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.


Henry Doss: An Interview with a WRC Founder

Categories: Updates

Henry Doss is an alumnus of UNC Charlotte where he received his BA in English in 1977. During his three years here at UNC Charlotte, Doss and a few of his peers founded the Writing Resources Center that we all know and love today.  After graduation, he went into banking for several years before joining T2 Venture Creation, a firm that works with startup companies, as Chief Strategy Officer.  Doss is also a regular contributor to Forbes magazine. Doss continues to be involved on campus, serving as Executive-in-Residence for the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

 In order to delve into the WRC’s history a bit more, we caught up with Doss this spring to ask him a few questions.

Happy Writing!
Alex and Beth


Q: Was there a specific incident that really got you thinking about having a place where your fellow students could get help with their writing?

A: I don’t recall any particular event, except that over time it seemed to be clear that there was some kind of need for helping students with writing.  I was taking classes with Sam Watson, and I recall a great deal of conversation about writing, how to write, how not to write, how to think about writing, and how really, really mysterious the whole thing seemed to be.  I read Peter Elbow’s Writing without Teachers at that time and it made a deep impression on me.  This was in 1976!  It occurred to me that it was possible that: 1) writing could be learned and 2) learned in ways that were not in general practice at that time.  This wasn’t exactly novel or new, but was just Elbow’s ideas and thinking transplanted into our environment at the time.  but it was a pretty powerful idea, all the same.


Q: When you started the WRC, did you have any long term goals?  Did you imagine that the WRC would take off and expand to become what it is for UNC Charlotte today?

A: I don’t think any of us were thinking very long term.  Our situation was immediate, tactical and focused on the present.  We were thinking at a very simple level; it really was a very idealistic and kind of fuzzy thing, but it just happened to be grounded in some decent pedagogy and thinking.  It did take a while to catch on, but in those early days we were as much concerned with getting a door key and chairs as with anything else.  And although I can’t speak for others, I don’t recall thinking much beyond just getting started with something.


Q: What was the most important thing that you wanted to accomplish by creating the WRC?  Is that quality still a part of today’s WRC?

A: This is more personal than anything else, but what I thought was important was to simply introduce to others that writing:

  • was (and is) really, really hard
  • that it will always be a bit of a mystery, and something that comes from the individual more than from anyone else
  • that like-minded strugglers could get together and talk their way into insights about their own and others’ writing
  • that the goal of writers was to do good writing, not necessarily to follow conventions (although an honest rejection of convention does, I think, require a strong understanding of convention)
  • that writing was (and is) more than anything a process of discovery and not a product
  • that all writing fails and fails and fails before it succeeds and that understanding failure in writing was more important (and harder!) than understanding success
  • and that when you come right down to it, reflection, conversation and “play” are the most critical things to practice, as you approach the task of becoming a better writer.

Of all that, I think it’s most important to recognize that writing is not always an end product, but a way of learning.  As we used to say: “You write from what you know into what you don’t know.”  I’ve always liked that, and I think today’s writing tutors, WRC team and others who are serious about the craft of writing think in similar ways.

Guest Blog: Dr. Ralf Thiede on Passive Voice

Categories: Updates

Along with the posts written by your devoted bloggers, we will be posting guest responses written by friends of the WRC. This week, Professor Ralf Thiede from the English Department is joining us to expand on last week’s post about active and passive voice.

Happy Writing!
Alex and Beth

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