Thompson Rivers University

Culture in Academic Writing: The Tutor’s Dilemma

  Posted on: May 26, 2015

Culture affects us in many different ways, some more apparent than others, and none quite as complex as in our own academic writing. Universities establish standards and expectations that the students are supposed to be followed by all students. For the native-born Canadians of Thompson Rivers University this may seem simply a matter of practice and paying attention to details: mind your commas and dot your “I”s and the essay will turn out just fine!

However, this is not the reality of many international students who struggle with different teaching styles, expectations, and cultural perspectives. What may have been considered an excellent final product in one’s home country, suddenly becomes a “barely-passing” grade. This causes confusion and frustration for both students and instructors.

As tutors, many of us had to witness the profound sense of failure that many of these students feel after many vain attempts at academic proficiency. How can we, as Writing Centre tutors, help to bridge this cultural gap so that our students might have a fighting chance at academic excellence?

  • Firstly, an instructor has to keep in mind that different cultures will understand the “logical” construction of an argument in a way that reflects his/her cultural values and priorities. For instance, a student might think that telling the point of the paper directly is disrespectful to the reader, who will be able to infer it on his/her own.
  • Secondly, when we teach essay writing, we should make sure that the students are made aware of these differences so that they will be more conscious of their own biases. Thirdly, one must keep an open mind while approaching these particular essays, especially when it comes to plagiarism. The student might not be displaying a lack of integrity, but rather an unfamiliarity with the concept itself.
  • Finally…….. be positive! Language learning does not happen in a day or a few months! Reading, conversing, and practicing writing can all help to improve a student’s writing.