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The exercise is not the game Some misunderstandings about writing academic English Brett Reynolds.

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Presentation on theme: "The exercise is not the game Some misunderstandings about writing academic English Brett Reynolds."— Presentation transcript:

1 The exercise is not the game Some misunderstandings about writing academic English Brett Reynolds

2 The exercise and the game

3 The exercise has become the game By Georges Seguin (Okki) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)] via Wikimedia Commons

4 How the exercise becomes the game What the teacher says: “Two common ways to organize an essay comparing two topics are…” What the student remembers: “The two ways to organize an essay comparing two topics are…”

5 How the exercise becomes the game The student becomes the teacher. What the new teacher says: “The two ways to organize an essay comparing two topics are…” What the student remembers: “The two ways to organize the comparison/contrast essay are…”

6 What we really mean: Sometimes, when students are practicing to be better writers, following a formula or copying a structure is a useful exercise. This simplifies things for them by allowing them to focus on certain elements and ignore others.

7 It’s not a free-for-all It’s she went, not she goed. It’s I saw him, not I him saw. Sentences end with punctuation, usually a period. Sentences are organized into paragraphs.

8 Some areas of confusion Number of paragraphs in essays Use of first-person Sentence-initial coordinators Use of contractions and -n’t

9 5-paragraph essays Introduction Hook Background Thesis Body 1 Support 1 Support 2 Support 3 Body 2 Support 1 Support 2 Support 3 Body 3

10 5-paragraph essays Think of a five-paragraph essay you’ve read in the last year.

11 5-paragraph essays Think of a five-paragraph essay you’ve read in the last year. Now think of one outside of the context of a writing course.

12 5-paragraph essays Many students (and teachers) believe this is what academic writing is. It’s helpful to understand the history.

13 5-paragraph essays Exercise Or Game?

14 5-paragraph essays Exercise

15 Contractions and -n’t “You can’t use contractions in academic writing.”

16 Contractions and -n’t “You can’t use contractions in academic writing.” In conversation: Contractions used in 50% of possible cases. -n’t almost 100% of the time In academic: about 1–5% of the time. Academic articles in the COCA have more than doubled their use of n’t since the early 1990s

17 Contractions and -n’t Exercise Or Game?

18 Contractions and -n’t Both

19 First and Second person “You can’t use I or you in academic writing.”

20 First and Second person “You can’t use I or you in academic writing.” From the OWL website: “Although you may have been told that ‘I’ is never used in academic writing, that is not true. It is okay to use it, but only if the ‘I’ is a vital part of the thing that is being discussed.” (Cimasko, 2012)

21 First and Second person “You can’t use I or you in academic writing.” From the OWL website: “Although you may have been told that ‘I’ is never used in academic writing, that is not true. It is okay to use it, but only if the ‘I’ is a vital part of the thing that is being discussed.” (Cimasko, 2012) You is about 50% as frequent as I.

22 First and Second person Exercise Or Game?

23 First and Second person Exercise

24 Old-fashioned English is formal English “You must put a semi-colon before sentence adverbs such as however.”

25 Old-fashioned punctuation is formal “You must put a semi-colon before sentence adverbs such as however.” ; = This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

26 Old-fashioned punctuation is formal In the 18 th century, semicolons were all the rage

27 Old-fashioned punctuation is formal

28 Exercise Or Game?

29 Old-fashioned punctuation is formal Neither

30 And whom? Whom is only slightly more frequent than thee

31 FANBOYS “The coordinating conjunctions in English are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (FANBOYS). You have to put a comma before them.”

32 FANBOYS “The coordinating conjunctions in English are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (FANBOYS). You have to put a comma before them.” The coordinators are and, but, and or. In academic writing but follows a comma about 50% of the time. and is only preceded by a comma about 25% of the time and or only about 17% of the time

33 FANBOYS Exercise Or Game?

34 FANBOYS Neither

35 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” “You can’t use ‘conjunctions’ such as and at the beginning of a sentence.”

36 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” “You can’t use ‘conjunctions’ such as and at the beginning of a sentence.” While it is true that these are less common in academic writing than in other types of writing, it is very common to find them.

37 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” “You can’t use ‘conjunctions’ such as and at the beginning of a sentence.” While it is true that these are less common in academic writing than in other types of writing, it is very common to find them. About 10% of buts in academic writing come at the beginning of a sentence in the COCA.

38 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” “You can’t use ‘conjunctions’ such as and at the beginning of a sentence.” While it is true that these are less common in academic writing than in other types of writing, it is very common to find them. About 10% of buts in academic writing come at the beginning of a sentence in the COCA. Sentences like Because he was young, he had trouble finding work are fine.

39 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” “You can’t use ‘conjunctions’ such as and at the beginning of a sentence.” While it is true that these are less common in academic writing than in other types of writing, it is very common to find them. About 10% of buts in academic writing come at the beginning of a sentence in the COCA. Sentences like Because he was young, he had trouble finding work are fine. Sentences like Because he was young are considered incomplete and non-standard.

40 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” Exercise Or Game?

41 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” BUT… sentence-initial and is often overused by inexperienced writers, especially younger children.

42 Sentence-initial “conjunctions” Exercise

43 Only one and per sentence “You can only use one and per sentence.”

44 Only one and per sentence “You can only use one and per sentence.” And can come before the last item in a coordination (e.g., big, bad, and ugly.)

45 Only one and per sentence “You can only use one and per sentence.” And can come before the last item in a coordination (e.g., big, bad, and ugly.) But a sentence can have more than one coordination (e.g., they’re big, bad, and ugly, and they’re my friends.)

46 Only one and per sentence Exercise Or Game?

47 Only one and per sentence Neither

48 Brainstorming and Outlines “Students should begin the writing process by brainstorming and writing an outline.”

49 Brainstorming and Outlines Exercise Or Game?

50 Conclusion Too often teachers and the textbooks we use tell students not to do x in academic English or to be sure to do y for the wrong reasons. We forget that we are setting them an exercise and instead present our contrived rules as facts about how academic English is written. Drills and exercises are useful, but students should be allowed the freedom to play the game and write with all the flexibility that experts and professionals do.

51 Contact My blog:


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