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Writing for a North American Academic Audience

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Most of your writing assignments in college will consist of academic papers that you will write for your classes. Therefore, your primary audience in college is your professors. While each of your professors will require a set of his or her own expectations that you will need to follow as you work on your papers, there are also a number of common characteristics of American academic writing that you need to be aware of. These characteristics are most likely different from the writing conventions in your native language; therefore, they may be somewhat difficult to grasp. Academic writing in an American fashion is usually defined as linear and thesis-­‐driven. This part of the resource will help you become familiar with these basic features.

American academic essays have a linear structure

Writing in academic settings in North America, you are expected to clearly indicate the most important points of your essay in the introduction of your paper, as well as explain how these ideas are going to be developed (e.g., comparing and contrasting, classifying, describing cause and effect relationships). Then, the rest of your paper will basically provide support for these main points, forming what is called body paragraphs of your essay. This support may include: facts, statistics, personal experiences, examples from literary sources, quotes, and so forth. Whereas this main part of your paper will vary based on the rhetorical organization, its primary goal always stays the same: to explain and support the main ideas indicated in the introduction. Finally, the last section of your paper, called conclusion, needs to summarize the main points developed in the body paragraphs and provide a logical closure to your paper. In the conclusion, some authors also like to express their personal opinion on the topic, provide a solution (if appropriate), and give some advice to the reader.

This three-­‐section essay structure constitutes what is called linear organization of American academic writing. As mentioned earlier, it may be very different from the writing approaches that you utilized in your native language back home. In fact, some of your instructors will be familiar with the organizational patterns that you used in your native language. But even in that case, they will still require that you follow the conventions of American academic writing.

North American academic writing is thesis-­driven

The introduction of your paper needs to contain the main ideas that you will later develop in the body of your essay. The main ideas are normally summarized in one sentence that is called thesis statement. Think of thesis statement as a one-­‐sentence summary of your whole paper, or sort of a snapshot. American audience always expects to see this snapshot at the beginning of the paper (they don’t like to be surprised, nor do they like to guess what it is that the author is going to talk about); therefore, you will do them a huge favor and save them from unnecessary frustration by placing your thesis statement in the introduction of your paper.