Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 1: English Academic Writing -->

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Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 1: English Academic Writing

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This month: Approaching Writing From Different Languages and Traditions | Walden University Writing Center Blog

This month on the podcast and blog, we're featuring topics related to approaching writing from different languages and traditions. While anyone can enjoy these topics, we hope they'll be of particular interest to international students and students who speak multiple languages. Did you miss our first post in the series? Check out our latest WriteCast episode: Writing Expectations at U.S. Colleges and Universities.

Games have specific rules--rules about taking turns or what you can and cannot do when it is your turn. Sometimes, a game has different rules depending on who you play with. For example, when I play golf with my friends, we’re rather lenient with the rules; however, if I were to ever play in a professional tournament (which is very unlikely), I would need to follow every rule.   

Learning the Rules of the Game, Part 1: English Academic Writing via the Walden University Writing Center Blog

In some games, if you don’t follow the rules, you might get penalized or kicked out of the game. Likewise, by knowing the rules, you have a much better chance of succeeding in the game. You can better strategize and play when you know what you can, cannot, should, or should not do in a game.

The writing game

You might be thinking, well, what does this have to do with writing? Quite a bit, actually. It has to do with rhetorical styles and expectations. If rhetoric is a scary word to you, don’t worry! I’ll explain.

Rhetoric refers to speaking or writing that is typically meant to persuade or influence listeners or readers; it includes things like tone and organization of ideas. Different rhetorical styles and writing contexts have different rules, which are actually more like guidelines or norms. However, these rules are often not explicitly stated. They might be learned with time and experience, or they might be learned through observation or instruction. A lot of writers follow these rules, but some of those writers may not even realize that they are following them or that they exist. When writers do not follow the norms or guidelines for a specific context, it may cause confusion, turmoil, and chaos. Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but the reality is that it could cause reader confusion, which may translate into ineffective communication of ideas and a poor grade on an assignment.

Considering your writing context, purpose, and audience

Before we discuss some of these rules, let’s consider two different writing contexts and the possible similarities and differences: an e-mail to my friend and this blog post. In an e-mail to my friend, like the example below, I will probably use rather casual language. I may not use well-organized paragraphs, or even full sentences for that matter. I might refer back to a previous experience without clearly explaining the context. I might joke around and discuss various topics within a short e-mail.
Hey Monica, 
How's it going? I finally finished my final paper. Done! How was Jeff's birthday party? Hannah said she couldn't make it--did you guys all have fun? Oh, and did you two finally plan your trip to San Diego? So wish I could come!

Miss you, Amy
On the other hand, in this blog post, I have one clear purpose. I created a title that captures the overall idea of my post, and I am making sure that all of the content in my post revolves around a main idea. I am intentionally crafting paragraphs with a single focus. I use somewhat casual language, but the language is more formal than in my e-mail to my friend. In the two different contexts, there are differences in my tone, organization, focus, writing purpose, and audience. Also, I give much more explanation and background information in the blog post than in the e-mail.

Now, think about how these two writing contexts might differ from an academic paper or capstone study. Writing in English, and in all other languages, looks different depending on the purpose or the context of the writing. Readers actually expect the writing to be different depending on the context. Imagine if you wrote a paper for one of your courses using the style, language, and organization that you use when writing an e-mail to a close friend: abbreviated words and contractions, short or undefined paragraphs, informal language, and/or humor. It likely wouldn’t seem like an academic paper, because it wouldn’t be following the norms of an academic rhetorical style.

Check in next week for my post with some specific tips to help you meet your readers’ expectations for an academic paper.

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Amy Lindquist is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She enjoys working with students from around the world on academic writing and the English Language. She's a bit of a grammar nerd. When not working, she spends time practicing yoga, sewing, and playing with her new puppy, Bauer. 

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