Special Issue "Investigating and Re-imagining Task Complexity in Task-Based L2 Writing"

A special issue of Languages (ISSN 2226-471X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 July 2022) | Viewed by 842

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Zsuzsanna I. Abrams
E-Mail Website1 Website2
Guest Editor
Department of Languages and Applied Linguistics, University of California Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
Interests: L2 writing; task-based language learning; computer-mediated collaborative L2 writing; computer-mediated communication; L2 pragmatics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,    

This Special Issue of Languages aims to bring together state-of-the art research on the effects of task complexity on second/foreign (L2) writing. Task complexity within task-based language teaching/learning (TBLT) has been studied from the perspective of two conflicting views of cognitive demand: Skehan’s (2001) and Skehan and Foster’s (2001, 2012) Limited Attentional Capacity Model and Robinson’s (2001, 2003, 2005) Cognition Hypothesis. The former sees task complexity in conflict with learners' ability to attend to both content and form; the latter posits that an increased demand on attentional resources, instead of competing with each other, might help expand learners' existing L2 system or facilitate access to it, depending on whether task complexification happens along resource-directing dimensions (e.g., the number of task elements, the narrative frame, or the type of reasoning required) or resource-dispersing ones (e.g., the presence or absence of planning time or background knowledge) (Robinson and Gilabert, 2007). The original models were based on oral language production, but recent research has re-examined the appropriateness of these two models in L2 writing as well. In TBLT L2 writing studies, task complexity has been investigated in terms of pre-task planning (Ong and Zhang, 2010), types of pre-tasks (Abrams and Byrd, 2016a,b), content availability (Kormos, 2011; Manchón, 2014, Révész Kourtali and Mazgutova, 2017), source integration (Abrams, 2019), collaboration (Neumann and McDonough (2014, 2015), as well as other task components (Kuiken and Vedder, 2008, 2012; Levkina and Gilabert, 2012; Sample and Michel, 2014; Vasylets, Gilabert and Manchón, 2017). The findings of these studies have often provided contradictory information regarding which of Skehan’s and Robinson’s models may best explain learners’ performance in task-based L2 writing.

In order to explore the effects of task complexity on task-based L2 writing in a coherent fashion, this Special Issue of Languages welcomes papers that provide a deeper understanding of this construct. Of particular interest are studies that help reimagine the notion of task complexity either by considering the development of different definitions of task complexity in written as compared to spoken L2 performance or by including other dimensions of task complexity that have received little attention thus far, such as affective considerations (e.g., motivation, attitude, self-confidence), background knowledge, L1 use and L2 proficiency, type of written modality or collaboration, among other possible task features and learner variables.

We request that prior to submitting a manuscript, interested authors initially submit a proposed title and an abstract of 400–600 words summarizing their intended contribution. Please send it to the guest editor ([email protected]) or to the Languages editorial office ([email protected]). Abstracts will be reviewed by the guest editors for the purposes of ensuring proper fit within the scope of the Special Issue. Full manuscripts will undergo double-blind peer-review.

Tentative completion schedule:

  • New abstract deadline: December 1, 2021
  • Notification by: January 31, 2022
  • New full submission deadline: July 1, 2022


Abrams, Zs. I. (2019). The effects of integrated writing on linguistic complexity in L2 writing and task-complexity. System, 81, 110–121.

Abrams, Zs. I., & Byrd, D. R. (2016a). The effects of pre-task planning on L2 writing: Mind-mapping and chronological sequencing in a 1st-year German class. System, 63, 1-12.

Abrams, Zs. I., & Byrd, D. R. (2016b). The effects of meaning-focused pre-tasks on beginning-level L2 writing in German: An exploratory study. Language Teaching Research, 21(4), 434-453.

Kuiken, F., & Vedder, I. (2008). Cognitive task complexity and written output in Italian and French as a foreign language. Journal of Second Language Writing, 17, 48–60.

Kuiken, F., & Vedder, I. (2012). Syntactic complexity, lexical variation and accuracy as a function of task complexity and proficiency level in L2 writing and speaking. In Housen, A., Kuiken, F., & Vedder, I. (Eds). Dimensions of L2 performance and proficiency: Complexity, accuracy and fluency in SLA, (pp. 143-170).  Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Kormos, J. (2011). Task complexity and linguistic and discourse features of narrative writing performance. Journal of Second Language Writing, 20, 148-161.

