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Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Anthony Saba Dr. Yu-Chang Hsu Edtech 561 10/30/2010 Word-processing Versus Handwriting for English Composition by EFL Learners

Review of the Literature In conducting this review, a general search of the literature was performed in numerous databases, journals, and Web sites using the descriptors: word processing, ESL, EFL, language learning, keyboarding, keyboarding automation, handwriting and computing, writing quality and composition. Electronic searches were carried out in ERIC, EBSCO, and Google Scholar. Additionally, journals specifically related to education, psychology and occupational therapy were searched including: The Journal of Educational Research, The International Journal of English Studies and The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Research on the effects of word processing on native English (L1) writers goes back to the 1980s and 1990s when word processing began to accelerate its entry into schools. There was an extensive amount of research done at the time investigating the impact of word-processing on writing. Research included various case studies and experimental studies which looked at the effects of word-processing on overall writing quality and the number of and types of revisions (Daiute, 1986; Dalton, 1987; Grejda, 1992). In later studies, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s researchers looked at the effects of word-processing on non-native English (L2) writers’ composition (Benesch, 1987;


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Hopwood, 1989; Lam & Pennington, 1995). In a landmark overview of studies by Pennington (1993), in which the potential of word-processing for developing the writing skills of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students was explored, it was found that the field had moved away from general statements of advocacy or opposition towards looking at what and who word-processing is good for and under what conditions it is most effective (1993, p. 149). Research has continued to move in this direction up to present with parallel research occurring in various fields. Since 2000, a great deal of research has occurred in the fields of occupational therapy and psychology with a focus on the effects of cognitive load due to keyboarding and handwriting on the quality of writing (Christensen, 2004; Connelly, Dockrell & Barnett, 2005; Connelly, Gee & Walsh, 2007; Rogers & Case-Smith, 2002; Weintraub, Gilmour-Grill, & Weiss, 2010). Other research has occurred in the field of learning English as a Second Language (ESL) and learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) as well as in the learning of other foreign languages such as Spanish (Perez-Sotelo, 2003). While some studies have continued to look into word-processing and foreign language (L2) writing (Darus, Ismail & Ismail, 2008; Li & Cumming, 2001) others have begun to move towards studying the effects of emerging technologies such as email, Wikis, blogs and forums on writing and learning (Biesenback-Lucas, Meloni & Weasenforth, 2000; Miyazoe & Anderson, 2010; Perez-Sotelo & Gonzalez-Bueno, 2003; Pennington, 2004; Wu, 2006). Benefits of Word Processing


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Two often cited benefits of writing with a word-processor are: (1) the ability to easily manipulate text and make revisions and (2) the ability of writers to focus on higher level writing skills by relieving the cognitive demands of lower level writing mechanics such as spelling, capitalization and punctuation (Darus, 2008; Pennington, 1993). Daiute (1983) states that: The capacities of the computer text editor help writers avoid cramps and other physical problems related to writing. The most important feature of the text editor is its capacity to alter the text and the format eliminates physical difficulties involved in recopying. Not having to recopy helps writers compose freely, focusing on what they want to say. The text editor helps writers take risks because the consequences of making mistakes are trivial for their pride as well as for their hands. Once changes are entered into a computer file, they are incorporated into the permanent copy of the text, which is also automatically reformatted. Thus, writers can devote the time that would have been involved in recopying to reading and evaluating the piece. (p. 136)

When studying the effect of word-processing on composition, studies have used analytical, holistic and mixed assessments of writing. Analyitical studies have looked at the number of words written, the number of errors committed, number of revisions made, and the number of corrections made (Darus, Ismail, & Ismail, 2008; Daiute, 1986; Grejda & Hannafin, 1992; Li & Cumming, 2001; Pennington, 1993). Holitistic assessments have looked at overall quality of writing including: types of revisions, content, organization, vocabulary, language use, and mechanics (Daiute, 1986; Grejda & Hannafin, 1992; Lam &


