Asst Prof/Director WRC, Department of English

Heather Vorhies

Guest Post: WRC Tutor Susan on Multicultural Writing Styles

Categories: Updates

Communicating in a Global Society: Understanding Different Cultural Writing Styles

Variety is the spice of life, and an international community like that at UNC Charlotte provides a wealth of opportunities for learning about other cultures. Many people don’t realize, though, that writing is a cultural experience; different language groups have their own standards for what “good” writing—especially “good” academic writing—should be in terms of organization, argument, sentence structure, and citation use. These different expectations can often complicate communication between writers and readers in ways that go beyond second language acquisition, causing readers unfamiliar with a particular writing style to judge the piece as disorganized, rude, or just downright “wrong.”

As our society becomes more global, an entire field of study called “Contrastive Rhetoric” has emerged around these cultural writing differences to facilitate greater understanding between readers and writers. Here in the WRC, for example, understanding contrastive rhetoric helps us recognize when a client is working within another cultural writing model so that we can help him or her grasp the expectations of American academic writing. While the research in this field is vast, here is a simplified description of the distinct writing styles of several global language groups:

  • ENGLISH—Academic writing in English-speaking countries generally features a linear, direct argument style with clear, concrete vocabulary. Writers use a deductive approach to present information, with the main idea first, followed by supporting details.
  • ROMANCE & SLAVIC LANGUAGES—European cultures (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian) prefer broad, philosophical discussions presented with tangential details. The main idea is presented in the middle of the paper, and elaborate wording and sentence structure is used throughout.
  • ASIAN LANGUAGES—Papers written in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures usually feature abstract vocabulary and a circular, inductive approach, where details are presented first. The main idea is not presented until toward the end of the paper.
  • SEMITIC LANGUAGES—Arabic-, Farsi-, and Hebrew-speaking cultures prefer a writing style that uses repetition and strings of parallel forms to support the main idea. These writings tend to include lyrical, descriptive vocabulary, and often mention family and/or religion.

It’s no wonder that all these differences in style cause confusion for readers! But which style of writing is the correct one? The answer is: none of them and all of them. No particular writing style is “better” than the others, and there is no one “correct” way to organize and present academic papers throughout the world. The right style is the one your reader expects! If you are writing for an audience in China, for instance, write in the accepted Asian style. If you are writing for a professor in the United States—even if he or she is an international professor serving as a visiting instructor at a U.S. university—use the preferred English writing style. Your goal as a writer is to have your message understood, so writing in a way that your reader will most easily grasp is always your best bet.


Works Referenced

Conner, Ulla. Contrastive Rhetoric: Cross-Cultural Aspects of Second Language Writing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Kaplan, Robert B. “Contrastive Rhetoric and the Teaching of Composition.” TESOL Quarterly 1.4 (1967): 10-16.

Kaplan, Robert B. “Cultural Thought Patterns in Intercultural Education.” Language Learning 16 (1966): 1-20.

Miller, Laurie. Internationals Writing in English: An Introduction to Contrastive Rhetoric. Washington: World Bank, 2007.

Petric, Bojana. “Contrastive Rhetoric in the Writing Classroom: A Case Study.” English for Specific Purposes 24 (2005): 213-28.

Reid, Joy M. “ESL Composition: The Linear Product of American Thought.” College Composition and Communication 35.4 (1984): 449-52.


Punctuation Problems: The Semicolon

Categories: Updates

Most (if not all) writers have problems with using punctuation effectively, especially commas. But, arguably, the most misunderstood piece of punctuation is the semicolon (;).

The semicolon can be used in two different ways: to connect two ideas and to separate items in a list. The second usage, while not quite as common, is easier to understand, so let’s start there.

Here’s a simple list:

While packing for the trip, we made sure to bring beach chairs, two kites, and a beach ball.

In order to use semicolons to separate items, the items need to have more to them. Semicolons separate items in a list when commas are used within items so as to avoid confusion. Let’s beef up our list a bit:

While packing for the trip, we made sure to bring beach chairs, one for each person; a dragon kite and a bumblebee kite; and an extra-large beach ball.

Here’s another example with semicolons in a list from the most recent issue of Science:

Four groups of interest are highlighted: G1, ancestral sequences that have almost been completely lost from the human lineage; G2, ancestral sequences that are largely fixed but rarely deleted (also absent in human reference); G3, ancestral sequences that have become copy-number variable since the divergence of humans and Neanderthals/Denisovans ~700 ka; and G4, sequences potentially lost in Neanderthals and Denisovans since their divergence from humans.

