Lifelong Learning: Proceedings of the 4th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 14-15, 2005. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo Keizai University.

Scaffolding the academic writing process: A focus on developing ideas
(Add Japanese Title Here)

by Chiyo Hayashi (International Christian University)

本稿は、会議での一 的なポスタープレゼンテーションの方法を授業に取り入れたものである。学生はポスターを使用し-とりでプレゼンテーションを行うが、それが同時進行の形で幾つか行われ、聞き手側はそれぞれのプレゼンテーションを聞くために教室内を移動し、質問等をしながら理解を深めていく、という方法である。実践に際し、理論的な説明も加え段階的にどうすべきかを示した。ポスターに関連する課題や評価方法についても触れた。 ADD JAPANESE ABSTRACT HERE


L2 academic writing proficiency is said to be a very difficult skill for many EFL university students to master. Why? What kinds of problems do they have with such writing? How can teachers most effectively help them improve? This paper suggests answers to these crucial questions in L2 writing pedagogy. Based on a review of previous researchers' views on why academic writing is difficult for Japanese students, the author pinpoints the most problematic area for Japanese learners in the writing process: the development and organization of ideas. Then specific tasks and instructions that promote the development and organization of ideas are presented through a description of an academic writing course she taught in fall, 2003. Finally, recommendations are made on how to improve L2 academic writing pedagogy in university settings.

Keywords: academic writing, composition process, thesis development, essay organization, L2 writing pedagogy

As Casanava (2002) aptly points out, learning how to write for academic purposes poses a "clueless" challenge because the rules of the "game" are almost all implicit (p. 19). This is especially true for Japanese university students when they write an academic research paper in English for the first time: they are faced with a number of unfamiliar, daunting tasks.
". . . the most formidable and crucial challenge [for EFL students] appears to be learning how to organize and develop their ideas in an academically persuasive manner . . ."
Of all these, the most formidable and crucial challenge appears to be learning how to organize and develop their ideas in an academically persuasive manner; that is, to organize their assertions into logical and cohesive arguments that will convince the reader. Their papers often end up lacking clear logical flow and unity, not to mention a persuasive linear argument.
This was certainly true for me. Like most current Japanese university students, I did not learn how to write in English in secondary school: the only quasi-writing experience I had was translating Japanese sentences into English. Even in college after much work, although it was then not difficult to write a thesis statement, I did not know how to go about the rest of the process to explain my argument logically to the readers. Like many EFL students, I felt as if I were groping in the dark and needed specific and systematic guidance on how to scaffold my ideas .This paper underscores the importance of adequate and effective instruction about how to develop and organize one's ideas in acafrmic writing classes.
After examining the problems common among many non-native learners of English, I will report on a university academic writing course which offered concrete tasks and instructions aimed at facilitating the process of developing and organizing a successful academic research paper. Finally, the results of the end-of-term course evaluation will be reported. Based on these findings, specific recommendations will be made to further improve EFL academic writing courses.

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The problems which arise when teaching writing in English in Japanese school contexts have been observed by a number of researchers and teachers (Era, 1999; Fukao & Fujii, 2001; Galien, 2001; Gilfert et al., 1999; Hirayanagi, 1998; Hirose, 2001; Newfields, 2003; Shi & Fujioka, 2000; Yoneoka, 1994). Some of the common causes identified by these researchers are: absence of English writing instruction in Japanese secondary schools; students' low level of motivation for writing; the negative transfer/interference of their L1 writing patterns; and absence of instruction and practice even in L1 writing. In an apt summary, Hirose (2000) pointed out that writing instruction is conducted as "a service activity used to reinforce the teaching of grammatical structures or vocabulary" (p 35). That is, most of the writing practice in Japanese English Composition classes focuses on mere sentence-level translation and ignores student's own writing. As a result, most students have very limited experience and practice in writing in English at the time they enter college.
In addition to these explicit problems, many implicit challenges surface when Japanese students write in English: content, coherence, organization and development, word choice, grammar, academic style, mechanics, documentation, etc. Many researchers and teachers claim that the most problematic area for Japanese university students is the development and organization of ideas (Era, 1999; Hirose, 2001; Shi & Fujioka, 2000). Students feel at a loss not knowing how to develop their ideas or assertions in a logical and persuasive manner, which will meet the expectations of English-speaking academia. In Fujioka and Shi's quantitative research on private university students, "Organization and Structure" topped the list of major writing problems (2000, p. 3). Likewise, Era (1999) reported that one of the most serious problems her students had was developing their ideas (p. 14). Hirayanagi (1998) also claimed that Japanese students cannot write well because they do not possess "analytical and organizational skills" (p. 1). These findings clearly support the necessity of improving instruction aimed at fostering students' abilities to develop and organize their ideas as well as helping them think more logically and analytically.

