All posts by Sheffner

Part-time instructor of Academic Writing in English @ Kyoto Prefectural University, Kyoto, Japan.

AW1: WEEK 9, JUNE 14TH, 2019

  • Read the sample student “Problem-solution” essays. You can view them here.
  • Choose a topic for your “Problem-solution” essay.
  • List the bibliographic information for Swift’s essay and a Japanese translation (if you used one), using the MLA style.
  • Email me your essay topic and the bibliographic information by Wednesday midnight.

Today’s class

  1. Discussion about the Swift essay.
    1. Was Swift making a serious proposal?
    2. What is the name for this kind of writing?
    3. What did you notice about the structure of his essay?
  2. Discussion about essay citation homework.
  3. Sentence-correction worksheet (continued).

AW1: Week 8, June 7th, 2019

  1. Read the sample essay in the textbook pp. 43-4.
  2. Write out the title and source information for the essay that you discussed in class today,
    1. for the original essay
    2. for the Japanese translation (if you used one)
    3. using the MLA format and email it to me as an attachment by Wednesday midnight. Save the document as “AW1 Essay Citation Your Name” and use the same for the subject line of your email. Everything should be in Roman characters. No Chinese characters.
      1. essay in a book: Last name, First name. “Title of Essay.” Title of Collection, edited by Editor’s Name(s), Publisher, Year, Page range of entry.
      2. a translation, e.g.: Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated by Richard Howard, Vintage-Random House, 1988.
      3. A page on a web site: For an individual page on a Web site, list the author or alias if known, followed by an indication of the specific page or article being referenced. Usually, the title of the page or article appears in a header at the top of the page. Follow this with the information covered above for entire Web sites. If the publisher is the same as the website name, only list it once. E.g.:
        1. “Athlete’s Foot – Topic Overview.” WebMD, 25 Sept. 2014,
        2. Lundman, Susan. “How to Make Vegetarian Chili.” eHow, Accessed 6 July 2015.
        3. From Purdue Online Writing Lab

      Today’s class

      • Group discussions of the essays read for last week’s homework.
      • Sentence-correction and analysis

AW1: Week 7, MAY 31st, 2019

  • If you have not already done so, please email me your Essay1 draft3 (final version) at your convenience, and by Friday June 7th.
    • Did you notice the sentence above starts with a subordinate clause, something I said to avoid. Can you see why I did this?
  • Find a good example of an English essay by either Francis Bacon or George Orwell and read it in either Japanese or in English or both.
    • Bring the original English version with you to class on June 7th to share with your classmates. You should be familiar with the contents and able to explain it to your classmates (in Japanese at least).


I have prepared three collections of student Essay #1 which you can download from the links below:

  1. An uncorrected collection from 2013’s AW1 class:
  2. A corrected collection from 2014’s AW1 class:
  3. (Coming soon: An uncorrected collection from this year’s (2019) AW1 class)

The essays in all 3 documents are anonymous and appear in the collection with students’ permission.

Today’s class

  • Academic writing guidelines:
    • English prefers active to passive verbs, e.g. “People think I am too old” instead of “I am thought to be too old”.
    • English prefers positive to negative, e.g.
      • “I had few opportunities to speak English” rather than “I did not have many opportunities to speak English.”
    • English prefers starting a sentence with the main clause rather than the subordinate clause, unless there is a reason to emphasize the subordinate clause, in which case it should go first. E.g., instead of “As a cram school teacher, it is important to tell what the life of the university is like” write “It is important for cram school teachers to know what life at university is like.”
      • Or “my English may not improve if I do not speak to English speakers” instead of “if I can’t speak to foreigners actively, my English will not improve”
    • English prefers verbs to nouns, e.g. “I will learn English” rather than “I will acquire knowledge of English”, or “I regret this” rather than “I feel regret”.
    • English prefers items that are closely connected be kept within the same sentence, e.g. “In Japan a university is where young people go after graduating high school, so I am considered an unusual student” is better than “In Japan, a university is a place where young people go after graduating high school. Therefore, I am an unusual student.”
    • English prefers to keep the subject the same from one sentence to another wherever possible.
  • Academics like
    • precision (using the correct word), e.g. “I will build confidence (to speak English)” instead of “I get confidence”. Academics avoid vagues and subjective words like “get”, “nice” or “great”.
    • accuracy, e.g. “Japanese school education is mainly aimed at helping students pass entrance examinations” instead of “Japanese school education is mainly aimed at passing entrance examinations”, because “education” does not take or pass exams, only people do that.
      • Improve this sentence: “break time with companions of my part-time job is very valuable for me because it improves my communication skill”.
    • and they do not like ambiguity (e.g. words which can have more than one meaning, or have subjective meaning), such as “get, nice, great”, etc.
    • conciseness. E.g. “Japanese school education” is considered preferable to “the contents of education at school in Japan.”
    • the contents of education at school in Japan are mainly aimed at passing entrance examinations –> ?
    • to be careful – they avoid saying “always”, “never” or “all”, but prefer to be cautious and say “most” or “probably” or “hardly ever”, etc. This is called hedging.
    • Feeling and sensation are very important in Japanese culture, but academic writing is about objective facts and logic. Sentences like “I want to feel foreign culture” or “I felt cultural differences” do not belong in academic essays. Differences which involve judgment cannot be felt, they are apprehended by the mind. Say instead, “I experienced / learned / discovered / noticed cultural differences.”
  • Dragon Zakura episode 6: the English competition. What did you learn about writing or learning English from watching this episode?

