Commenting on Organization


At the essay level, international students use the same basic structure for their academic writing (introduction, body, conclusion), but they may have their thesis statement in the middle, or at the end. They may include an audience-expected digression in the body that will only make sense in the conclusion, or leave out what might be considered vital information for their arguments. Introductions or conclusions may include sweeping generalizations or may have lofty pronouncements or platitudes. All of these examples can be part of the structure and organization patterns they have learned previously and which fulfill expectations in their own culture, so teaching students the specific structure and organizational elements found in academic writing in various disciplines needs to be explicit. It will help to show all students what sections and headings are the norm, or a particular order to information given,  or an effective argument structure. Giving annotated examples highlighting these elements can be anexcellent teaching tool and a resource for students.

At the paragraph level, students need to know how and why to create effective paragraphs to express ideas. It may be that in their own language, paragraphs are indicated through language or punctuation rather than indentation. It may also be that a paragraph is not expected to contain the same elements that are generally expected in a US academic text: a topic sentence and related supporting sentences containing direct evidence, analysis, and sometimes discussion. Providing examples of what is expected in the genre (lab report, business proposal, literary analysis, or research study, for example) or discipline helps students to see expected structures and terminology.

At the sentence level, students may be accustomed to writing in a passive or indirect style, which may be appropriate in some disciplines in the US, but in others is considered unclear. Again, giving students clear examples of the kind of sentence structure that is expected in a given genre or discipline can help to reinforce the expectations of structure and voice.