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Pennington, 1995; Li & Cumming, 2001; McAllister, 1988; Pennington, 1993). Findings on the effectiveness, or even what the effect of writing with wordprocessing is, have been mixed (Li & Cumming, 2001). Several studies have found that when comparing handwriting and word-processed compositions subjects wrote longer essays (Darus, Ismail, & Ismail, 2008; Li, 2005; Pennington, 1993; Rogers & Case-Smith, 2002). Conversely, other research has found that in first drafts, essays written with penand-paper are longer than those written by word-processor, but that on subsequent revised drafts word-processed essays were longer (Dainte, 1986). Mechanical improvements in capitalization, spelling and punctuation have been found consistently to occur when writing with word-processors (Daiute, 1986; Darus, Ismail & Ismail, 2008; Lam & Pennington, 1995; Pennington, 1993). Daiute states that “Since students used the word processing features to make more changes in spelling, mechanics and syntax problems in the text than they did with the pen, we can see that the word processor had a positive effect at least on editing� (1986, p. 156). Grejda and Hannafin (1992) point out that word processors may bias students toward mechanical editing and that it may take a substantial amount of time and concerted effort to help students realize the holistic benefits word-processing may hold (p. 148) Another benefit attributed to the use of word processors has been the use of higherlevel vocabulary. In a study on the effects of word-processing on Arab post-graduate EFL students’ essays, Darus, Ismail and Ismail (2008) found that the dictionary in the wordprocessor played a big role in helping them to compose their essays and choose relevant words (p. 90). Several studies have found that learners write essays of higher quality when


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

considered holistically. In a comparative study of 17 Cantonese-speaking 9th-grade high school boys, Lam and Pennington (1995) found that when looking at the holistic quality of their writing based on content, organization, vocabulary, and language use, scores were consistently higher for word-processed compositions than pen-and-paper compositions (p. 70). In a long-term case study that took place over eight months Li and Cumming found that a 29 year-old Mandarin Chinese speaker’s computer-written essays were mostly rated higher than were his hand-written essays. In contrast, other studies have found no significant difference in the holistic quality of writing (Grejda & Hannafin, 1992). A study by Bernhardt, Edwards and Wojahn (1989) found that for first-drafts hand-written essays were of higher quality than those written with word processors, but that subsequent revised word-processed texts were of slightly higher quality. Various comparative studies have looked at the number of revisions and the types of revisions made while writing with pen-and-paper and word processors. Li (2005) found that a group of ESL writers made consistently more revisions, including higher-level holistic revisions when writing with a word processor (p. 11). McAllister (1988) also found that students using word processors significantly improved quality of revisions over those who wrote with pen-and-paper (p. 425). These findings are in contrast to Daiute (1986) who found that there were fewer revisions made when using a computer to write than when writing with pen-and-paper, concluding that the students in the study did not use the word processing features to their full potential. When looking at the types of revisions being made, Daiute (1986) found that the most frequently occurring revision type was the addition of text to the end of paragraphs for those using computers while those writing with pen-and-paper tended to make in-text


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

changes. He concluded that rather than revising more with the word-processor than when writing with pen-and-paper, they revised differently (p. 153). In contrast, the students in Grejda and Hannafin’s (1992) study made few additions during revisions and focused on in-text revisions. They concluded that the short-term effects of word-processing appeared to be structural, but that the holistic benefits to quality of word-processed revisions were unfounded and yet to be proved (p. 148). This conflicts with the findings of Li (2005) who found higher-level holistic revisions with ESL students. More recent studies, particularly in the field of orthopedics have looked at the possibility of word processors to reduce lower-level cognitive load related to the physical mechanics of writing and to offer an alternative to those who have difficulty with handwriting, particularly problems with handwriting legibility (Connelly, Dockrell & Barnett, 2005; Connelly, 2007; Gee & Walsh, 2007; Christensen, 2004; Rogers & CaseSmith, 2002; Weintraub, Gilmour-Grill & Weiss, 2010). Rogers and Case-Smith (2002) found that 70% of 6th-grade students in their study produced more text using keyboarding versus handwriting. More noteworthy was that of the 20 slowest handwriters, 75% achieved faster text production. This is significant when considering that Connelly, Dockrell and Barnett (2005) found that undergraduate students in a writing class were writing by hand at approximately the speed of 5th-graders (p. 103), suggesting that the findings could be generalized to adults as well. Many studies have suggested that for the full benefits of word-processing to be realized, instruction on word-processing and keyboarding may be necessary (Grejda & Hannafin, 1992; Pennington, 1993). Christenson (2004) conducted a study where a group of students that had been found to have low-level proficiency skills in keyboarding were


