*Prema Ponnudurai & Antoon De Rycker
Much second-language essay writing in higher education has been found lacking in both content and academic vocabulary. To stimulate higher-order thinking and to activate a more suitable vocabulary, argumentative essay-writing tasks in English can integrate prior reading material. Whether this source text should be presented online or in print, and how either presentation mode impacts tertiary students’ vocabulary usage has not been extensively researched. In this study, a quasi-experimental comparative design is employed to investigate the relationship between the presentation mode of a reading-to-write source text (on the topic of crime and imprisonment) and the academic and topic-specific vocabulary that Malaysian Gen Y students (N = 45) use in their second-language writing. Analysis of the essays, using VocabProfile and Text Lex Compare software, shows that in both the online and print conditions, student writers are similar in their usage of sub-technical academic words (e.g. assume, benefit and significant). However, students who accessed the source text online display a higher number and wider range of topic-specific words (prison, convict and handcuffs) than students who read the same text in print. In other words, the online presentation mode seems to be associated with a lexically more diverse and sophisticated specialist vocabulary. It is not yet clear whether this positive effect is due to the increased motivation that Gen Y students experience in an ICT-driven learning environment or to other, more general cognitive and affective factors. Still, the study warrants the conclusion that academic writing instructors will be more successful in addressing the problem of weak vocabulary by setting reading-based writing tasks that present the source text online rather than in print.
Keywords: Reading-based writing tasks, vocabulary usage, academic and topicspecific vocabulary, Gen Y students, English as a Second Language