Course context

An academic writing course titled "Theme Writing" was offered at a private international university in Tokyo in the fall in 2004. The course met twice a week for ten weeks. The twenty sophomores enrolled in the course wrote 1500-2000 word academic research papers with full documentation on topics of their choice. The goals of the course were twofold: to provide the students with necessary practice for future academic research at the university, and to guide them through the process of writing academic research papers in English. All the instruction and communication in the course were conducted exclusively in English.
The students' majors ranged over a variety of academic disciplines.. Their English proficiency levels varied from intermediate to advanced, a few of them having studied overseas. All the students had studied how to write academic paragraphs and essays for three semesters in their freshman year. Thus, by the time they began this course, they had already written at least several short academic essays.

Course approach

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In recent decades L2 writing pedagogies have evolved significantly. Many change have been made in both in practice and theory. Today, the process approach and the genre approach appear to be the most widely practiced L2 composition approaches. The former focuses on the writer, giving special emphasis to the process involved in writing. The writer is encouraged to generate ideas through a cycle of writing activities consisting of planning, drafting, revising and editing (Ferris, 1998; Reid, 2001; Reppen, 2002; Seow, 2002; Tribble, 1996).
In contrast, with the genre approach, the reader is the focus, and special emphasis is given to "the ways which writers and texts need to interact with readers" (Tribble, 1996, p. 37). The underlying assumption is that there is no successful communication unless the reader understands the purpose of a text. Writers are helped to become familiar with the writing conventions in different discourse communities so that they can produce writings that conform to the expectations of the audience (Bradford-Watts, 2003a, 2003b; Paltridge, 2001; Reid, 2001; Swales, 1991).
Since "one size does not fit all," many researchers and teachers advocate "eclecticism (the use of a variety of approaches that permits teachers to extend their repertoire)" (both: Reid, 2001, p. 32). Therefore, an eclectic approach based on the process and genre approaches was chosen as the guiding principle of the course and the course tasks and instructions were structured accordingly. Another key feature of the course was student collaboration in order to create a supportive environment in the classroom. At every step of the composing process, students edited each other's work in pairs or groups and offered assistance to each other. The goal of such forms of collaboration was to "strengthen the community of the class and offer writers authentic audiences" (Reid, 2001, p. 32).

Course overview

This 20-lesson course consisted of ten stages:
Stage 1: Course introduction, clarification of goals, topics, and grading 
Stage 2: Peer review of sample papers 
Stage 3: Topic selection and adjustment of the topic range
Stage 4: Research orientation in the library 
Stage 5: Formation of research questions, thesis statement, research proposal, and working title 
Stage 6: Formation of a working outline 
Stage 7: Drafting an introduction and revising it 
Stage 8: First draft and revision of the same 
Stage 9: Second draft with an abstract and a conclusion and revision 
Stage 10: Final paper

At each step in the process, instructions were provided on how to tackle these tasks. At least three teacher-student conferences were also held in order to provide the students with necessary coaching for revisions and editing.

Tasks and instructions for the development and organization of ideas

Reflecting the pedagogical foundations described above, the following tasks and instructions were interwoven in the course in order to promote and facilitate the development and organization of students' ideas.

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Essay maps

An essay map, a detailed and elaborate account of an essay plan, was introduced during Stage 5. The purpose of the map was to provide a stage that would fill the gap between brainstorming and outlining, allowing the writer to explore their ideas in a systematic yet informal way. The students exchanged their essay maps and commented on them with a peer editing worksheet (adopted from Reid, 2000, p. 81). The essay maps both helped the writers see if their papers would satisfy their purposes in writing them, and they helped the teacher see if the students had developed their ideas to the point that they could be expressed at length in writing. A sample essay map completed by one of the students appears below.

