Do Errors Matter? The effects of actual and perceived L2 English errors in writing on native and non-native English speakers’ evaluations of the text, the writer and the persuasiveness of the text

Brigitte Planken, Frank van Meurs, Karin Maria


Building on studies of L1 error effects in writing, the present study aimed to gain further insight into the
communicative consequences of actual and perceived L2 errors in writing by investigating their effects beyond the
evaluation of text quality. No studies of L2 writing would appear to have investigated the impact of errors on
perception of the author and communicative outcomes. We investigated the effect of L2 English errors in persuasive
writing on native and non-native English speakers’ evaluation of the text, of the author, and of the persuasiveness of
the text. Selected, authentic, errors from a corpus of petitions written in English by Dutch native speakers were
included in a stimulus text. Two versions of the text were presented to (non-teacher) participants in a 2 (errors vs. no
errors) by 2 (native vs. non-native judges) between-subject experimental design. It was found that, while actual error
had no effect on the participants’ evaluation of the text, the author, or the persuasiveness of the text, perceived error
(that is, if participants thought the text contained errors) had a significant negative effect on text attractiveness and
the author’s trustworthiness, friendliness and competence. Thus, the findings would suggest that perceived error
plays an important role in how non-teacher judges evaluate a text and its author, and, more generally, that such
judges would seem to use their own standards of correctness against which to judge writing and the writer, regardless
of whether the judges are native or non-native speakers.

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