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English B2 Writing

Writing in English: Theory and Background, Analysis and


Practice

Robert Craig Thomas, MFA Goucher College, USA


robert@robertcthomas.com
last revised April 2017
Things to know...
The descriptions of English writing techniques, traditions,
writing organization and structures are quoted from various
well-known university writing programs in the United States
and are, in my experience (RCT) accurate...

What we can / should discuss...


The comparison of English writing practices to other
languages (especially German)... what do you think?
especially about English writing theories compared to those in
your native language?

The comparisons between EN, DE and other languages


are based on the following sources:
"Academic Writing and Culture: An Overview of
Differences between English, French and German" by
Dirk Siepmann, Siegen University, Germany
"Writing Across Culture" by David Limon, University of
Ljubljana, Department of Translation
"Cultural Values in Discourse" by Michael Clyne,
Melbourne University, Research Unit for Multilingualism and
Cross-Cultural Communication.
"Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education"
Superficially similar,
but in the end very different...
English has similarities with many languages, most especially
German...

But the traditions and rules for writing well in German are different
from English... English writing traditions are also different from those
in writing Russian, Turkish, Spanish, Italian Persian, French, Arabic,
etc etc etc..
Goal #1
Learn the game-play,
rules, strategies and
goals
for writing well in
English...
"Writers need to develop "automaticity", the ability to
automatically juggle the many physical and cognitive
aspects of writing without consciously thinking about
them. The only way to develop this automaticity in writing is to
practice, practice, practice."
- University of North Carolina, writing department
Writing instruction is just
like learning any other skill;

it takes practice, false


starts, mistakes,
coaching, and more
practice... and eventually
one learns to write with
speed, endurance, and
agility.
- Edutopia.org
"Hermanns (1985) notes that British students of language and
literature are required to write one or two essays of no less than
3000 words each week. The finished products are read out
aloud in one-to-one tutorials, with the tutor asking
questions and offering comments. "
-- "Academic Writing and Culture: An Overview of Differences between English,
French and German" - by Dirk Siepmann, Siegen University, Siegen, Germany
Writers' Workshop / Writers' Circle

The goal of a writing workshop is to improve one's writing by


listening to the works and suggestions of others in the group
and to discuss one's work in a workshop style setting.

Writing workshops are a place where writers can become more


confident in their own work while also learning how give and
receive constructive criticism. In the workshop writers give
feedback and hear suggestions, which enables them to learn
from one another's mistakes and successes and appreciate
different opinions and views.
"Carroll deducts from her findings that, students do not learn
to write better, but they learn to write differently, to
produce new, more complicated forms addressing
challenging topics with greater depth, complexity, and
rhetorical sophistication."
- from "Writing Across Cultures and Contexts: International Students in the
Stanford University Study of Writing" by Erin McClure Krampetz
Sentence modeling -- what is it, how is it
used?
Analyse the model sentence and use the same form to create a new
sentence...

MODEL:
Over half a century ago I grew up in Lewiston, a small town in
western New York, a few miles north of Niagara Falls on the Canadian
border.
BREAKDOWN:
Over fifteen years ago I was/did/grew up something/somewhere,
[which was] a something detail, a something more detail.

MODEL:
Harry leaned forward to see Hagrid, who was ruby-red in the face and
staring
down at his enormous hands, his wide grin hidden in his black beard.
BREAKDOWN:
Someone#1 did something to do someone#2, who-relative clause
(someone#2) was something and doing something, with something
done in/with something.
Style modeling -- what is it, how is it used?
Model breakdown:
I know the series Batman very well... Ive [done, read, seen, known,
etc]... and/however Vanhorsts claims in her argument / article show
that ...
Possible Sentence:
I know a lot about Germany and Germans. I've lived in Germany all my
life and the author, who is American, clearly knows very little about
Germany.

Model sentence:
German comedian Jan Bhmermann hits the internet with his latest
stroke of genius. With heavy metal sounds and an aggressive-looking
video, he will turn you into a muesli-loving European liberal - come what
may.
Possible Sentence:
Floid, the German Youtube sensation, has produced a new video that,
unfortunately, does not match the best of his other videos. With rapid-
fire editing and short staccato sentences, his video left me feeling
annoyed and disappointed in his discussion of the refugee situation in
Europe.
"An effective piece of writing establishes a single focus and
sustains that focus throughout the piece. A writer
needs to focus on a single topic or main idea in order to
produce an effective piece of writing."
- University of North Carolina, writing department
ORGANIZATION IS AS IMPORTANT AS
CONTENT (or more so!)...
"The writer should establish a well-organized
composition, which exhibits a constancy of purpose
through the development of elements forming an effective
beginning, middle, and end. The text should
demonstrate a clear progression of related ideas
and/or events that is unified and complete."

