Understanding first-year L2 writing: A lexico-grammatical analysis across L1s, genres, and language ratings

Shelley Staples, Randi Reppen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


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, Cumming, & Silva, 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 the vocabulary and grammar that student writers use (e.g., certain verbs that are used frequently with that complement clauses-I think that. . .) and connecting those patterns to particular functions within texts (e.g., stance and argumentation). The corpus is composed of 120 student papers evenly distributed across the three L1s and two genres. The essays were examined for eight lexico-grammatical features, including traditional measures such as type/token ratio and less typical measures (e.g., adjective-noun combinations). Experienced writing teachers rated the essays for language use in order to account for differences in language ability within the student group. Our results reveal important similarities in the use of lexico-grammatical resources across writers from the three L1 backgrounds, due to their status as developing writers. However, differences in patterns of use across the L1 groups point to variation in the expression of stance in relation to argumentation as well as methods of cohesion. Our findings also show the impact of genre on the lexico-grammatical choices of first-year writers. The results have implications for incorporating a lexico-grammatical approach to writing instruction for L2 writers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-35
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Second Language Writing
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Cohesion
  • Grammatical complexity
  • L1 Arabic
  • L1 Chinese
  • Stance
  • Vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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