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Syntactic complexity and writing quality in assessed first-year L2 writing

Published on Jun 1, 2019in Journal of Second Language Writing 4.20
· DOI :10.1016/j.jslw.2019.03.005
J. Elliott Casal2
Estimated H-index: 2
(PSU: Pennsylvania State University),
Joseph J. Lee8
Estimated H-index: 8
(OU: Ohio University)
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Abstract
Abstract This study explores the relationship between syntactic complexity and writing quality in assessed source-based research papers produced by ESL undergraduate writers in a first-year writing course through a combination of holistic and fine-grained measures of complexity. The analysis is based on a corpus of 280 student papers across three grade tiers: high, mid, and low. A one-way MANOVA was used to explore the statistical significance of differences of five commonly used syntactic complexity measures (assessed using Lu’s Second Language Syntactic Complexity Analyzer, 2010) across these grade tiers. Results reveal little variation in clausal subordination and coordination, but statistically significant lower complex nominal densities, mean length of clauses (phrasal measures), and mean length of T-units (global measure) in low-rated papers. Analysis of complex nominal composition using the Stanford Tregex with differences assessed with a one-way MANOVA shows that the highest densities of complex nominal types are present in high-rated papers, with statistical significance in adjectival pre-, prepositional post-, and participle modification, and the lowest densities in low-rated papers. While clausal complexity did not demonstrate a relationship with assessed quality, both global and phrasal complexity features appear to be important components. We conclude with implications for syntactic complexity research and ESL composition pedagogy.
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  • Citations (1)
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Published on May 1, 2018in Journal of English for Academic Purposes 1.73
Joseph J. Lee8
Estimated H-index: 8
(OU: Ohio University),
Chris Hitchcock1
Estimated H-index: 1
(OU: Ohio University),
J. Elliott Casal2
Estimated H-index: 2
(PSU: Pennsylvania State University)
Abstract: This study reports findings of an analysis of the citation practices of L2 undergraduate students in the context of first-year writing (FYW). Data consist of a corpus of 100 source-based research papers written by L2 students in a FYW course. Taking a multi-perspective analytical approach, we examine L2 undergraduate students' citation practices in terms of surface forms, rhetorical functions, and writer stance. Results indicate that L2 students use a restricted range of reporting stru...
5 Citations Source Cite
Published on Mar 1, 2018in TESOL Quarterly 2.72
Grant Eckstein3
Estimated H-index: 3
(BYU: Brigham Young University),
Dana R. Ferris21
Estimated H-index: 21
(UC Davis: University of California, Davis)
Scholars have at various points discussed the needs of second language (L2) writers enrolled in “mainstream” composition courses where they are mixed with native (L1) English speakers. Other researchers have investigated the experiences of L2 writers in mainstream classes and the perceptions of their instructors about their abilities and needs. Little research, however, has directly compared L1 and L2 students (mostly Generation 1.5) taking composition classes together. For this article, the res...
1 Citations Source Cite
Published on Jan 1, 2018in Journal of English for Academic Purposes 1.73
Ahmad Ansarifar1
Estimated H-index: 1
(FUM: Ferdowsi University of Mashhad),
Hesamoddin Shahriari2
Estimated H-index: 2
(FUM: Ferdowsi University of Mashhad),
Reza Pishghadam13
Estimated H-index: 13
(FUM: Ferdowsi University of Mashhad)
Abstract Academic research articles often involve the frequent use of lengthy noun phrase structures, and those seeking to write such texts, both native and non-native alike, would need to become familiar with this characteristic feature of the register. Biber, Gray and Poonpon (2011) have hypothesized a series of stages predicting development in writing complexity through the increased use of complex phrasal constructions. The purpose of this study is to compare abstracts by MA-level L1 Persian...
2 Citations Source Cite
Published on Oct 1, 2017in Language Testing 1.15
Xiaofei Lu10
Estimated H-index: 10
(PSU: Pennsylvania State University)
Research investigating corpora of English learners’ language raises new questions about how syntactic complexity is defined theoretically and operationally for second language (L2) writing assessment. I show that syntactic complexity is important in construct definitions and L2 writing rating scales as well as in L2 writing research. I describe the operationalizations of syntactic complexity measurement in corpus-based L2 writing research, focusing on the Biber Tagger (Biber, Johansson, Leech, C...
