Help International Students Write Better Essays

At a recent ATL Conference in Spokane, Tacoma Community College faculty Mary Fox and Wendy Larsen gave a great presentation on “Please Explain a Five-Paragraph Essay, so I’ll Know How Not to Write One: The Challenges Facing Second Language Writers.”

Among the many culture shocks international students experience, writing an American style essay is something that many international students will struggle with throughout their studies in the U.S.  To better help international students with essay writing, consider the following information:

  • Many international students may not know what an American five-paragraph essay looks like.  Different countries have different ways of writing essays that may include different elements than what is expected in the American five-paragraph essay.
  • Many international students may come from a country where it is rude to say things directly.  Instead, manners dictate that they convey their point across in very indirect and roundabout way, which means that they are used to a very indirect conversational and writing styles.  Countries that prefer an indirect communication style include Ecuador, Colombia, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and many more Asian countries.
  • Some international students may come from a country where access to libraries and information is restricted.  They may not know where to go and how to find appropriate college level research materials for their essays.
  • Some international students may come from a country where open communication and discourse may be dangerous and information is tightly controlled.  These students may not be willing to criticize openly nor share their thoughts freely.

Watch these video clips from a documentary film that the Oregon State University created titled, “Writing Across Borders.”  They will give you a fascinating glimpse of why writing essays in America are so difficult for some international students:

PS: I’ve ordered a copy of this documentary film for Kirk Library.  If you want to know when it arrives, let me know and I’ll send you an email once it’s available.


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