Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Scott Crossley

Second Advisor

Lee Branum-Martin

Third Advisor

Sara Cushing

Fourth Advisor

YouJin Kim


English writing skills are important components of multilingual students’ successful academic performance in English-medium higher education. However, little research has been conducted on how multilingual writers develop their English writing skills over time in higher education. Thus, the purpose of the dissertation was to investigate the longitudinal development of English writing for multilingual students in higher education in relation to language skills and knowledge (vocabulary and reading), cognitive skills and knowledge (attention, working memory, and general knowledge), and language features (academic word use and language burst lengths [i.e., the number of characters produced between pauses]).

Seventy-seven multilingual undergraduates at a US university participated in two sessions with an at least five-month interval. They were from various countries including China, India, Mexico, and Zimbabwe. The students produced persuasive essays in English and took English reading and vocabulary tests on two occasions. They also completed an attention task, a working memory capacity task, and general knowledge test at the initial time of measurement. A writing process feature was captured by mean burst lengths. A written product feature was characterized by the production of academic words. Latent change score models were used.

Four main findings are reported. First, multilingual students’ gains in English writing scores tended to rise as a function of lower initial levels of English writing scores, English reading scores, general knowledge scores, and academic words found in essays. This supports a “poor get richer” scenario rather than “rich get richer,” such that initial lower levels may leave greater potential for gains in writing scores. Second, gains in English writing scores co-occurred with increases in academic words and gains in English reading scores. This indicates the positive longitudinal relationships of writing with reading and vocabulary use. Third, greater gains in writing scores were related to higher levels of working memory capacity, which suggests that working memory capacity is important in learning-to-write processes. Lastly, the presence of a latent variable of English literacy indicated by English writing, reading, and vocabulary was supported over time, providing a parsimonious understanding of English-literacy related variables. Theoretical and pedagogical implications are discussed.