The Bright Future of Second Language Writing

I always enjoy hearing the voices of those who have been in the field for a number of years and who have contributed to the growth of knowledge in it. For example, conference colloquia or panels where prominent scholars gather together to discuss their views on a certain issue have always been my favorite.

I found the disciplinary dialogue on second language writing in the Journal of Second Language Writing (2013, pp. 425–447) quite illuminating. In this disciplinary dialogue, one paper in particular stood out to me—that of Tony Silva. Not because of its “unorthodox presentation,” as Silva himself defined it, but mostly because of its succinct and comprehensive content that highlights main points, issues, achievements, and existing gaps in the field of second language writing.

I’d like to follow Silva’s format and outline the areas of future research in the field of second language writing based on the papers in this disciplinary dialogue. Some authors explicitly stated what inquiry directions should be taken in the nearest future; others point out the venues for new inquiry by addressing limitations of previous research. In a word, various research ideas and suggestions were proposed—overtly or otherwise—in each of the 10 papers included in this dialogue.

The future research directions in the field of second language writing are the following:

  • Examining the differences between developmental processes of academic writing skills and “ways of constructing meanings” in academic contexts by both L1 and L2 writers (Hyland, p. 427).
  • Understanding of “how” writing teachers should provide effective instruction to L2 students in particular contexts (“where”) with their “institutional affordances and constraints” (Ferris, p. 429).
  • Understanding of how contextual factors (including institutional forces and individual classroom environment) influence the teaching of various groups of L2 writers—“who” (e.g., “international L2 students, recently arrived immigrants, and long-term multilingual residents”; Ferris, p. 428).
  • Given the factors stated above, understanding of “how” teacher educators can better prepare writing instructors, so they can “operate successfully” (Ferris, p. 429).
  • Deeper research of the phenomenon of “multilingualism in writing in various contexts” (Kubota, p. 430).
  • Deeper examination of “communicative practices of writing” (Kubota, p. 431).
  • Research on the role of power relations in “writing activities” of writers from minority backgrounds (based on gender, race, nationality, or religion) and its impact on the “mechanism of exclusion” for these writers (Kubota, p. 431).
  • The development of inquiry in the contexts of “primary and secondary schools,” “workplace programs,” as well as in the area of adult education (Silva, p. 433).
  • Embracing studies that “incorporate both quantitative and qualitative designs” (Silva, p. 433).
  • More research that embraces “elements from different approaches to address L2W instruction in particular contexts” (Silva, p. 433).
  • Investigating the needs of individual writing instructors and “their varied practices” and understanding of how and to what degree sociopolitical and sociohistorical factors “define their work” (Lee, p. 436).
  • Welcoming more “ecological studies, ethnographic case studies, and longitudinal qualitative research to better understand “the situatedness of the learning and teaching of writing” (Lee, p. 436).
  • Conducting more “non-replicable research that studies individual teachers, students, and contexts” (Lee, p. 436).
  • Examining factors and tools that “enable L2 academic writers to become more autonomous register and genre users” (Belcher, p. 438).
  • Research on the concept of self-regulated writers and the factors that “facilitate learner autonomy” (Belcher, p. 438).
  • Examining the needs of “adult language learners outside traditional academic contexts, especially those with low or no prior literacy” (Belcher, p. 439).
  • Developing effective writing pedagogy for learners “in contexts other than those of English” (Belcher, p. 439).
  • Promoting research dialogues between “ESL and EFL writing specialists” and “literacy teachers of many other languages” (Belcher, p. 439).
  • Better understanding of the concept of writing as “the collaborative, multimodal means of social action” (Belcher, p. 439).
  • Better understanding of how the engagement “with fields like bilingualism, sociolinguistics, and applied linguistics” influences the phenomenon of “activity of writing” and determines the future of the field of second language writing (Canagarajah, p. 441).
  • More research on L2 writing as “comprehensive multilingual writing competence,” in other words, as a “merged system” of L1, L2, and L3 writing knowledge (Kobayashi & Rinnert, p. 442).
  • Research on second language writing as “the potential for language learning” (Roca de Larios, p. 444) and “an important source of support for SLA” (Zhang, p. 446).
  • Research on “identity formation” (and reformulation) of L2 writers (Zhang, p. 447).
  • Research on writing as “a platform for ESL/EFL learners to experience border-crossing” (Zhang, 447).

As seen, some of the most successful scholars in the field of second language writing offered multiple research directions as well as pointed out various problems that are yet to be solved. Many of them are currently being undertaken, and of course more inquiry is on its way. I do believe in this field and I do believe that indeed it “has a bright future” (Silva, p. 434).


Belcher, D. (2013). The scope of L2 writing: Why we need a wider lens. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 438–439.

Canagarajah, S. (2013). The end of second language writing? Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 440–441

Ferris, D. (2013). What L2 writing means to me: Texts, writers, contexts. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 428–429.

Hyland, K. (2013). Second language writing: The manufacture of a social fact. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 426–427.

Kubota, R. (2013). Dislimiting second language writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 430–432.

Lee, I. (2013). Second language writing: Perspectives of a teacher educator-researcher. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 435–437

Silva, T. (2013). Second language writing: Talking points. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22(4), 432–434.


About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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One Response to The Bright Future of Second Language Writing

  1. Hello,
    I am a Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at UW-Madison and I found this list extremely inspirational for my future research interest. I am myself too a fund of L2 writing instruction and I’m glad that there’s someone who happens to shares the same interests. therefore, I’ll definitely go through your list and hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute to the field of the teaching of ESL writing in the future.

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