Orthographic knowledge: clarifications, challenges, and future directions

Kenn Apel
Victoria S. Henbest
Julie Masterson, Missouri State University


Orthographic knowledge is the understanding of how spoken language is represented in print. However, the terms used to describe the two levels of orthographic knowledge, lexical and sublexical orthographic knowledge, have been variably defined and inconsistently measured, potentially contributing to discrepancies in research findings. Dissimilarities in how orthographic knowledge has been operationally defined and measured and the associated differences in tasks used to assess that construct are discussed. As part of that discussion, we relate how some measures assess either implicit or more explicit levels of orthographic knowledge. Using current theories and the existing research, we next provide an argument for how initial development of sublexical orthographic knowledge occurs before lexical orthographic knowledge. Suggestions are provided for what researchers might do in the future to help move the field toward a better understanding of orthographic knowledge. Strategies for assessing orthographic knowledge in literacy research are offered.