The Effects of Task Complexity on English Writing Performance

Lingjie ZHU, Qian HUANG


Based on Skehan’s Limited Attentional Capacity Model and Robinson’s Cognitive Hypothesis Model, and taking 79 sophomores from three parallel classes of English majors in Zhijiang College of Zhejiang University of Technology as subjects, this paper investigates the effects of three different types of writing tasks with different complexity on English majors’ English writing output. Three writing tasks are designed with different levels of complexity by controlling four variables: elements, reasoning demands, prior knowledge, single task. The research aims to find out the influence of writing tasks of different complexity on learners’ language performance (including accuracy, fluency and complexity), their total scores and the content of their compositions. The results show that task complexity has a significant impact on learners’ language accuracy and total writing scores; It has some but not very significant effects on learners’ lexical complexity, but it has no effect on language fluency and syntactic complexity. The study also finds that task types have a significant impact on students’ English writing content. The comprehensive writing task can measure students’ English writing ability more effectively, in that it triggers richer contents and optimized structures in students’ compositions.


Task complexity; Task difficulty; Task types; Accuracy; Fluency

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