1. - Studying in the US: Writing College Papers
This is the VOA Special English Education Report.
Today in our Foreign Student Series we discuss writing college papers. Writing a term paper, research paper or essay for a college class is a kind of academic writing. Academic writing among professionals is a way to create new knowledge.
A professor assigns students to write a paper. The students examine an issue, review what is already known, think about what they have learned and come to some conclusion.
This means that each student-writer must present information and also take a position. The student might support an idea, question it or even disprove it. Or the writer could show how the subject may be understood better or in a different way than it has been. And the student must support the position with evidence.
Cultural differences may interfere when international students try to write this way. Writing teachers say students in many countries have learned to write beautiful descriptions about something without ever stating the main idea. American college students are expected to state their main idea at the beginning of the paper.
In other cultures, paragraphs may be organized to build toward the main idea, which is revealed at the end. But in the United States, the main idea of each paragraph should be in the first sentence. Another difference is about writing style. Other cultures may use lots of descriptive words. But American English values short, strong sentences.
Teachers at the writing center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana work with students to improve their writing. Graduate tutor Lars Soderlund says non-native English speakers generally have some trouble with English grammar.
He says their sentences may be too long. Or they incorrectly use articles such as "a", "an" and "the." He also says non-native speakers generally use too much emotional language and give too many details before getting to the main idea.
The associate director of the writing center, Tammi Conard-Salvo, says international students should look online for materials that explain the kind of writing they will be required to do. They should ask their professors for help. Most colleges have a writing center where they can get free individual help with their work.
Links to writing center materials can be found on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Jim Tedder.
2. - How to Write an Essay?
AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on WORDMASTER: what a teacher and a student have to say about writing a persuasive essay.
DANNY SHEFFIELD: "My name is Danny Sheffield and I teach in Bentonville, Arkansas, at Northwest Arkansas Community College."
AA: "Why don't you fill us in a little bit about some of the conventions of writing a persuasive essay in American higher education."
DANNY SHEFFIELD: "Well, one of the basic things about writing any essay is to remember three key points about how to present an English essay. Number one, say what you're going to say, so you're telling the reader what you're going to talk about, what you're going to write about, and maybe even your stance during that first introductory say-what-you're-going-to-say paragraph.
"The second thing is, say it. And here's where you introduce the topics that you have generalized in your say-it paragraph, your introductory paragraph, and provide details and specifics and statistics and facts to support what you have stated.
"And the third part is, say it again. Summarize the main parts of your essay and re-emphasize definitely the key points that you have made and that you want your reader to understand.
"And I think as far as writing essays at the secondary level, post-secondary level, to keep it that simple -- to say what you're going to say, say it and say it again -- is a key to having students produce effective essays."
AA: "But what really separates an outstanding essay from one that's maybe just good or average?"
DANNY SHEFFIELD: "I would maybe characterize an excellent essay as having a personal tone -- "
AA: "And what do you mean by a personal tone?"
DANNY SHEFFIELD: "A person using their personal voice rather than trying to academinize -- "
AA: "Make it sound overly academic."
DANNY SHEFFIELD: "Yes, yes. Because people respond to a personal voice a lot of times much more emotionally than they do -- and psychologically -- than they do to an academic voice. And so if you're writing an argumentative or persuasive essay, you want to touch that person's emotions, and by using your natural voice, then that -- that puts it more into the excellent category rather than 'Oh, this is a good academic essay.' No, you can say 'This is an excellent persuasive argument that you have presented here. I can hear you saying this.'"
PEI-WEN JUAN: "My name's Pei-wen Juan, I'm from Indiana State University."
AA: "And how long have you been there, how long have you been at Indiana State?"
PEI-WEN JUAN: "It's one and a half year."
AA: "And you're from Taiwan. So now you've been at Indiana State University for a year and a half studying, and have you found it's been difficult getting used to American academic writing? Or were there many differences from academic writing in Taiwan?"
PEI-WEN JUAN: "Yes we do. That's a big problem for most of Taiwanese students or Asian students because when we are writing, when we are taught to write, we use the euphemistic way to deliver our opinions. We have the general ideas and we kind of tell people indirectly, and at the end we focus on what we want to say. But in America it's not like that. You have to show the most important part, the thesis statement first, then you give a lot of supporting ideas which make it clear and people know what you are going to say."
AA: "And what are you getting your degree in?"
PEI-WEN JUAN: "Teaching English as a second language."
AA: That was Pei-wen Juan from Taiwan, and before that Danny Sheffield from Arkansas. I spoke with them in Denver, Colorado, at the recent convention of TESOL, or Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. Archives are at voanews.com/wordmaster. I'm Avi Arditti.
3. - Thinking Outside the Five-Paragraph Essay
This is the VOA Special English Education Report.
Millions of students have been taught a formula that has nothing to do with chemistry. The formula is for writing a five-paragraph essay. First, write an introductory paragraph to state the argument. Then, add three paragraphs of evidence. Finally, write a conclusion.
Linda Bergmann is director of the Writing Lab at Purdue University in Indiana. Her job is to help students, including international students, improve their writing. Professor Bergmann has worked with many students who learned this traditional five-paragraph formula.
LINDA BERGMANN: "It is kind of like, 'A is true because one, two, three.' The second paragraph is the first reason, next paragraph the second reason. The next paragraph is the final reason, and then the last paragraph is, 'So we can see that this is true.'"
Professor Bergmann says international students sometimes have difficulty with this formula if they learned a different writing structure. But just knowing how to write a five-paragraph essay is not going to be enough for a college student who has to write a longer academic paper. As Professor Bergmann points out, the formula is too simple to deal with subjects that require deeper thought and investigation.
LINDA BERGMANN: "Essentially, it is way too simplistic to handle more intellectually sophisticated topics which involve actual inquiry."
Karen Gocsik is executive director of courses in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The institute has an extensive library of online writing materials on its website.
So what are the qualities that make up good writing? Ms. Gocsik says there are no simple answers -- except maybe for one. That is, there is no formula that students can follow to guarantee a well-written paper.
KAREN GOCSIK: "What we try to teach students to do in college is to listen to their ideas, and that the idea should be able to tell you what form it needs to take."
She says moving from secondary-school writing to college-level writing can be difficult, but students should not be afraid.
KAREN GOCSIK: "The thinking that you are doing, and the purpose that you have and the audience you are writing to -- all of these things you will mix up together and you will come up with, we hope, an excellent college paper."
In some cultures, students organize their paragraphs to build toward the main idea at the end of the paper. American college students are usually expected to state their thesis at the beginning. And, while students in some cultures use lots of descriptive words, American professors generally want shorter sentences.
And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Tell us about your own experience with academic writing. Go to voaspecialenglish.com and share your stories. And before you write that next paper, check out two links on our website. One is for the Online Writing Lab at Purdue ( http://owl.english.purdue.edu/ ). The other is for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth ( http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/ ). I'm Jim Tedder.