The purpose of this web site is to help students write essays for a university academic audience. The materials are designed for students who have had no classes in formal English composition and whose TOEFL scores are about 500 or more. The focus is on writing well at the sentence level, the paragraph level, and the organizational level. At the sentence level, students should know simple, compound, and complex sentences, and sentences containing adjective clauses and appositives. At the paragraph level, students should be able to write paragraphs that include topic sentences and supporting details. At the organizational level, students should know how to write the following types of essays: Giving Instructions, Cause/Effect, Comparison/Contrast, and Persuasion.
Organization of ideas is often the greatest weakness of many beginning writing students in US universities. Fortunately, organization of ideas is also the easiest problem to fix. For non-native English speakers, organization of ideas is at first hard to understand because it is different. Why? Because different cultures use different organizational patterns in writing. Robert Kaplan has written about the organizational differences among various cultural groups which he represents in the chart below:
The classic organizational pattern that English readers expect is a straight line of development which includes introductions, main ideas, topic sentences, supporting details, conclusions, etc. This organizational pattern can be stated simply: "Tell your audience what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them." That is also called "stating your organization" within your essay. Although all the organizational patterns of the cultures listed above are valid, to succeed when writing for an English speaking academic audience, it is necessary to adapt to the expectations of the reader.
However, adapting to the cultural expectations of an English academic audience is not always easy. A Japanese writer, for example, will often begin by writing about various items surrounding a topic before arriving at the main point which is stated in the conclusion. A typical comment that a reader of an essay written by a Japanese writer might be "When is he/she going to get to the point?" and the Japanese writer might respond, "But I do not like to be so direct; it is not the Japanese nature to be so direct." Likewise, a Mexican writer will often begin with a brief introduction and then write about one side of an issue and then another—often with much adornment—before getting to the main point in the conclusion. A typical comment that a reader of an essay written by a Mexican writer might be "What was all that about? I don't understand the point. It's never really stated, and it's not clear." The Mexican writer might respond, "But I would like you to understand all the possibilities and the context so you can get involved in what I have to say."
Although adapting to the cultural expectations of an English speaking academic audience may not feel comfortable at first, it is required, especially if one wants to succeed.
Question: What about writers who adapt to the organizational expectations of the English speaking academic audience? Do they lose their ability to write in their native language? Answer: They can. There is the story of a Korean who earned his Doctorate in the US after eight years of study. When he wrote an academic article in Korean about his field of study, the article was rejected because it was "not good Korean." This means that if a writer adjusts to the expectations of an English speaking academic audience, it is important to remember that a similar "readjustment" will be necessary when going back to writing in the native language (Kaplan).
Finally, an important reason for writing—some say the most important reason for writing—is to influence one's social, economic, or political environment. Sometimes writing challenges existing power structures. But because non-native English speakers often have little or no power, some educators believe that "Students should understand the power realities" (Delpit 293), which means teachers should teach the "communicative codes of the powerful" including ways of writing (Delpit, by Villegas 23). Only by adapting to the communicative codes of the powerful can writers make themselves heard. So when meeting the expectations of a US academic audience in an organized essay occurs, perhaps non-native speakers of English can influence social, economic, and political developments toward their vision of a better world.