Although language production offers a commonly used window into individuals’ knowledge, it remains questionable whether oral or written language production allows better diagnostic content validity, for example, in educational or legal settings. Existing results vary with respect to empirical evidence in favor of the oral or the written modality in knowledge assessment. However, for list-like organized knowledge domains (i.e., domains consisting of a definite number of uniform items), a writing superiority effect (WSE) has been consistently observed. We present 3 experiments in which the WSE is replicated and generalized to hitherto untested knowledge domains and participant pools. To estimate the content validity of the verbal recall modes, free recall performance is analyzed as a function of modality, taking into account cued recall performance, which is known to allow more complete knowledge recollection. Throughout all experiments, free recall performance was better in the written than in the oral diagnosis of list-like knowledge. The results recommend written diagnosis at least for similarly structured knowledge domains. Future research should investigate to which degree writing superiority also holds for other kinds of knowledge domains and which language production and retrieval processes are responsible for the effect.

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