3 Citations Source Cite
Published on Jun 1, 2017in System 1.93
Hyung-Jo Yoon2
Estimated H-index: 2
(MSU: Michigan State University)
Abstract This study aims to explore the validity of syntactic, lexical, and morphological complexity measures in capturing topic and proficiency differences in L2 writing. The additional purpose of this study is to examine how these measures gauge distinct dimensions of complexity. To these ends, this study examined a corpus of 1198 argumentative essays on two different topics written by college-level Chinese EFL learners. The essays were analyzed for topic effects (within-subjects) and for deve...
8 Citations Source Cite
Published on Jun 1, 2017in TESOL Quarterly 2.72
Hyung Jo Yoon1
Estimated H-index: 1
(MSU: Michigan State University),
Charlene Polio19
Estimated H-index: 19
(MSU: Michigan State University)
This study examined narrative and argumentative essays written over the course of a 4-month semester by 37 students of English as a second language (ESL). The essays were analyzed for development over time and for genre differences. The goal of the study was to conceptually replicate previous studies on genre differences (e.g., Lu, 2011) and on short-term linguistic development in the areas of syntactic complexity, accuracy, lexical complexity, and fluency (e.g., Connor-Linton & Polio, 2014). In...
17 Citations Source Cite
Published on Feb 1, 2017in Applied Linguistics 3.04
Rae Mancilla2
Estimated H-index: 2
(Duquesne University),
Nihat Polat8
Estimated H-index: 8
(Duquesne University),
Ahmet Oguz Akcay1
Estimated H-index: 1
(Duquesne University)
This manuscript reports on a corpus-based comparison of native and nonnative graduate students’ language production in an asynchronous learning environment. Using 486 discussion board postings from a five-year period (2009–2013), we analyzed the extent to which native and nonnative university students’ writing differed in 10 measures of syntactic complexity targeting the length of production unit, amount of subordination, amount of coordination, and degree of phrasal sophistication. We also comp...
3 Citations Source Cite
Published on Oct 1, 2016in Applied Linguistics 3.04
Douglas Biber40
Estimated H-index: 40
(NAU: Northern Arizona University),
Bethany Gray15
Estimated H-index: 15
(Iowa State University),
Shelley Staples7
Estimated H-index: 7
(Purdue University)
In the present article, we explore the extent to which previous research on register variation can be used to predict spoken/written task-type variation as well as differences across score levels in the context of a major standardized language exam (TOEFL iBT). Specifically, we carry out two sets of linguistic analyses based on a large corpus of TOEFL iBT responses: one investigating the use of 23 grammatical complexity features, and the second based on co-occurrence patterns among linguistic fe...
28 Citations Source Cite
Published on Jun 1, 2016in Journal of Second Language Writing 4.20
Shelley Staples7
Estimated H-index: 7
(Purdue University),
Randi Reppen15
Estimated H-index: 15
(NAU: Northern Arizona University)
Abstract Despite a large number of studies on L2 writing at the university level, few have systematically examined the writing produced by these students within the context of their writing classes ( Leki et al., 2008 , Silva, 1993 ). This paper investigates the language used in first-year writing across three L1s (English, Arabic, and Chinese) and two genres (Argumentative and Rhetorical Analysis) as well as its relationship to language ratings. We use a lexico-grammatical approach, identifying...
10 Citations Source Cite
Published on Sep 1, 2015in Journal of Second Language Writing 4.20
Lourdes Ortega23
Estimated H-index: 23
(Georgetown University)
Abstract In this commentary to the Special Issue, I first identify four themes that arise from the contributions that each study makes to the study of syntactic complexity in L2 writing. I then explore several other themes that stem from the collective findings from the five studies and which connect with the general landscape of the research domain. Two questions guide the domain. One question is substantive: What do we know about how syntactic complexity grows, and what factors affect this gro...
21 Citations Source Cite