Levkina, M., & Gilabert, R. (2012). The effects of cognitive task complexity on L2 oral production.  In A. Housen, F. Kuiken, &  I. Vedder, (Eds.) Dimensions of L2 performance and proficiency: Complexity, accuracy and fluency in SLA (pp. 171-197). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Manchón, R. M. (2014). The internal dimension of tasks: The interaction between task factors and learner factors in bringing about learning through writing. In H. Byrnes & R. M. Manchón (Eds.), Task-based language learning: Insights to and from writing (pp. 27-52). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Neumann, H., & McDonough, K. (2014). ‘Exploring the relationships among student preferences, prewriting tasks, and text quality in an EAP context.’ Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 15, 14-26.

Neumann, H., & McDonough, K. (2015). Exploring student interaction during collaborative prewriting discussions and its relationship to L2 writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 27, 84–104.

Ong, J., & Zhang, L. J. (2010). Effects of task complexity on the fluency and lexical complexity in EFL students' argumentative writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19, 218-233.

Révész, A., Kourtali, N.-E., & Mazgutova, D. (2017). Effects of task complexity on L2 writing behaviors and linguistic complexity. Language Learning, 67, 208-241.

Robinson, P. (2001). Task complexity, task difficulty, and task production: Exploring interactions in a componential framework. Applied Linguistics, 22(1), 27-57.

Robinson, P. (2003). The Cognition Hypothesis of adult, task-based language learning. Second Language Studies, 21, 45-107.

Robinson, P. (2005). Cognitive complexity and task sequencing: Studies in a componential framework for second language task design. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 43, 1-32.

Robinson, P., & Gilabert, R. (2007). Task complexity, the cognition hypothesis and second language learning and performance. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 45, 161-176.

Sample, E., & Michel, M. (2014). An exploratory study into trade-off effects of complexity, accuracy, and fluency on young learners’ oral task repetition. TESL Canada Journal, 31(8), 23-46.

Skehan, P. (2001). Tasks and language performance. In M. Bygate, P. Skehan, & M. Swain (Eds.), Research Pedagogic Tasks: Second Language Learning, Teaching, and Testing (pp. 167-185). Longman.

Skehan, P., & Foster, P. (2001). Task and language performance assessment. In M. Bygate, P. Skehan, & M. Swain (Eds.), Researching pedagogic tasks (pp. 167-185). Essex, UK: Pearson Education.

Skehan, P., & Foster, P. (2012). Complexity, accuracy fluency and lexis in task-based performance: A synthesis of the ealing research. In A. Housen, F. Kuiken, & I. Vedder (Eds.), Dimensions of L2 performance and proficiency: Complexity, accuracy and fluency in SLA (pp. 199-220). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

Vasylets, O., Gilabert, R., & Manch_on, R. M. (2017). The effects of mode and task complexity on second language production. Language Learning, 67(2), 394-430.

Prof. Zsuzsanna I. Abrams
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Languages is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • task-based language teaching
  • L2 writing
  • task complexity
  • Cognition Hypothesis
  • Limited Attentional Capacity Model
  • re-imagining task complexity

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Pen-and-Paper versus Computer-Mediated Writing Modality as a New Dimension of Task Complexity
Languages 2022, 7(3), 195; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7030195 - 27 Jul 2022
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In this paper we make a proposal that writing modality (pen-and-paper versus computer-based writing can be conceptualized as a cognitive task complexity factor. To lay ground for this theoretical proposal, we first review previous adaptations of cognitive task-based models to second language (L2) [...] Read more.
In this paper we make a proposal that writing modality (pen-and-paper versus computer-based writing can be conceptualized as a cognitive task complexity factor. To lay ground for this theoretical proposal, we first review previous adaptations of cognitive task-based models to second language (L2) writing. We then compare pen-and-paper and computer-based writing modalities in terms of their general characteristics, outline the main tenets of multidisciplinary theoretical models which attribute learning and performance-related importance to writing modality, and review the available empirical evidence. From this we draw theoretical and empirical justification for our conceptualization of writing modality as a task complexity dimension. After outlining our conceptual view, we proceed with the review of the methods which could be used to independently assess cognitive load in paper and computer-written L2 tasks. In the conclusion, implications and suggestions for future research are provided. Full article
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