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

split into two groups with the control group making journal entries on a computer for 20 minutes a day for eight weeks while the experimental group worked on a typing skills program for the same length of time and duration. Both groups showed improvements in their typing skills from pre-test to post-test; however, the experimental (typing skills) group did significantly better than the control (journaling) group. This suggests that though simply working on a computer will modestly improve the keyboarding skills of writers, direct typing instruction will lead to significantly better improvements. Improvements in the quality of writing when using a word-processor when compared to texts written by pen-and-paper have been documented in studies ranging from children to adults in general education as well as in the fields of ESL and EFL. Benefits cited include longer text, improvements in the mechanics of writing, more revisions, and higher holistic quality It has been suggested that ESL and EFL students can benefit as much or even more than native writers when using word-processing for writing English texts. Pennington (1993) states that “Second language writers may spend longer periods of time composing and learn to approach the composing task in new ways…when ESL students write easier, they may also write more and write differently” (p. 159). This hypothesis has been tested in several studies which have found that L2 writers have shown improvements in quality and quantity of writing (Darus, Ismail, & Ismail, 2008; Lam & Pennington, 1995; Li & Cumming, 2001; Pennington, 1993; Santiago, Nakata, Einwaechter, Marschmeier, & Schmiada, 1996). However, as Li & Cumming (2001) have pointed out, “there are far fewer empirical research studies on computer-assisted L2 writing, and the findings are less conclusive. Similar to those in L1, findings are also mixed” (p. 130).


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Santiago et al. (1996) did a study on the integration of word processing into a Japanese EFL course. The learners reported that they were at first apprehensive about using a word processor for writing English but as they became acquainted with the benefits of using it they reported preferring to write with it. They felt that it helped the writing process and to come up with ideas as well as making the revising of ideas easier. Conversely, they felt that it didn’t help to increase the quality of their writing. The instructor for the course also noted that it led to less writing in the course, mostly due to time lost learning to use the word processor and remembering commands. One reason for the conflicting research as to whether word processing has a significant effect on the quality of writing on both L1 and L2 writers may be due to the number of variables that must be factored. The diversity of variables reported in the literature can be broken down into at least four areas: (1) culture, (2) keyboarding, (3) mode of computer-based writing and (4) the writing task. The next section looks at each of these areas, the variables that are associated with them and how they may or may not have been found to affect the quality of English composition when writing through wordprocessing. Culture The cultural background of EFL writers appears to have an impact on their level of achievement. Biesenback-Lucas et al. (2000) found that there were differences between Asian and Arab writers’ compositions. Asian students wrote more text when writing via an email editor than when writing with a word-processor while Arab students wrote more when writing with a word processor (Biesenback-Lucas et al., 2000, p. 230). The type of writing also varied based on cultural background. When writing with word-processors Arab


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Saba Literature Review

students generally used more cohesive features than Asian students, while Asian students used more demonstrative noun phrases, pronouns and ellipses (p. 230).

Keyboarding Automation Recent studies in the field of orthopedics have found that the keyboarding proficiency of the writer has a major influence on the outcomes of the composition. Weintraub et al. (2010) did a study on 63 adults and found that their handwriting ability was 10% faster than their keyboarding ability, with greater variance in keyboarding speed. Among the slow keyboarders, their speed was 60% slower than their writing speed while fast keyboarders typed somewhat faster than they wrote (p. 127). For word-processing to be an effective means of writing, and for the benefits of word-processing to be fully realized, learners need to have a keyboarding ability which is at least as fast as their handwriting ability (Dainte, 1986; Grejda & Hannafin, 1992; Santiago et al., 1996; Weintraub et al., 2010). Li (2006) also came to this conclusion in her study of Mandarin speaking EFL learners saying that “Had they all received formal training in keyboarding and computer assisted ESL writing, their achievements in computer-assisted writing might have been even greater” (p. 17). The impact of such training was demonstrated in Lam and Pennington’s (1995) study in which students were provided with one month of word-processing training prior to their study on the use of word-processors for EFL writing. They concluded that students’ adjustment to the computer medium for writing was relatively smooth and rapid as a result (p. 71). Mode of Computer-based Writing The mode of computer-based writing may have an influence on quality of the


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

writing produced with editing features varying greatly from program to program and between types of editors. For example, in their study, Biesenback-Lucas et al. found that the average number of words was significantly higher for word-processed texts than for email texts. Moreover, when considering culture and form of writing together, there are striking disparities. Biesenback-Lucas et al. (2000) found that while there was only a small difference between the text length of email and word-processed compositions written by Asian students, Arab students wrote considerably longer word-processed texts than their emails (p. 230). The features of the computer-based writing tool may also have an impact on the quality of the writing. Biesenbach-Lucas et al. (2000) believed that it may have been the limited features of the email editor that prevented their subjects from developing their ideas to the same extend that they did in a word-processed text (p. 233). Writing Task Time and experience. Writing with word-processors appears to be most beneficial when students are given time to work with them and to make revisions. Hsin, the L2 subject in Li and Cummings (2001) study benefitted almost immediately after beginning to use a word processor gaining improved surface-level features in his writing as a result of the spellchecking and grammar-checking prompts. However, Li and Cummings concluded that it would probably take a long time for learners such as Hsin to gain the full potential that word-processing has to offer related to holistic improvements such as complicated skills and rhetorical structures (p. 144). Grejda & Hannafin, (1992) came to a similar conclusion believing that though mechanical and organizational revisions appear to improve


