ESL: Organizational Patterns across Cultures

From ESL Instructional Resources by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

The concept of “good writing” resides within each culture because rhetorical conventions differ from culture to culture. A dialogue between writing instructors in China and the US about the concept of good writing is clearly illustrated in Xiaoming Li’s book (1996). The situated nature of good writing is also reflected in organizational patterns across cultures. Let’s take a look at the following organizational patterns of writing in Asian languages:  

Chinese: Gi (Introduction), Cheng (development), Zhuan (thesis statement), He (conclusion). 

Korean: Ki (introduction), Seung (development), Jeon (thesis statement), Gyeol (conclusion)

Japanese: Ki (introduction), Sho (development), Ten (thesis statement), Ketsu (conclusion) 

These organizational patterns, which are called the four-legged essay style, are very different from the five-paragraph essay form in the US, which is the actual foundation of the academic writing style in English. The four-legged organizational styles were originally developed for non-academic writing such as fiction; however, many Asian students who have been trained to present the main idea of their paper toward the end of the main body have difficulty organizing their ideas and developing their argument in a way that engages American audiences. 

One practical solution that can be used to help students organize and develop their ideas more effectively is a concept map—a term which can also refer to a brainstorming technique. In this context, however, a concept map is used as “reverse outline” since students make an outline of their paper after they have finished the main ideas of their paper. The concept map can help students check to see if the topic sentences are connected to the thesis statement of their papers or if they have strayed from their main arguments. As they repeat this process, they become more aware of how to develop their argument coherently by providing specific details. Here is a concept map template. 


Li, Xiaoming. (1996). Good writing in cross-cultural context. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


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Young-Kyung Min, PhD
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