ESL: The Concept of Good Writing

From ESL Instructional Resources by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

In addition to cultural conventions having a strong influence, the perception of “good writing” is deeply embedded in disciplinary fields because each discipline has its own set of value systems, ideologies, and epistemologies. A good research paper in Microbiology is very different from a good research paper in Sociology or in Fine Arts. Although summary writing is regarded as one of the essential academic writing skills (Swales & Feak, 2012), at least five different types of summaries are produced in university classrooms (Ratteray, 1985). Summary writing in History is very different from summary writing in Philosophy (Johns, 1999). Thus, faculty should explain guidelines for the specific genre of the assignment as clearly as possible and provide students with successful samples of the specific assignment, especially when they work with undergraduate students.

Many international students tend to associate good writing primarily with grammatical aspects of writing and often look at writing as an activity to formulate ideas into certain frames or patterns since they have been trained to write for the standardized English tests such as TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. One practical solution that can be used to help students understand that good writing is not just concerned with the grammatical aspects of writing is to introduce the essential concepts of academic writing—the rhetorical, grammatical, and stylistics aspects of writing—adapted from the Writing Self-Assessment and Writing Center Conference Form available on the Writing & Communication Center website. Students can see the importance of rhetorical aspects of writing concerned with ways of developing their argument, organizing their ideas, synthesizing sources, constructing a thesis statement, and representing their identity.


Johns, A. (1999). Opening our doors: Applying socioliterate approaches (SA) to language minority classrooms. In L, Harklau, K, Losey, & M. Siegal, Generation 1.5 meet college composition: Issues in the teaching of writing to US-educated learners of ESL. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Ratteray, O. (1985). Expanding roles for summarized information. Written Communication, 2, 457-472.

Swales, J. & Feak, C. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.




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Young-Kyung Min, PhD
Education Program