Online linguistic tools on L2 English writing

Contributor: Sohyeon Lee | Reviewer: Ye Won “Maria” Joo| Date: 2023-03-30

What is the study about?

With the development of technology, spelling checking tools are provided by word processing software and online dictionaries are also easily accessible. Second language (L2) writers nowadays naturally make use of these linguistic tools for their L2 writing. Nevertheless, the use of these tools is often not allowed in L2 writing assessments. Moreover, some scholars say that L2 writers do not pay attention to the meaning of the words but only focus on the forms when the errors are indicated by the spelling checking tools. However, not many studies are done to have a better understanding in this field. This study aims to figure out how the use of linguistic tools affect L2 students’ writing process and performance.

What did the researcher do?

A total of 86 adult students with diverse backgrounds participated in this study. All participants took an English proficiency test in advance so that each group could have a similar number of students with similar English proficiency levels. All of them are learning English as a second language in the US, and they were assigned to three separate groups to have the same computer-based writing tests with slightly different conditions. One group had a spelling tool activated in their word processing software, another group had access to an online dictionary, and the other group had no access to any of these tools. Three different writing tasks were provided in a controlled setting and the task types were selected to collect responses for everyday academic writing tasks such as writing an email to a group project partner. Computer screens were recorded to track students’ writing process and data was analyzed by two veteran English as a Second Language teachers. Students’ writing was rated based on an analytic rubric in terms of form, meaning, and function, and total scores of each group were compared across tasks.

What did the researcher find?

The study found that neither the use of a spelling checking tool, nor the use of a reference tool made a significant difference in the total scores across the three writing tasks. Despite the common assumptions and concerns regarding the use of these tools, the result indicated that students made changes for both forms and meanings of the words when the errors were detected by the linguistic tools.

Why is the finding important?

This finding has important implications in that it provides evidence of how linguistic tools in L2 writing assessment do not interfere with students’ writing ability. The fact that students can get help with the linguistic tools by paying attention to both forms and meanings of the words also supports the implementation of these linguistic tools in L2 writing assessment. As the use of these tools can still measure students’ writing ability fairly, its implementation can be well considered.

Original Text: Oh, S. (2022). The use of spelling and reference tools in second language writing: Their impact on students’ writing performance and process. Journal of Second Language Writing, 57

Cite this summary: 
Lee, Sohyeon. (2023). Online linguistic tools on L2 English writing. Summary of Oh (2022). in  Journal of Second Language Writing. Retrieved from

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