NU Ideas

NU Ideas Volume 4, Number 2


Nagoya University Multidisciplinary Journal

Proceedings of the Second Symposium on
Academic Writing and Critical Thinking

From Montaigne to the five-paragraph essay:
Resuscitating sophisticated academic writing in English

Paul Wadden
International Christian University, Tokyo

This essay argues that university language teachers should go beyond simple formulaic prescriptions in the teaching of writing and should show students—and allow them to experiment with—the more sophisticated constructions actually used by essay writers in English. EAP and CBLT writing instruction tends to be dominated by the five-paragraph essay form which employs, in Dombek and Herndon's terminology, simple "cumulative development": thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph, body paragraphs with first sentences announcing the topics of their discussion, followed by a summing-up style conclusion. This is also the rhetorical form favored by standardized tests such as the TOEFL, IELTS, and SAT, which create a powerful test washback in the language classroom. In reality, however, sophisticated readers of English, such as university professors, expect students to be able to write in more complex forms using "periodic development": employing sentences at the beginning of a paragraph that drive ideas forward and link reasoning between paragraphs. Such writing often purposely withholds the thesis until late in the essay when it has been more fully developed and supported. This rhetorical structure is frequently seen in essays addressing charged topics that members of a target audience may be predisposed to reject out of hand; thus the essay invites the reader to follow the reasoning and to "reason with" the writer in elaborating an argument and arriving at a conclusion. The essay briefly explains Dombek and Herndon's characterization of cumulative versus periodic rhetoric and presents examples that illustrate a more sophisticated approach.

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