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

significantly, holistic writing quality may require substantially more time to develop (p. 148). Prompts. The level to which writers fully use the features of a word processor appears to depend on the use of prompts to consider revisions. Such prompts include spell checking, grammar and punctuation checking as well as holistic prompts that advise the writer to consider what they’ve written (Daiute, 1986). In a study in which students were split into two groups, one using word-processing with prompts and one using word-processing without prompts, Daiute (1986) found that those who used the prompting program made significantly more revisions and did so in a more balanced way, making both in-text revisions and end-of-text additions. He concluded that as a result of the prompt-guide, students used the word processing features to a greater extent than did the students without the prompt-guide (p. 156). Li and Cumming (2001) reported that the use of the spellchecking prompts may have helped Hsin to commit fewer spelling errors leading to higher scores on his essays (pp. 143-144). Conversely, Santiago et al. (1996) found that although their Japanese EFL learners benefited from the spell-checking prompts, they also became more careless not realizing that the spell checker did not catch all the errors (p. 108). Perception, academic context and cognitive load. When writing, students’ perception of the writing task may have an impact on the amount of effort they put into their compositions. When writing for their professor in a classroom in response to a reading or when writing for a high-stakes exam, students tend to put more effort into their writing than when they perceive the writing task to be casual and of little consequence to their academic career (Biesenback-Lucas et al., 2000). Moreover,


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

the physical proficiency of handwriting or keyboarding that a student brings to the academic context affects his or her ability to perform, particularly when under pressure. In a study on undergraduate students’ handwriting and its affect on writing performance, Connelly et al. (2005) found that students with poor handwriting, though not showing any performance difference in casual writing situations, performed significantly lower under the pressures of examinations. They concluded that when cognitive load is high writing fluency becomes an important predictor of writing quality, stating that “The slower the writer, the less concurrent planning and editing can take place to ensure the body section of the essay is of a high standard” (p. 104). Previous Knowledge. The knowledge that students bring about a subject when doing a writing task can also have an influence on the amount of writing they produce and the quality of their writing. Students with background knowledge of a topic may perform better. BeisenbachLucas et al. (2000) found that Asian students may have had more to say about the prompt question, related to China’s one-child policy than the Arab students in the study, leading to more writing (p. 232). Conclusion Word-processing appears to hold the potential to help L2 learners improve the quality of their writing both at the surface level and holistically. Word-processing has been shown to lead to greater quantity of text production and lower levels of surface errors such as spelling, capitalization and punctuation errors through the prompting of checkers. By reducing the cognitive load of mechanical surface features, L2 students can focus more on developing higher-level writing and communication skills. Word-processors can also


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

enable them to become more self-sufficient writers through scaffolding their composition of text. Moreover, by making writing easier, L2 writers may find composition with a word processor more motivating (Daiute; 1983). Although word-processing offers many benefits, there are also new challenges created when using them to compose text. Keyboarding has been shown to be a consistent concern. If an L2 learner is not able to type at least as fast as they can write, then the benefits of word-processing are not fully realized, and indeed, can lead to decreased performance rather than improvement (Daiute, 1986; Santiago et al., 1996; Weintraub et al., 2010). Li and Cumming (2001) pointed out nearly a decade ago that there have been few studies done on computer assisted L2 writing and that the findings are mixed in the studies that had been done. There has been little research done since that time and the research that has been done has looked primarily at surface level changes to quality. There is still little conclusive evidence that word-processing can lead to improved holistic quality of L2 writing. Moreover, the types of improvements are likely to be culturally bound as Biesenbach-Lucas and Weasenforth (2000) found in their study of Asian and Arab EFL learners email writings. Li (2005) points out that both L1 and L2 writers of today have become familiar with writing with a computer, but that tests of English generally continue to be done through pen-andpaper examination. She contends that the Chinese learners of English in her study found this to be problematic because their writing abilities are disadvantaged due to lack of familiarity with such a writing mode. She asks, “Is it valid or fair to force these people back to pen and paperbased writing for an assessment of their writing ability?�(p. 16).


