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Culture and styles of argumentation

What constitutes good writing at university is determined partly by the practice of expert writers in various disciplines, and partly by the writing norms that are taught in schools. These practices and norms can differ from one country or language region to another, as well as from one discipline to another. They influence the expectations that a reader brings to a text.

Research comparing the presentation of argument in a text in a number of languages has identified these areas of variation:

  • placement of purpose
  • linearity
  • reader and writer responsibility

In general, English-educated readers tend to expect argumentative writing to have these characteristics:

  1. Placement of purpose
  2. The writer's purpose is stated explicitly, early in the text, rather than being worked towards gradually, or left to the reader to deduce.

  3. Linearity
  4. The argument will keep going forward until it reaches its conclusion, with no material included that does not contribute directly to the purpose of the text; i.e., digressions and apparent irrelevancies are considered symptoms of 'poor writing' - whereas readers from other cultures might regard them as enriching the text, or giving evidence of the writer's authority and expertise.

  5. Reader and writer responsibility
  6. The writer will tell the readers explicitly what to expect, how they are progressing through the text, and what conclusion is to be drawn from the argument presented. English can be viewed as a 'writer-responsible' (Hinds 1987) writing culture, in which it is considered the writer's responsibility to provide guidance, rather than the reader's responsibility to work out what a text is saying. In 'reader-responsible' (Hinds, 1987) writing cultures, it may seem disrespectful to the reader to state explicitly things which an educated reader might be expected to know or to be able to infer; but this is not the case in English.

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