Friday, November 4, 2011

Western Style Writing vs. Eastern Style Writing

I know well that most of the international students are not really confident in writing papers, even when they have spent a considerable amount of time and effort studying in English both in their home country and the United States.

As time goes by, most of them will eventually be skilled in speaking English regardless of their native accents. However, many students still have a hard time composing papers for their assignments in college, although apparently, they have no difficulty communicating with native English speakers. Needless to say, their problem of writing in English mostly results from their lack of language proficiency and academic level vocabulary power.

Even after painstaking efforts to master the English language, some may still have problems writing in English. It is because they do not really pay attention to the English writing style. I want to discuss this issue at this moment because one of the most overlooked factors is the different writing styles based on the cultural differences.

Here is the article about the contrastive analysis of eastern and western writing styles in the blog that I want to introduce you to take a look at:

Western Style Writing vs. Eastern Style Writing

This article was not written based on academic literature review, as the author, Aaron Brazell confessed that he is not an expert in this field, but he discussed the different writing styles according to the cultural perspective based on his careful observation.

Brazell started his professional blog on May of 2004, He has carried on a wide variety of conversations and discussions on his blog. He explained the differences between western and eastern writing styles clearly in plain language

He emphasized in his blog that a western style post typically has the thesis up front; an article written in an eastern style generally has the thesis statement in the middle of the piece.

Some controversial comments from the readers of his blog can give you a chance to ponder over this topic. One of the readers’ comments, I found some interesting point of view regarding different speaking styles based on cultural differences. For instance, some Indian candidates living in Britain would be disadvantaged on job interviews due to circular and non direct answering of questions although they are well qualified.

You will check your organization of contents and structure of development in your writing in light of western composition style.

I want to drop more lines about the differences of eastern and western writing style based on my personal experience and literature review. Here is my observation regarding this topic.

There are different organizational patterns and structures for different language based on the cultural differences. Kaplan’s work (1966) has suggested that Anglo-European expository essays follow a linear development; essays written in Oriental languages use an indirect approach and come to the point only at the end. (cited in Connor, 1996, p.15). To sum up, the western writing style mostly follows a deductive writing manner that has the thesis statement in the initial position and the main idea is located at the end of the first paragraph. However, the main idea is usually placed at the beginning of the last paragraph in the eastern style.

Non-native English speakers especially from eastern cultures are more likely to develop their idea in circles. They tend to write their thesis elaborately in the spiral of the context and also place interpretative responsibility on the readers rather than responsibility on the writers. This digressive writing strategy contributes to make their articles nonlinear.

Actually, I had been taught in the early student years to follow a four part pattern: ki-sung-chon-kyul, typical of Korean prose where there is an introduction, the development of a topic, a turning to a somewhat unrelated topic, and a conclusion. While working as a journalist, I avoided repetitive patterns and exhibit originality in my writing style and I was concerned about suggesting and not spelling out my idea obviously. Also, I challenged the readers to understand the topic by producing open-ended essays. Obviously it is the very opposite spectrum to the linear, conclusive, objective style of American writing Thus, I also had to make efforts to be familiar with the American writing style since I began to study in America.

In general, the western writing style can be summarized like the following:
An author’s position is stated assertively and strongly at the very beginning part of the article. Topic sentences appear in the first sentence of each paragraph, and they are strongly related to the main idea by being supported with specific details. Therefore, even if the readers read only the first sentences of each paragraph, they can figure out what the author means.

Therefore, it is important that international students learn discourse features and writing techniques of the English language so that their writings cannot be limited in their own cultural written form.

Choi, Y. H. (1988). Text structure of Korean speakers’ argumentative essays in English. The source of World English 7(2). 129-142.
Connor, U. & Johns, A. M. (1990). Coherence in writing: Research and pedagogical perspectives. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. Alexandria, Virginia. 89-94.
Connor, U. (1996). Contrastive rhetoric: Contrastive rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of second-language writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 28-45.

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