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Like the Chinese students in Li’s (2005) study, Korean university students continue to take pen-and-paper based English examinations. Is it fair to be assessing their English proficiency in such a manner? Moreover, how do the hand-written English texts of Korean students compare with their word-processed compositions? Li (2005) proposes that future studies need to look at the influences of computers on styles of writing for ESL writers of similar and different backgrounds. Furthermore, few of the Chinese participants in her study had received any formal training in keyboarding and ESL writing, suggesting this as a future avenue of investigation. Research on the influences of word-processing on Korean university students writing and the interactions of keyboarding proficiency on their computer-based composition is an area which would build on the current body of knowledge in the field.

References Benesch, S. (1987). Word processing in English as a second language: A case study of three nonnative college students. Bernhardt, S. A., Wojahn, P., & Edwards, P.R. (1989). Teaching college composition with computers: A program evaluation study. Written Communication, 6(1), 108-33. Biesenbach-Lucas, S., Meloni, C., & Weasenforth, D. (2000). Use of cohesive features in ESL students' e-mail and word-processed texts: A comparative study. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 13(3). Christensen, C. A. (2004). Relationship between orthographic-motor integration and computer use for the production of creative and well-structured written text. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(4), 551-564.


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review

Connelly, V., Dockrell, J. E., & Barnett, J. (2005). The slow handwriting of undergraduate students constrains overall performance in exam essays. Educational Psychology, 25(1), 99-107. doi:10.1080/0144341042000294912 Connelly, V., Gee, D., & Walsh, E. (2007). A comparison of keyboarded and handwritten compositions and the relationship with transcription speed. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77(2), 479-492. doi:10.1348/000709906X116768 Daiute, C. (1986). Physical and cognitive factors in revising: Insights from studies with computers. Research in the Teaching of English, 20(2), 141-159. Daiute, C. A. (1983). The computer as stylus and audience. College Composition and Communication, 34(2), 134-145. Darus, S., Ismail, K., & Ismail, M. B. M. (2008). Effects of word processing on Arab postgraduate students' essays in EFL. Grejda, G. F., & Hannafin, M. J. (1992). Effects of word processing on sixth graders' holistic writing and revisions. Journal of Educational Research, 85(3), 144. Hopwood, T., & Bell Educational Trust, C. (. (1989). The Use of the word-processor in the teaching of English as a foreign language to adults. Lam, F. S., & Pennington, M. C. (1995). The computer vs. the pen: A comparative study of word processing in a Hong Kong secondary classroom. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 8(1), 75-92. Li, J. (2006). The mediation of technology in ESL writing and its implications for writing assessment. Assessing Writing, 11(1), 5-21. doi:10.1016/j.asw.2005.09.001 Li, J., & Cumming, A. (2001). Word processing and second language writing: A longitudinal case study. International Journal of English Studies, 1(2), 127-52.


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McAllister, C., & Louth, R. (1988). The effect of word processing on the quality of basic writers' revisions. Research in the Teaching of English, 22(4), 417-427. Miyazoe, T., & Anderson, T. (2010). Learning outcomes and students' perceptions of online writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting. System, 38(2), 185-199. doi:10.1016/j.system.2010.03.006 Pennington, M. C. (1993). Exploring the potential of word processing for non-native writers. Computers and the Humanities, 27(3), 149-163. Pennington, M. C. (2004). Electronic media in second language writing: An overview of tools and research findings. In S. Fotos & C. Browne (Eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms., ESL and applied linguistics professional series (pp. 6992). PĂŠrez-Sotelo, L., & GonzĂĄlez-Bueno, M. (2003). Idea: Electronic writing in L2: Accuracy vs other outcomes. Hispania, 86(4), 869-873. Rogers, J., & Case-Smith, J. (2002). Relationships between handwriting and keyboarding performance of sixth-grade students. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56(1), 34-39. doi:10.5014/ajot.56.1.34 Santiago, R., Nakata, M., Nelson Einwaechter, Marschmeier, R., & Shimada, R. (1996). Integrating technology in the writing curriculum of Japanese learners of English as a foreign language. Educational Technology Research and Development, 44(3), 102-109. Weintraub, N., Gilmour-Grill, N., & Weiss, P. (2010). Relationship between handwriting and keyboarding performance among fast and slow adult keyboarders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64(1), 123-132. Wu, C. (2006). Blogs in TEFL: A new promising vehicle. Online Submission.


Edtech 561

Saba Literature Review


Literature Review