A synthesis of research on second language writing in English

Ilona Leki, Alister Cumming, & Tony Silva. New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. ix + 259 pages

Reviewed by Pisarn Bee Chamcharatsri
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pennsylvania

Though there are some reviews of L2 writing available, they are somewhat outdated. Ilona Leki s A synthesis of research on second language writing in English rectifies this by providing an up-to-date review of historical and groundbreaking issues that have occurred in the field of L2 writing over the last 25 years.

The book is divided into three main sections: Contexts for L2 Writing, Instruction and Assessment, and Basic Research on Second Language Writing. The first section, Contexts for L2 writing, examines eight different populations of second language (L2) writers both in and outside of school settings. Chapter 1, Young Writers, discusses the issue of early literacy development. Writing in Secondary School, chapter 2, calls for future research for this student population. Chapter 3 Undergraduate Writing synthesizes and summarizes research contributing to improvement of writing instruction to this population. Chapter 4, Graduate Student Writing, talks about the issue of (re)construction of students identities in the new settings and new discourse communities students attempt to gain access to. Chapter 5, L2 Adult Newcomer, Resettlement, and Community Literacy, reports the research in two areas: the need of literacy used daily and in classroom settings. Workplace Writing in L2 in chapter 6 comments that L2 writing in the interpersonal and social environment levels is more significant than literacy needed in this setting. Chapter 7 Scholarly Writing in L2 illustrates the emerging of varieties of written discourse in publishing works, and chapter 8 Ideological, Political, and Identity Issues in L2 Writing calls for future research in L2 writing in different genders, races, contexts, and sexual orientation.

The second section Instruction and Assessment, consists of two chapters and discusses L2 writing curricula and assessment. Chapter 9, Curriculum and Instruction, addresses both macro and micro level of curricula and pedagogies and three major theories affecting L2 writing curricula: sociocultural theory, theories of language socialization, and multiliteracies. Chapter 10, Assessment, discusses and provides examples of substantial studies for two major approaches to assessing L2 students writing: formative assessment and formal tests or examinations of proficiency in writing.

The third section, Basic Research on Second Language Writing, focuses on the foundation of research in L2 writing. The authors include the instruction of how to use this section of the book. Chapter 11, Writer Characteristics, addresses five categories of L2 writers including L2 variables, L1 variables, transfer, psychological and sociological, and demographic variables. Chapter 12, Composing Processes, focuses on the process L2 writers employ when they write such techniques as revision, planning, and translation. Chapter 13, Text: Textual Issues, discusses different textual topics including cohesion, organizational/rhetorical patterns, and coherence. Chapter 14, Written Text: Grammatical Issues, mainly refers to grammatical issues based on published studies. At the end of chapter 14, a complete bibliography is available in five categories: Study author(s), year of publication, number of subjects, subjects L1(s), and subjects L2(s) (pp. 180-199). For the Afterword section, the authors identify the direction of future research in L2 writing that the field should move towards local contexts for learning and teaching L2 writing and also longitudinal, cross-case, long-term [research] (p. 201), an area which might yield new results and could be valuable to the scholarship.

The attempt of compiling the study of second language writing in English is both ambitious and highly appreciated, yet there is room for improvement. The issues presented in sections one and two, for example, are thematically discussed, yet section three is not in the same arrangement. Instead, the lists of most frequent to the least published topics are categorized with no referring page numbers. This arrangement complicates the intention of making this section as a quick reference for scholars and students who are interested in these issues. Despite this minor shortcoming, the book is an important resource which serves as an up-to-date historical reflection of L2 writing scholarship.