Unedited Sample Student Essay Map

Writing an essay map can demonstrate the strengths and the possible weaknesses of an organizational plan.
Write an essay map for your research paper.
My Audience: [the teacher] and classmates
Working Title: The Aftereffects of White Settlement in Australia: Unsolved Problems among Aborigines
My Purpose: To show that Aborigines face social problems that are caused by white-settlement To persuade that education and reconciliation are the key to improve Aborigines' life standards
Introduction: I explain that many people tend to think Australia is full of good aspects; however, there exists sad history in Australia, and the aftereffects of it still remains today. I will point out that Aborigines are suffering from social problems, and claim that there needs to be more attentions paid in order to overcome the problems.
Background Paragraph: I will point out some of the problems that aborigines have, and show how serious it is by comparing data between aborigines and non-aborigines. I will also point out that these problems are caused by the policies of the government. In other words, the problems are caused by white-settlers.
Body Paragraphs: (Suggestion 1) I will explain that education is important for both Aboriginal & non-Aboriginal children. For Aboriginal Children, more emphasis of education would help them to improve both economical and health problems. For non-Aboriginal children, learning about Aborigines would help them to gain more respect toward each culture. (Suggestion 2) I will propose that reconciliation (settlement of land-rights problem and apology problem) is very important for Aborigines to overcome the traumas and to achieve self-management.
Conclusion: I summarize that it is too optimistic for all of us to think that every ethnic group lives happily and equally in Australia. People should recognize the serious problems that Aborigines are facing today. The history of colonialism is not over, it is still happening because the problems that Aborigines have, are the effects of colonialism. To achieve real "multi-culture" Australia, education and reconciliation are necessary.

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Audience analysis

"Identification of audience," "analysis of audience expectations," and "strategies to fulfill those expectations" (Reid, 2000, p. 72) are essential parts of preparation for successful writing. The ultimate purpose of any form of writing is to be read and understood by the reader, so the writer must become familiar with the reader's expectations in order to realize his/her purpose.
This is especially true of academic writing because it is controlled by highly sophisticated and complex writing conventions. Therefore, it is crucial for the writer to have a clear understanding of the target audience. Moreover, it is necessary for him/her to find out what the reader knows and thinks about the topic before starting to write.
In order to cultivate such awareness in the writer, therefore, audience interviews were conducted during Stage 6. The audience, in this case, meant classmates and the author. The answers to the following questions were sought through the interviews: The audience interview was also particularly useful for those students whose topics were rather technical. For example, students who wrote about computers or sports medicine realized that they needed to provide more background information after interviewing their classmates and becoming aware of the gap between their own understanding of the topic and that of the audience.

Peer editing with worksheets

Editing is an essential process for an academic paper in order to improve its content and quality. In addition to teacher-comments, two types of editing were used in this course: self-editing and peer-editing. Peer editing enables writers to gain objective views from their peers, i.e. their intended audience. Four peer editing sessions with worksheets were incorporated into the course:

Peer Editing #1: Research proposal (Stage 5)
Peer Editing #2: Outline, essay map (Stage 6)
Peer Editing #3: Introduction (Stage 7)
Peer Editing #4: First draft (Stage 8)

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Sample Peer Editing Worksheet:
Peer Editing for Introduction

Writer's Name: Editor's Name:
1. Does the introduction begin with a "hook"?
2. Is it effective?
3. Do you have any suggestions?

1. Does the introduction provide enough background information?
2. If you think it is not enough, what should be added?
3. Are there any keywords that need to be defined?

1. Is the thesis clearly stated after the background information?
2. Is the thesis statement suitable for an academic essay?
3. Do you have any suggestions?

1. Does the introduction end with a "map" providing a concrete plan on how the paper will develop?

1. Are there enough transitions to help the reader understand the logical flow?

VI. The best part of the introduction draft is:

VII. One weak point of the introduction draft is:

Academic essay development patterns

Many L2 writers are familiar with essay organizational features as the introduction, body, and conclusion as well as thesis sentences, topic sentences, and supporting sentences. Internal organizational features also need to be taken into consideration because academic readers expect "regular, predictable patterns of organization" (Swales & Feak, 2004, p. 12). Therefore, students were encouraged to apply or adopt one of the following academic essay development patterns (described below): the research report; the explaining essay; the arguing essay; the problem-solution essay.

