Most international students come to the U.S. with excellent English reading and speaking skills and great TOEFL scores. But since writing in English requires much writing experience, international students often struggle when faced with writing assignments. Thus, it helps to know what American professors expect.
The American Writing Style
Many Asian students have learned to write in a spiral style where they allude to the main point throughout the paper but wait until the end to state it. Many Spanish-speaking students tell me they've learned to write in a highly descriptive, poetic, free-flowing style with beautiful phrasing. American professors often view these styles as too vague or too wordy, and hard to understand. In contrast, American academic writing, for most subjects, is brief and direct. One international student called American writing "simple-minded...stupid". Follow the KISS rule when you write: Keep it simple & sweet.
In the American style, writers place the main idea (the thesis), research question or findings on the first page, often in the first paragraph. Writers build upon the thesis or research question throughout the paper, supporting it with facts, theory and examples. Research papers and essays should reflect students' critical and analytical thinking and conclude with a unique finding or fresh insight. The American style is not necessarily the best writing approach, but it's what American professors and journal editors expect. Furthermore, this simple style is better understood by American and international audiences, which is important when publishing in international journals and online.
American professors also expect writing to reflect creativity and confidence. For example, beginning a paper with, "In this paper, I will attempt to identify the various underlying causes of poverty ..." could be rewritten as: "This research examines the fundamental causes of poverty in Peru by focusing on the historical and political forces that shape its economy."
My Goal as an Editor
My goal is to help students and academics present their ideas clearly and concisely. With 20+ years of experience editing papers for international students and professors, I understand the struggles of scholarly writing. In correcting common writing errors, streamlining sentences, brightening vocabulary and shining ideas, I help students enhance their writing skills, by example. Remember, excellent writing takes time, practice and patience.
Suggested Resources for ESL/International Students:
Academic Writing for Graduate Students: A Course for Nonnative Speakers of English, 3rd ed., John M. Swales & Christine B. Feak, 2012.
Succeeding as an International Student in the United States and Canada, Charles Lipson, 2008.