Now for the harder stuff. I’m calling on The Writing Center at The University of Wisconsin – Madison for this part as they have a wonderful Grammar and Punctuation Section on their website. We’ll start with this sample sentence from their semicolon section:

Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.

Two independent clauses are linked with the semicolon. While this could be rewritten as two separate sentences, the main point of using semicolons to link ideas is to show a close relationship between the two clauses; plus, there are multiple ways to set this relationship up (See what I did there?). I’ll rewrite Wisconsin’s sample sentence to show you how my tutees usually set up semicolons using conjunctive adverbs:

Some people write with a word processor; however, there are still people who choose to write with a pen or pencil.

I’ll also adjust the first two sentences of our sample Science text to show you how this pattern might look in a STEM piece.

In the past decade, genome sequencing has provided insights into demography and migration patterns of human populations, ancient DNA, de novo mutation rates, and the relative deleteriousness and frequency of coding mutations; however, global human diversity has only been partially sampled and the genetic architecture of many populations remains uncharacterized.

In the WRC, I usually see semicolons (when used correctly) paired with “however.” This may be because “however” on its own establishes a relationship between the original idea and the one that is about to be contrasted to the original, making it a bit easier to understand why and how a semicolon works in that situation.

Of course, if you find that you’re not comfortable with or confident about using semicolons, then don’t! While I may be the #1 Fan of the semicolon, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like and use them (even though they’re super fabulous…). If you do want to use semicolons in your writing, I suggest you start out with using no more than one per paragraph (if that). Once you’ve become comfortable with using them, run free!

Happy Writing, Everyone!



Sudmant et al. “Global Diversity, Population Stratification, and Selection of Human Copy-Number Variation”

The University of Wisconsin – Madison Writing Center’s Grammar and Punctuation Section

The University of Wisconsin – Madison Writing Center’s “Using Semicolons”

The Oatmeal “How to Use a Semicolon”

Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Citations: Why is Plagiarism Such an Issue?

Categories: Updates

Keep Calm and Don’t Plagiarize

Yes. I have fallen prey to that awful poster. It’s just so catchy. So here is your gratuitous picture:

Keep Calm and Don't Plagiarize

Academic integrity is a huge topic at universities. Many times, academic integrity violations can have serious consequence, sometimes even expulsion from the university, so it’s taken pretty seriously (See our own academic integrity policies at Citation can be a tricky process, especially when you’re first learning. Don’t worry, the WRC is here to help; we’ve got lots of practice with proper citations. But why does academia care so much?

I guess the first thing we need to talk about is the fact that in the United States, we follow what is called the Western definition of academic integrity. This idea is built around ownership of ideas, something that is very important in individualistic, capitalist cultures. If you own an idea, you can take credit for it, win awards for it, and make money off it, so Westerners tend to be very concerned with assigning proper ownership. This can be new if you’re an international student and used to another definition of academic integrity.

In different cultures, the definition of academic integrity can change; this isn’t bad, it’s just different.  When you immerse yourself in an academic culture, you will be judged by that culture’s standard. Bottom line: if you’re studying in the US, you need to follow the standards developed by Western academic integrity and defined by your university. UNC Chapel Hill has a great handout on plagiarism, found here:

Ownership of ideas is the key phrase in that last paragraph to illustrate why universities take such a hard stance on plagiarism. But there are other reasons, perhaps better reasons, why we cite our sources so well.

We cite others both to give them ownership of their ideas and to show our original work. Simply put, we’re giving credit where credit’s due. Another reason we cite is to show readers the path we took to get to our conclusions. This allows readers to see that we’ve done the proper background research, that our conclusions are sound, and that we’ve actually thought about what we’ve written, fitting our new information or conclusions in with current knowledge. A great benefit of proper citations is that it creates authority for you. The reader can see that you take your work seriously. Drawing out this path for readers also allows them to take the same path. They can pursue more information or try to recreate your research to discover new things for themselves.

Overall, citations are not there to make your life hard. They’re there to help you, the people who are reading you, and the people you read. However, citation practices may vary across disciplines. It’s a good idea to find an authority in your field and ask them about proper citation practices so that you can be a fully contributing member of your discourse community. If you have questions about paraphrasing, directly quoting, and citing, please, come in and see us. We’d love to help.

The librarians at Atkins are also here to help as well. Check out the UNC Charlotte Library Citation Guides ( and their Citation Workshop calendar for upcoming events.

For some more information on academic integrity in writing, take a look at this tutorial from UMUC’s Effective Writing Center (

Good luck and happy writing.