Overview of L2 Writing

The Nature of L2 Writing

Writing is a visual form of communication, either printed in hard-copy or in electronic form. It follows conventions that are mutually understandable by the writer and the reader, even if these conventions change over time or are used with specific meanings in smaller speech communities (e.g., special texting rules used by a group of teenagers). Writing is considered a productive skill because the writer creates new language and does not only interpret existing information.

Here are some common terms used in the discussion of writing.

medium different media in which we write (letters, computers, cellphone texting, etc.) that require different styles of writing and different communicative conventions
content ideas ("the story") that the author intends to convey to the audience
genre type of expressive style a piece of writing has (e.g., poetry, short story, lecture notes, etc.)
lexicon vocabulary that is needed to convey the author's intended meaning
grammar formal aspect of language (e.g., subject-verb-agreement, tense, aspect markers, references, etc.)
pragmatics implicit messages a text conveys to the reader; shared expectations for communication by a social group (e.g., ways to greet in a letter, appropriate ways of phrasing ideas, etc.)
orthography the way to write letters or symbols of written language; handwriting
mechanics punctuation, spelling (accuracy), capitalization, etc.

Writing is a Process

Writing is a complex process that requires the author to be aware of and combine various components of language successfully.

While the physical act of writing is fairly automatic for adult writers, in the L2 it becomes a conscious process once more, especially if the L2 orthography is different from the learners' L1. The same is true if the rhetorical style of the L2 is vastly different from that of the L1 (this is particularly relevant for longer writing assignments).

L2 writers spend less time planning and organizing ideas and have more difficulties with these steps (Silva, 1993). To counter this, L2 instruction should include time for planning both content and form, for generating ideas as well as for improving accuracy.