study was to examine background knowledge and strategy knowledge from a broad view to better understand how they contribute to elementary-age students' reading comprehension of both narrative and expository texts. Constructs of domain, content, and word knowledge were developed based on the extant literature. These knowledge constructs were measured with researcher-developed tests consisting of both narrative and expository passages ranging from 1000 to 2000 words (2-4 pages) in length. Comprehension of each passage was measured with a 25-item subtest. All students in Grades 3 through 6 were administered the knowledge and comprehension tests. A two-stage analysis procedure was used. Exploratory factor analysis was used to examine empirically the internal structures of the comprehension questions. Factor scores were constructed and then treated as a multivariate set, with a second set comprised of the background and strategy factors. A canonical analysis was then performed to relate the two sets and canonical functions and structure coefficients were interpreted substantively. Our findings indicated that background knowledge specific to the content of the text being read begins to diminish in importance at about Grade 4. Strategy knowledge and use in comprehension of text begin to play a more important role at Grade 4 and above. Grade 6 analyses support a conclusion that the reading development process in elementary grades has been completed, and that reading comprehension at this grade is primarily an indicator of students' proficiency in selecting efficient ways to gain meaning from text. 1996 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Rupley, W. H., & Willson, V. L.

citation count

  • 15

publication date

  • October 1996