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Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Academic Writing: Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay



From VOA Learning English, welcome to the Education Report in Special English. Millions of students have been taught a formula that has nothing to do with chemistry or mathematics.

The formula is for writing 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 notes, the formula is too simple to deal with subjects that require deeper thought and investigation. Karen Gocsik works for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The institute has a big library of online writing materials on its website. So what are the qualities that make up good writing?

Karen 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. In some cultures, students organize their paragraphs to build toward the main idea at the end of the paper. American college students are usually expected to state their thesis at the beginning of their paper. And American professors generally want students to use short sentences.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 07Feb2013)

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