"The concept of 'Support and Elaboration' includes the


concepts of relatedness and sufficiency. To be supportive
of the subject matter, details must be related to the
focus of the text. Relatedness has to do with the
directness of the relationship that the writer establishes
between the information and the subject matter. "
- University of North Carolina, writing department
The topic sentence establishes your
"permissions"
"A good paragraph should contain sentences that are
relevant to the paragraphs main subject and point. The
topic sentence sets up the main idea and the rest of
the sentences provide details to support or explain
this main idea. If you see a sentence that does not relate
to the topic sentence, it is probably irrelevant."
- Purdue University, online writing lab
Paragraph Topic Sentence sets the "permissions"
for text
Wrong - Multiple "main" topics:
1. The text Learning Virtues is about the Asian and the
Western approaches to learning. 2. The narrator tells a
story of a Chinese woman Jin Li, who was recruited to learn
about Western culture along with many other Chinese students
after the Cultural Revolution.

Correct - One "main" topic:


2. The text "Learning Virtues" is about Jen Li, a Chinese
woman who has researched the learning approaches of
Asian and Western culture. 2. She started investigating
the values of students in the East and West after moving to
the United States.
Quiz: could the writer include ...?
"A dog is a good companion for someone who lives alone."
"My neighbor has a boxer."
"When walking a dog a person can meet many interesting
people."
"Dogs are sometimes used by therapists in treating
traumatized patients."
"Reader orientation... is of utmost importance to Anglo-
Saxon academic culture: a paragraph should normally open with
a topic sentence, which all other sentences in the paragraph must
support."
- from "Academic Writing and Culture" by Dirk Siepmann, Siegen University
Reader-oriented vs Author-oriented

"In English the responsibility for communication lies with the


writer if communication fails, we assume that the writer is
at fault, that the writing was insufficiently clear or well-organized.
The writer must focus on the reader and making things
understandable and clear for the reader.
Author-oriented writing is focused on showing the style
mastery and rhetorical skills of the writer (Italian and French are
given as examples). Reader-oriented writing is reader friendly,
simple and designed for easy comprehension (English).
Clyne's (1987) study of academic papers indicates that writing by
English speakers favours a linear development, whereas
writing in German is more marked by digression, recapitulation
and repetition.
English-speaking writers strive for readability by using a clear
linear organization, while German writers emphasize content
over form and expect the reader to make the connection. "
- David Limon, "Writing Across Culture"
University of Ljubljana, Department of Translation, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Concept - "pyramid" - English vs German
(discuss...)

Other structure (German??)


English structure 1. What is the problem (question)
1. Topic sentence / argument / 2. exploration of problem essentials
what to do 3. examples of how problem
-- Main Topic plus identified Sub- manifests
topics 4. possible answers to problem
2. ALL Sub-topic 5. what to do
paragraphs/sentences support and
relate directly back to the Main
Topic
from "Writing, Testing and Culture" by Michael Clyne
(All of the following slides are open to questions & discussion...)

In German-language instruction manuals it is the transmission


of knowledge that is given the greatest emphasis. The essay can
assume the sharing of thematic knowledge (Hoppe, 1976).
While in English-speaking countries it is important to stick
only to relevant points -- avoiding mention of anything else -- the
emphasis in Central Europe is on demonstrating knowledge...
Topics in German-language countries tend to be broader, e.g.
Brechts Plays rather than the discussion of a quotation about
them.
Thus, digressions are employed frequently.
All this may entail repetition of the main points in German
essays, whereas in English ones, redundancy is undesirable
"Clyne sees German participial clauses and left-
branching constructions as contributing to
digressiveness. Although Clyne acknowledges the
importance of such features, he does not believe that they
are decisive. He points to the fact that the tendency
towards digressiveness in texts by French speakers,
Italians and Russians, being speakers of languages
structured very differently to German, suggests that
it might be cultural determinants rather than
linguistic typologies that underlie degree of linearity
in discourse."
- from Scientific Writing: A Universal or a Culture-Specific
Type of Discourse?" by Pedro Martn-Martn, Universidad de La Laguna

"Early on, Kaplan (1966) suggested that teaching reading


and writing to foreign students constitutes a
different process from that of teaching native
speakers given cultural differences inherent in
rhetorical patterns of the various languages with
which learners interact. "
- from "Contrasting Rhetorical Patterns: Discovering Effects of First and
Second Language Writing Conventions" by Volkan NCEAY, Yeditepe
University
"He [Kaplan] observed that the thought patterns which
readers of English appear to expect are dominantly
linear. While paragraph development may be discursive, it is
never digressive. Of equal importance is a strong focus on
the assigned topic; digression and repetition are regarded
as major vices."
- from "Academic Writing and Culture" by Dirk Siepmann, Siegen University
English writing - style research by
Michael Clyne...
"Essay-writing manuals used in English-speaking countries
typically advise:
An essay must start with an introduction, which
defines the terms of the topic or question and the
scope of the essay... usually assumes that the reader
(examiner) is ignorant of the material being presented.
In the body of the essay, the student is advised to
develop the key ideas and to only introduce facts or
ideas that contribute to a linear progression, which is
known as "paragraph unity."
"Paragraph unity" holds that every idea and fact in the
paragraph should contribute to the development of a
single topic, no matter how interesting or significant a
digression might be. "
-- from "Writing, Testing and Culture" By Michael Clyne
Discuss...