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Development Patterns for Academic Essays

General Organizational Pattern
I. Introduction that ends with a thesis statement
II. Background paragraph that defines terms, gives history, describes processes
III. Body paragraphs, each with a topic sentence and supporting details
IV. Conclusion with a summary, recommendations, predictions, and/or solutions
The Explaining Essay (Explain what, how, why)
Sample Topic: Should cloning of human genes be prohibited by law?
I. Answer the question what by defining cloning, or by listing and defining the ethical questions.
II. Answer the question how by describing the basic steps of the cloning process.
III. Give the writer's opinion about whether or not adult cloning of human genes should be prohibited by law.
IV. Answer the question why by giving evidence of causes/effects that support opinions.
The Arguing Essay
Sample Topic: Should we focus on the development of solar energy systems?
I. Introduction: explanation of energy problems
II. Background paragraph: about sources of energy
III. Pro #1: solar power is free, plentiful, inexhaustible
IV. Pro #2: solar power is safe and nonpolluting
V. Pro #3: systems are built with simple technology
VI. Counter-argument paragraph about cost and efficiency
A. short- vs. long-term costs and efficiency
B. initial investment high, but eventually much less expensive
C. research will continue to increase efficiency
VII. Conclusion: brief summary plus the solution to the energy problems (i.e. solar energy) and a recommendation to pursue research in solar energy technology
The Problem-Solution Essay
Sample Topic: Due to lack of writing instructions in tertiary schools, Japanese students are poor at writing English essays.
I. Introduction
II. The problem: Identify and demonstrate its existence
III. The solution(s)
IV. Answering possible objections and problems with the solution
V. Conclusion: recommendations and call to action (Adopted from Reid, 2000, p. 210)

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Introductions, conclusions, and abstracts

Development patterns for introductions, conclusions, and abstracts, were presented as models during Stage 7, 8, and 9, respectively.

Organizing ideas for the introduction, conclusion, abstract

  1. Get the reader's attention (e.g., ask a question; give statistics or historical facts; provide a general statement about the topic; narrate personal experiences).
  2. Give background information (e.g., definitions of key terms; a brief history of the issue; political/social background; current relevant information).
  3. Give a thesis statement (a clear statement of the position the writer will take in the paper).
  4. (Optional) Present a "map" that explains how the paper is organized.
  1. Signal the end: Begin with a concluding connector.
  2. Restate the main idea or thesis statement.
  3. Give a final thought (e.g., insight; call to action; memorable quote or saying; recommendations).
  1. Provide some background information.
  2. State the purpose of the research paper.
  3. Provide some information about the methodology.
  4. Pinpoint the most important results of the research.
  5. Give a conclusion or recommendations.

Student feedback

In course evaluations students were asked to comment on the problems that they encountered while writing. Their responses generally confirmed the author's expectations: organizing and developing an essay topped the list, followed by writing a thesis statement; researching and finding appropriate sources; using citations; writing a conclusion; paraphrasing and summarizing; and writing a conclusion.
The students were asked to comment on the major tasks and instructions of the course. Their responses are shown in Table 1:

Table 1. Student feedback on writing course themes. N=14
Activity Very Useful Useful Not So Useful
Essay Maps 4 10 0
Audience Analysis 6 7 1
Peer Editing 9 5 0
Essay Development Patterns 6 6 2
How to write introductions 10 4 0
How to write conclusions 2 11 0
How to write abstracts 4 10 0

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Thus the students were generally positive about the major course elements. Their written comments revealed that the information on how to write an introduction was instrumental in organizing their papers. Some of the students expressed the opinion that the problem-solution essay pattern was particularly beneficial in structuring and developing their papers.
Peer editing with worksheets was also positively received. Some of the major comments were: "It helps to find weak points of my paper;" "The merits are listening to and knowing others' views;" "We can find out what is difficult to understand for other students;" "We can get ideas that we'd never thought of before; plus, we get an objective perspective." At the same time, other comments pointed to difficult aspects of peer editing: "Someone's opinion is not always a proper idea;" "Some people were not ready for peer editing;" "Other students' ideas may not be correct;" "I was scared that my comments might've been taken personally." Although most students agreed that peer editing was helpful, it seems that special considerations should be taken in order to make it more effective.
Some of the other areas that the students reported that they needed further assistance with were: how to connect each paragraph; examples; grammar; word choice; and punctuation. These need to be taken into consideration in future course designs.
"Students need to be provided with multiple opportunities to develop and organize their ideas through tasks which enable them to express their ideas in a systematic and organized way."


This paper identified some of the major problems to be found in L2 writing pedagogy in Japan and presented a set of concrete solutions for improving Japanese students' academic writing abilities. Students need to be provided with multiple opportunities to develop and organize their ideas through tasks which enable them to express their ideas in a systematic and organized way. Next, it is crucially important to make them aware of and familiar with academic writing conventions and expectations by presenting patterns of development and organization common in academic papers. Collaboration and support should be emphasized in order to create an atmosphere where students can help each other and work together through the editing process. The author believes these steps will contribute to making the implicit rules of the "writing game" explicit.


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