Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing

Tony Silva & Paul K. Matsuda (Eds.). Parlor Press, 2010. Pp. vii + 313.

Reviewed by Hyun-Joo Oh
State University of New York at Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.

Practicing theory in second language writing edited by Silva and Matsuda explores what theory in second language (L2) writing means, how it works, and how to practice it in a way that makes the text a resource book which can be used by L2 writing specialists such as language teachers, researchers, graduate school students as well as administrators.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I (The Nature and Role of Theory in Second Language Writing) addresses the role of theory in L2 writing, and Part II (Reflections on Theoretical Practices) offers reflections of practice and a look at current issues in the field.
The first part, The Nature and Role of Theory in Second Language Writing, contains four chapters. In the first chapter, Between Theory with a Big T and Practice with a Small p: Why Theory Matters, Atkinson explains theory in L2 writing and education and develops a way of thinking about theory and practice which differs from dominant approaches. Chapter 2, Theories, Frameworks, and Heuristics: Some Reflections on Inquiry and Second Language Writing by Cumming, explores the place of theory in data-based descriptive research. And in chapter 3, Multicompetence, Social Context, and L2 Writing Research Praxis, Ortega and Carson focus on linguistic and cognitive dimensions of L2 writing and explore interfaces between L2 writing and Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The final chapter in this part, Goldstein s Finding Theory in the Particular: An Autobiography of What I Learned and How about Teacher Feedback, articulates the principles of feedback and revision to help teachers understand how feedback is used in classroom situations.
Part II is much longer than the first and contains ten chapters which reflect on theoretical practices and present the issue of theory in L2 writing. In chapter 5, Practicing Theory in Qualitative Research on Second Language Writing, Harklau and Williams review the uses of theory in L2 writing research literature and emphasize the role of it in qualitative research. Chapter 6, Tardy s Cleaning up the Mess: Perspectives from a Novice Theory Builder, describes the author s qualitative research as a means of showing how s and why s of genre knowledge development and addresses the process of qualitative research to be a theory builder. And in chapter 7, A Reconsideration of Contents of Pedagogical Implications and Further Research Needed Moves in the Reporting of Second Language Writing Research and Their Roles in Theory Building, Flahive presents trends in L2 writing research and suggests the need for change in conventions.  Chapter 8, Beyond Texts: A Research Agenda for Quantitative Research on Second Language Writers and Readers, then discusses Reynolds s finding that there is a balance between qualitative and quantitative studies through a survey of research studies published in applied linguistic and composition journals.
With chapter 9, the book breaks from theory and moves towards current issues and concerns among L2 instructors. Canagarajah, in chapter 9, Ideology and Theory in Second Language Writing: A Dialogical Treatment, challenges stereotypes about ideologies and demonstrates the writing teacher s dilemma and the theory/ideology connection through the dialogues of a writing teacher, author, and critic. And chapter 10, Kubota s Critical Approaches to Theory in Second Language Writing: A Case of Critical Contrastive Rhetoric, indicates different theoretical and political orientations within critical approaches.
In chapter 11, Theory and Practice in Second Language Writing: How and Where Do They Meet? Zhu explores the conception of theory-practice relationship and describes the relationship as bi-directional and interdependent. Chapter 12, Theory-and-Practice and Other Questionable Dualisms in L2 Writing by Hedgcock, focuses on the complexity of the relationship between theory and practice in L2 writing. And in chapter 13, Assess Thyself Lest Others Assess Thee, Crusan examines the pedagogical effects and the politics of assessment and proposes a theory of L2 writing assessment.
In the last chapter of the book, Do I Need a Theoretical Framework? Doctoral Students Perspectives on the Role of Theory in Dissertation Research and Writing, Belcher and Hirvela raise the issue of theory for doctoral students writing their dissertations and present guidelines and advice for future dissertation writers or researchers.
Overall, readers will find that the book offers essays from eminent scholars in L2 writing, and some chapters suggest research questions or provide specific suggestions regarding L2 writing research. Well-written and organized, the book also helps readers critically view theoretical perspectives in qualitative and quantitative research.  Additionally, readers can see an overview of different conceptions and applications of theory related to L2 writing. The only criticism, if any, is that it is not written in an accessible and friendly style because the book focuses on research-based monographs; thus novice teachers or researchers may be unfamiliar with content or terminology. Nevertheless, this volume will make a valuable addition to the field of L2 writing.