Transition to American Academic English

Taking a Stand

American academic papers—particularly argument papers—take a very specific emotional approach. (One of my professors, a Chinese woman from Singapore, called it a "very European white guy" approach to writing.)

This "I am right and you should listen" approach (to quote my Chinese professor) causes trouble to two groups:

Uncertain Americans

If you have not done your homework or you are very timid, you will find it very difficult to plant your feet and say, "This is the point of the paper."

If all of your previous writing has been simply a "brain dump" of everything you could think of, you do not know what your stand is.

If a misplaced idea of political correctness has taught you that both sides are right in every dispute, the best you can do is a catalog of everyone's arguments—you will never have a point of your own.

Polite Asians

Many of my students think this "I am right and you should listen" approach is incredibly disrespectful because it seems to say that respected authorities are wrong. Sometimes American papers do say that, but often American papers say other things that do not insult recognized authorities:

No need to be insulting

Assume that your academic sources (especially the ones with whom you disagree) are reasonable adults who have formed their opinions through a process of thinking and investigation. They are not stupid or evil; you are not the master of the universe. Name-calling and insult have no place in an academic paper.

The dynamic of an academic paper should be one of information and ideas taking their place in an adult conversation. And if my ideas are faulty or incomplete, the rest of the academic community has a right to point that out.

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Revised 12/28/18 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: