Fostering EFL College Students’ Register Awareness: Writing Online Forum Posts and Traditional Essays

Fostering EFL College Students’ Register Awareness: Writing Online Forum Posts and Traditional Essays

Ching-Fen Chang (National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/ijcallt.2012070102
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This study explores 19 Taiwanese students’ writing in weekly online forum posts and traditional essays. Results drawn from discourse analysis of students’ writing in both types of writing tasks showed that the semester-long online writing accompanied by explicit instruction on essays and basic academic writing conventions appeared to help raise EFL students’ consciousness of register in the two writing contexts and help them make appropriate linguistic adjustments. Quantitative analysis using three measures of syntactic complexity revealed that the students tended to use syntactically more complex sentence structures in essays than in online forums. A number of typical informal or online linguistic features characterize the students’ online forums more frequently than in essays. Finally, although most of these EFL college students seemed able to take different approaches to online writing and essay writing at the end of the semester, some students adopted the same rigorous approach to both types of writing as a result of a strategic response to avoid losing face or being misunderstood when writing in a public domain. The results suggest that providing EFL learners a forum where they can express themselves in less formal language is beneficial.
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Literature Review

The language use emerging from CMC has been identified as new forms of literacy (e.g., Crystal, 2001, 2011; Cummins, Brown, & Sayers, 2007; Lotherington & Jenson, 2011). As Crystal (2001) notes, various online discourse forms, such as e-mail, chat groups, and virtual worlds, display distinctive linguistic features governed by situational factors embedded in a specific format of the Internet. The time- and space-independent features of CMC result in the lack of visual paralinguistic and nonverbal cues which characterize face-to-face communication (Crystal, 2001, 2011; Dresner & Herring, 2008; Herring, 1996; Murray, 2000; 2005). CMC users usually generate simplified registers such as the use of abbreviation, simplified syntax, symbols, and formulaic phrases in their CMC writing (Murray, 2000). Furthermore, since language used in CMC context is full of “idiosyncrasy and variation” (Crystal, 2001, p. 15), the discourse generated in diverse online discourse communities is usually “socially transformative, enabling better communication, as well as more flexibility and expressiveness” (Kwaśnik & Crowston, 2005, p. 79).


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