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Need Help With Your Writing? Try This Web Site

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report, from |

Millions of students have been taught a formula that has nothing to do with chemistry. The formula is for how to write a five-paragraph essay.

First, write an introductory paragraph to state the argument. Then, add three paragraphs of evidence. Finally, write a conclusion. Linda Bergmann is director of the Writing Lab at Purdue University in Indiana. Her job is to help students, including international students, improve their writing. 

Professor Bergmann has worked with many students who learned this traditional five-paragraph formula. She says international students sometimes have difficulty with this formula if they learned a different writing structure. But just knowing how to write a five-paragraph essay is not going to be enough for a college student who has to write a longer academic paper. As Professor Bergmann points out, the formula is too simple to deal with subjects that require deeper thought and investigation. In her words, "Essentially, it is way too simplistic to handle more intellectually sophisticated topics which involve actual inquiry.

" Karen Gocsik is executive director of courses in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The institute has an extensive library of online writing materials on its website. So what are the qualities that make up good writing? Ms. Gocsik says there are no simple answers -- except maybe for one. That is, there is no formula that students can follow to guarantee a well-written paper. She says, "What we try to teach students to do in college is to listen to their ideas, and that the idea should be able to tell you what form it needs to take." She says moving from secondary-school writing to college-level writing can be difficult, but students should not be afraid. 

American college students are usually expected to state their thesis at the beginning of a paper. In some cultures, students organize their paragraphs to build toward the main idea at the end. And, while students in some cultures use lots of descriptive words, American professors generally want shorter sentences.

For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. Tell us about your own experience with academic writing. Go to and share your stories. And before you write that next paper, check out two links on our website. One is for the Online Writing Lab at Purdue. The other is for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 14Jun2012)


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