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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published online by De Gruyter Mouton August 12, 2022

Collaborative writing in an EFL secondary setting: the role of task complexity

Meixiu Zhang ORCID logo

Abstract

Prior research found that compared with individual writing, collaborative writing improves learner performance and facilitates writing development. However, it remains unknown whether collaboration may allow learners to tackle writing tasks of varying cognitive demands. This study examined the role of task complexity in collaborative writing (CW) through (a) comparing how individual learners and dyads performed in tasks of varying cognitive demands and (b) examining how task complexity impacted pairs’ co-constructed texts. Sixty-nine Chinese junior high school learners of English (14–16 years old) were divided into two groups: individual writing (n = 21 learners) and a CW group (n = 24 pairs). Learners in both groups completed a simple and a complex task (manipulated via ± task structure). The written products were analyzed in terms of linguistic complexity, accuracy, fluency, and functional adequacy. Results indicated that the benefits of collaboration on learners’ written products were subject to the influence of task structure. When task structure is present, dyads produced functionally more adequate and longer texts than individual learners. In contrast, without task structure, dyads gained an edge over individual writers in terms of linguistic accuracy and fluency. Also, when examining the role of task complexity within the CW group, this study found that task structure exerted some influence on fluency, but not on other aspects of the jointly written products. Pedagogical and research implications were discussed.


Corresponding author: Meixiu Zhang, Texas Tech University, 2906 18th St, 79409, Lubbock, TX, USA, E-mail:

Appendix A. Writing Prompts (Translated from Chinese)

  1. Supposing that your pen pal Jack who lives in Canada wrote you a letter saying that he wanted to learn more about traditional festivals in China. In this task, you are asked to write a letter back to Jack. In the letter, you will introduce your favorite traditional festival in China. Some examples of traditional Chinese festivals are Spring Festival, Lantern Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-autumn Festival, Double-ninth Festival, and etc.

For your reference, below is a suggested structure for the letter:

  1. Paragraph 1: A greeting and an introduction stating the purpose of the letter

  2. Paragraph 2: an introduction of the festival (e.g., the date, customs, activities, facts, history)

  3. Paragraph 3: An ending paragraph in which you can express good wishes or include an invitation

  4. Supposing that your pen pal Jack who lives in Canada wrote you a letter saying that he wanted to learn more about traditional Chinese arts. In this task, you are asked to write a letter back to Jack. In the letter, you will introduce your favorite traditional Chinese art.

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Received: 2022-02-03
Accepted: 2022-07-15
Published Online: 2022-08-12

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