The purpose of this web site is to provide
students with the information required to write essays for the US academic
audience. It is designed principally for those students who have had no classes
in formal English composition and whose TOEFL scores are about 500 or more.
Writing compositions for an English speaking academic audience requires writing
well at the sentence level, the paragraph level, and at the organizational
level. That is what this web page is about. At the sentence level,
students should be able to identify and write simple, compound, and complex
sentences, and sentences containing adjective clauses and appositives. At
the paragraph level, students should be able to identify and write paragraphs
including topic sentences and supporting details. At the organizational
level, students should learn how to write essays of the following genres:
Giving Instructions, Cause/Effect, Comparison/Contrast, and Persuasion.
The Major Problem when Writing for a US
Organization of ideas within essays is
often the greatest weakness of many beginning writing students in US colleges
and universities. Most beginning composition courses there—even
for native English speakers—focus
specifically on organization. For non-native English speaking students,
organization of ideas within essays is problematic because different cultural
backgrounds require different organizational patterns. Robert Kaplan has written
about the organizational differences among a variety of cultural groups
which he represents as follows:
The classic organizational pattern that
readers of English 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."
Although the organizational patterns of the cultures such as those identified
above are all valid, in order to succeed when writing for an English speaking
academic audience, it is necessary to adapt to those expectations.
However, adapting to the cultural
expectations of an English speaking academic audience is not an easy task. A Japanese writer,
for example, will often begin by writing about a variety of 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 coming to the main point in the conclusion. A
typical comment that a reader of an essay written by a Mexican writer might be
"But I don't understand his/her main 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 be an easy task, it is a
necessary one, especially if one wants to be heard.
What about those writers who succeed in
adapting 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 the Korean who earned his Doctorate in the United States after
eight years of study. When he wrote a scholarly article in Korean about his area
of concentration, the article was rejected because it was "not good Korean."
Thus, if a writer adjusts to the expectations of a foreign audience, it is
important to remember that a similar "readjustment" will be necessary when
reverting back to writing in the native language (Kaplan).
A Final Reason for Conforming to the
Organizational Expectations of an English Speaking Academic Audience—The Social, Economic, and
Finally, an important reason for writing,
especially for non-native speakers of English, is to influence one's social,
economic, or political environment. Thus, meaningful writing often challenges
the existing power structures. Researchers in education who are committed to
changing the power structures that exist between those who have power and those
who have little or no power (native English speakers vs. non-native English
speakers in many cases) say that "Students should understand the power
realities" (Delpit 293),
and that 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 will writers
strengthen their capacity to be heard. Perhaps through writing that meets the
expectations of the US academic audience, non-native speakers of English can
influence social, economic, and political developments to conform to their
vision of a better world.