Thursday, January 14, 2010

Avoiding Stereotypes in Your Writing

One of the challenges/joys of teaching writing to ESL students (or any student) is helping them avoid overgeneralizations in their writing. For example, students often write in absolutes:

- "All Americans own guns."
- "Americans never take off their shoes before entering the house."
- "The homeless are that way because they use drugs."

One important techique for students to learn is to learn how to "qualify" or limit their statements, so they represent more accurate or logical reasoning. You can qualify your statements by related the comments to your own personal experience, use adverbs of frequency to avoid absolutes e.g., (often, generally, sometimes), or use other phrases such as "in some cases" or "depending on the circumstances."

Some revised sentences might look like this:

- "Some people in the United States own guns."
- "In my family, we take off our shoes when we enter the house in the United States, but this isn't always the case in every family. It often depends on the family customs."
- There are a number of reasons why people might be homeless, so we can't say that all or almost all people are in that situation because of drugs. There are many factors that lead to this situatio."

Now, if people don't qualify their statements, they either run the risk of offending their audience or just sounding rather swallow in their thought.

So, are there generalizations or stereotypes about your culture or social topics that people need to learn qualify to so they speak or write logically?

Share your ideas.

Randall

3 comments:

  1. I see what you mean and I completely agree with this point, but typical English writing seems to me “short in words” so that, trying to get a more accurate style I can do it in a wrong way: being a little rude.

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  2. Well, I read this, and for me was very important everything..I agree with all..well almost everything..
    In the part: "In my family, we take off our shoes when we enter the house in the United States, but this isn't always the case in every family. It often depends on the family customs." I agree too, depend the family customs. And the homeless too, I agree, there a lot of situacion for be a homeless...

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  3. Hi Randall and everyone,

    This is a very interesting post. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts and expertise with us.
    I really liked your tips on how to avoid overgeneralizations (absolutes). They will surely help learners become more fluent not only in the language but also more successful communicators. It reminds me of what Pragmatics teaches us: " You not only SAY things with words, you DO things with words."
    BEst,
    Bruno
    Brazil

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for posting a comment. I appreciate your interesting in sharing your ideas.

Best,

Randall