Second language writing from sources: an ethnographic study of an argument essay task

by Wolfersberger, Mark Andrew

Abstract (Summary)
Writing from sources is a common academic task for L2 students in higher education. It is a task that requires the orchestration of numerous skills such as reading source texts, incorporating information from the source texts within the written text, and reading the rhetorical context to interpret the task. Being such a complex activity, it has received relatively little attention. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the complexity of a writing-from-sources task within an L2 environment.

Using an ethnographic design, I examined the writing of four Chinese (L1) students with varying levels of English (L2) proficiency completing an argumentative writing-from-sources essay task for a required writing class. The task spanned two and a half weeks and required the participants to cite five sources within a 1500-word essay. Over the course of writing, I interviewed each participant several times about their writing process, observed the participants during class, and collected all notes, drafts, and reading materials.

The results revealed the complexity of the writing-from-sources task. Constructing a suitable cognitive representation of the task was one key to success and there were a number of personal and contextual factors that influenced the creation of the participants’ task representations, factors such as individual background experiences, the writing process, and information from and interactions with the teacher and other people within the writing context. These factors varied in the strength of their influence from the beginning to the end of the essay assignment, and I present a tentative theory of task representation to explain the points at which these influencing factors had the greatest impact within the writing process.

Low L2 proficiency constrained the writing performance of some of the participants. This resulted in one participant avoiding elements of the writing task requirements in order to earn passing marks and two other participants producing plagiarized texts and receiving failing marks on the assignment. The two participants who plagiarized showed no ill intentions and, consequently, felt receiving zero marks for their writing efforts was unjust.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Ellis, Rod

School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:second language writing from sources


Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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