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Different ways of approaching the academic essay

Writing an essay? There are different ways of approaching it
Published by Hermine Chan

Hello All! My name is Hermine (pronunciation: her-MEEN), and I’m the new Writing Services Coordinator with the SLC. Before joining SFU, I was the Writing & Learning Centre Manager at another institution, and I have also taught academic essay writing in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs. I’ve worked with many international students and it’s always interesting to see how learners from different backgrounds approach writing. One feeling is quite common though — many students find that the academic English essay structure isn’t natural for them!  

If you think about it, in a typical English essay, there’s the introductory paragraph to preamble your argument. There are the body paragraphs where you make the point. And then, there’s the conclusion to reemphasize what you just wrote. It’s a lot of repetition, and sometimes learners worry that they’re repeating themselves too much!   

Writers are also expected to be direct and get to the point immediately. Many international students are used to an indirect approach in their culture and feel more comfortable easing slowly into the topic. Besides, it can feel quite unnatural to stake a claim before discussing all relevant facts first. They worry about coming across as rude when they follow the conventions of English essay writing.    

For example, Chinese essayists may follow a different structure of writing. Their writing often comprises four stages — the “start," “continuation," “turn” (or a counter argument), and “conclusion." Instead of having a thesis statement up front, writers will first present all relevant information, provide a discussion, and present the counterargument before concluding with their own analysis of the topic. This is a different way of thinking and writing, but in Canadian universities, it may be received as a “wrong way” of writing when students don’t have a thesis statement or even get their marks docked for not following the “standard structure”.      

It’s important to remember that the way that an English academic essay is structured is just one mode of thinking, and it is by no means the only way of writing well. Think of it more as a formality, rather than a rule. If you want to learn more about writing an academic essay in English, feel free to book a one-on-one virtual consultation with a Writing & Learning Peer Educator to discuss your assignments. They can talk to you about your writing assignments, work through early drafts with you, and help you feel more confident in your work. They can also provide tips and resources to help you keep growing as a writer.   

Good luck with your assignments!  

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