Reading and Writing

, Volume 32, Issue 9, pp 2251–2279 | Cite as

How do textual features of L2 argumentative essays differ across proficiency levels? A multidimensional cross-sectional study

  • Jeong-eun KimEmail author
  • Hosung NamEmail author


Using Biber’s (1988) multidimensional analysis, this study investigates textual variation in second language (L2) learners’ writing at different proficiency levels, and attempts to identify any developmental progression. The study used a corpus of 5200 argumentative essays written by 2600 students learning English as an L2. The results indicate that advanced L2 writing is fundamentally different from less advanced L2 writing: Advanced learners’ writing is closer to native speakers’ written discourse, while less advanced learners’ writing is closer to native speakers’ spoken discourse. The patterns of development vary across different sets of textual features. Informational (as opposed to involved) production and impersonal (as opposed to nonimpersonal) style showed gradual development as the learners’ proficiency increases. Nonnarrative (as opposed to narrative) production, elaborated (as opposed to situation-dependent) reference, and overt expression of persuasion did not show significant differences across the proficiency levels. The article offers pedagogical implications for practices of L2 writing instruction.


Corpus linguistics Cross-sectional research Mixed-effects model Multidimensional analysis Argumentative writing Second language writing 



This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A5A2A03926788).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and LiteratureChonbuk National UniversityJeonju-siRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Department of English Language and LiteratureKorea UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  3. 3.Haskins LaboratoriesNew HavenUSA

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