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非英语母语学生如何写好文章

http://Tran.httpcn.com 日期:2003-5-26 来源:寄托天下



Writing Papers in the United States—A Guide for Foreign Students

by Peter Timmann

it is likely that as a student you have written many papers and essays in 
your home country. You may feel confident about writing essays in English 
because of your past writing experience. Perhaps your only concern is that 
some weaknesses in grammar and vocabulary will cause problems between you 
and your American instructors. Many foreign students in the United States 
have thought this way and have been disappointed when their teachers 
returned papers or compositions with critical comments on the content 
rather than the form. The reason for the students' unpleasant surprise is 
that paper writing in the United States generally follows certain rules and 
conventions. This guide will help you attract a reader's attention, state 
clearly what you want to achieve, structure your ideas effectively, keep 
the reader's attention, and conclude your paper—all within a format 
familiar to American readers.

This guide will not teach you much about grammar or style. If you need help 
in those areas, you can contact your university's writing lab or writing 
center, practice on PLATO or a similar computer program, consult native 
speakers, study books, or take additional English courses.

I shall assume that you already adequately understand prewriting, the 
process of finding a topic and generating and organizing ideas. Presumably 
you have had to write papers that required some research. Should you need 
assistance with any aspect of prewriting, you can talk to your instructor 
or refer to the list of books at the end of this guide.

One last word. In any academic setting you are expected to indicate all of 
your sources. You must never plagiarize, that is, use someone else's words 
or ideas without acknowledging the source.

Topics, Thesis, and Introduction

While prewriting steps are the same in most cultures, the actual structure 
of a paper in the United States may be quite different from the papers you 
have written in your home country. Put very simply, American instructors 
will expect you to write papers following this format: state the point you 
wish to make (introduction and thesis); prove your point (body of the 
paper); and sum up what you have written (conclusion).

Foreign students (as well as many Americans) are often not aware of the 
crucial distinction between a topic and a thesis and, therefore, write 
papers without a purpose. If, for example, an instructor asks students for 
a paper on the general topic "Public Transportation in the United States," 
students will frequently research the subject conscientiously but write 
down only their findings. These students might give statistics and show 
that most people travel by car, plane, and bus while only a few take the 
train. Their papers deal with the topic by describing a situation without 
facing issues and taking sides, leaving the reader without a sense of 
direction.

A writer gives the reader a sense of direction by writing a thesis. This 
thesis provides the specific, central idea of the paper. For example, for 
the previous topic, the thesis, or focus, could be "The federal government 
should stem the decline of passenger railroads by imposing additional taxes 
on gasoline and plane fuel." In this example, the writer indicates to any 
reader that this paper on public transportation has a specific message that 
goes beyond just giving topical information. The writer now has a focus for 
the essay and the reader knows that he or she will be confronted with a new 
idea. A thesis, then, gives a specific focus to the topic and thus to the 
whole paper. It signals to the audience that reading the paper will be 
worth their time.

Usually, however, a paper will not start with the thesis. Rather, the 
writer will build up to it. A new idea or perspective on a subject may not 
arouse a reader's interest without some preparation. Therefore, the writer 
must get the reader's interest before the reader has actually reached the 
thesis. The introduction to a paper has two functions: it "hooks" the 
reader and it builds toward the thesis. The transportation paper could, for 
example, open with the following question: "Why do many more travelers in 
Europe than in America prefer trains to cars and buses?" The attention of 
the average American reader will probably be aroused more by that question 
than by first discussing the invention of the wheel.

Most likely you would not still be reading this guide if it began, "Ever 
since humanity learned to read and write, people have been faced with the 
question of how to tackle a problem in writing." Such a general statement 
is not interesting enough to hold the attention of the reader who cannot 
afford to waste time. It is important to remember, then, that the 
introduction to your paper must catch your reader's attention and lead up 
to the thesis. The thesis, in turn, must reflect the writer's fresh 
approach to the topic so that the reader feels sufficiently motivated and 
curious to read the whole paper.

The Body of the Paper

After capturing the reader's initial interest with the introduction, the 
writer is responsible for taking the reader through the paper, step by 
step. In other words, the writer maps out a course for the reader. Even if 
a paper has an interesting introduction and an original thesis, the writer 
must not assume that the reader will agree with or follow the ideas 
presented without questioning their logic and validity. The writer must 
structure the sequence of ideas carefully and logically to avoid confusing 
the reader. Each paragraph should deal with one central idea, introduced 
early, preferably in a topic sentence, so the reader knows what to expect 
in the paragraph. A reader will be able to follow an argument better if the 
writer has developed the ideas logically and has provided transitions 
between paragraphs.

Once the central idea of the paragraph is established, the writer should 
make sure that the focus remains on that idea. American readers expect 
writers not to stray from their point. The writer who deals with several 
major ideas in one paragraph will definitely confuse readers. When starting 
the previous paragraph, I was tempted to write that the focus of a 
paragraph should be on one idea and that the central idea ought to be well 
supported. While revising the paragraph, I realized that the question of 
support requires its own paragraph. I had put two ideas from my outline 
into a single paragraph. By following an outline closely, writers will 
usually avoid the mistake of treating several ideas together, as additional 
ideas are often afterthoughts that occur while the writer is writing a 
draft. If the new ideas are valuable, the writer must change the structure 
of the paper, providing proper paragraphs for each idea. 

Should new ideas not deserve separate paragraphs, the writer may still be 
able to use them, together with other evidence, to support the paragraph's 
main idea. It is not enough to merely s


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