English, main topic first: People should sort and recycle their
trash in order to help preserve the environment. Defined sub-
topics: people/responsibility, sort, recycle, environment...
[note: some specific writing styles may differ from this]

German, main topic at end: The environment is being


destroyed on many fronts. Trash, garbage, pollution... One
important one to help save the environment is to sort and
recycle trash... In order to save our environment, people must
sort and recycle their trash.
Topic sentences created from "Info List"
Poor
The first writing style discussed in the article is German,
which is called "Teutonic" and focuses on theory development.
Unlike the Teutonic style of writing, the Saxonic focuses...

Rewrite
In the article the author discusses German, English and
French writing styles and traditions. The German writing
style, which is called "Teutonic" focuses on theory development.
The English or "Saxonic," however, focuses on...

Info List for "Comparison of German, English &


French..."
Discusses German, English & French writing styles &
traditions
Saxonic = US and UK styles: data analysis
Gallic = French: stylistic devices
Teutonic = German: focused on theory development
Topic Sentence sets focus for entire
paragraph
Original
She wrote a book in which she describes the difference between
Chinese learning and western learning. In western learning
there is great emphasis on questioning authority, critical inquiry
and sharing ideas in classroom, discussion. In Chinese learning...
Rewrite
In her book, Jen Li describes the differences between Chinese
and Western teaching philosophies. Westerners emphasize
questioning authority, critical inquiry and and sharing ideas. The
Chinese, however, emphasize...
Paragraph focuses on a single main topic

Original
The narrator says that Mr. Kelada is always interfering and
acts like he knows everything. The people on the ship give
him the nickname Mr. Know-All. This reinforces the readers
negative way of thinking about Mr. Know-All.

Rewrite
#1 The narrator describes Mr. Kelada negatively and says
that he is always interfering and acts like he knows everything.
Like the people on the ship, he calls him by the nickname "Mr.
Know-All."

#2 The reader gets a negative impression of Mr. Kelada


from the narrator, who says he is always interfering and acts
like he knows everything. The people on the ship even
nickname him "Mr. Know-All."
Analysis: what is the main point of the
paragraph?
Englisch, Mittelstuffe Bespiel
The Stadtwerke Mnchen has bought a 30% share in an offshore wind
farm off the coast of North Wales because the city council has
committed itself to switching from traditional sources of energy to
renewable sources within the next 15 years.

Rewrite
The Stadtwerke Mnchen has committed to switching from traditional
to renewable sources within the next 15 years. To this end it has
bought a 30% share in an offshore wind farm off the coast of North
Wales.
-- from Staatsinstitut fr Schulqualitt Mnchen website
Analysis: define the topic
Englisch, Mittelstuffe Beispiel
Private households consume only 2 billion kilowatts of the
total 7.5 billion kilowatts the city uses per year. Three quarters
are needed by corporate clients like industries, businesses, the
underground, hybrid cars.

Rewrite
The city uses 7.5 billion kilowatts per year, of which private
households consume only 2 billion. The remaining three-
quarters are used by corporate clients like industries,
businesses, the underground and hybrid cars.
- from Staatsinstitut fr Schulqualitt Mnchen website
Paragraph coherency analysis...
"It was
January 2009, I had just returned from my holidays in Spain,
where I had visited my big sister for 2 weeks, and I was waiting
for my father who had told me on the phone that he would pick me
up at the airport in Dsseldorf. The holidays, which were the last
chance for me to relax and get away from it all before the Abitur
examinations, were beautiful! Tenerife, which lies in the Atlantic
Ocean near the Maroccan Coast, is a really exciting place to visit.
On the one side there are numerous volcanos with mighty
eruptions and on the other side wonderful beaches with an
incredible view of the wide ocean. Also the architecture of the
buildings, which are quite different from Germanys, fascinated me."
-- student text, 2016
Sentence construction - stay on topic, be
direct...
Nevertheless she knows he will not leave her because she knows no
other woman wouldmarry someone weak likehim, which makeshim
sad and desperate.

Rewrite
She believes he will never leave her because he is sad and desperate
and could never find another woman who would marry him.
Important information at the end vs. at
beginning of sentence
"In German-language writing instruction it is the transmission of
knowledge that is given the greatest emphasis. "

Rewrite:
1. "German-language writing instruction emphasizes the transmission
of language."
2. "The transmission of knowledge is most emphasized in German-
language writing instruction. " [passive voice]
Negative aspects of using English in the
university
from the Landesbildungsserver Baden-Wrttemberg

Discuss...

1. "English should not be used in university courses because students


have to learn the subjects in their mother tongue. Many teachers
are not fluent, so they should stick to their native language and not
speak a flawed and inaccurate English."

2. "Many people think they can speak English correctly, but misuse
many words and are not skilled enough to make grammatically
correct sentences, which might lead to misunderstandings."

3. "Language determines culture, so the extinction or change of a


language also means the loss of an individual culture, cultural
alienation, a loss of heritage. Cultural imperialism goes along with
dominance of language and culture. Possibly political imperialism,
cf. colonial times."
The End