AW1: Week 6, May 28th (Tuesday), 2019

  • For Friday May 31st – after receiving and reading the instructor’s corrections to your draft #2, rewrite it, title it “AW1 Essay1 Draft3 (Your Name)” and send it by email to me by Friday May 31st, or as soon as convenient.
    • Your email subject line should be the same as the title of your document.
  • For June 7th – find a good example of an English essay by either Francis Bacon or George Orwell and read it in either Japanese or in English.
    • Bring the original English version with you to class on June 7th to share with your classmates. You should be familiar with the contents and able to explain it to your classmates (in Japanese at least).

Today’s class

If you were absent today, read the following and do the textbook exercises.

AW1: WEEK 5, MAY 24TH, 2019


Next class will be Tuesday May 28th.

  • Download the instructions on how to create an MLA template in Microsoft Word:
    • following the instructions, create your own template and save it on your computer (or on a USB drive if you are using a public or university computer).
  • Write draft #2 of your essay #1 (the one about your big decision, not the one about “What is an essay?”).
    • If possible, use your new MLA template. That’s what it’s for!
  • Email it to me by Monday midnight. No need to print it out or to bring it to class. Just email it to me.

Today’s class

Academic writing rules and conventions:

  1. Academic writing is not “expressive” writing: the purpose is not for you to express your opinion. It should be fact-based, not opinion-based.
  2. Use A4 paper
  3. Double-spaced
  4. Use indent style not block style (with a nice big indent; don’t be shy!)
  5. Leave no blank lines between paragraphs
  6. Avoid non-academic language (conversational English, contractions like “don’t”,  “isn’t”, etc.)
  7. Don’t begin new sentences with “And”, “But” or “Because” but instead keep them as part of the same sentence.
  8. One paragraph, one topic. New topic, new paragraphs. Keep sentences about the same topic together.
  9. Don’t use “we” without first defining who the subject (“we”) is. “We” is a pronoun: it is supposed to replace a noun previously referred to.

After re-reading the introduction and conclusion of the model essay in the textbook (pages 15-16), re-write your introduction (or conclusion, as per instructions).

What do you think the following three principles mean?

  1. TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”)
  2. The non-aggression principle
  3. Natural givens vs. the man-made

AW1: Week 4, May 10th, 2019

Write a paragraph (300-500 words) about what is an essay.

  • research the meaning and history of the English word “essay” (like I researched the meaning and history of the word “academic”) (this will be part of the answer to the questions
    • what is an essay?”
    • “when” did essay writing start (in the West)?
  • research and give the names of 1 or 2 famous Western essay writers (“who?”)
  • give 1 or 2 examples of famous English (or Western) essays.
  • print out and bring to class (May 24th)

Today’s class

  1. “A is A” in Japanese.
  2. Thinking in concepts:
    1. in English, water is qualified as “hot water” or “cold water”, whereas in Japanese they are given two completely different names.
      1. water does not change its identity (H2O) when its temperature changes.
      2. Below 0 degrees it does change its nature, from a liquid to a solid, therefore it is given a different name (ice)
      3. Above 100 degrees it does change its nature, from a liquid to a gas, therefore it is given a different name (steam).
    2. in English, the concept “brother” is qualified as “older brother” or “younger brother”, whereas in Japanese these concepts are given completely different names.
      1. In English, therefore, the essential concept is of brother, a male blood-relative; whether older or younger is a secondary qualifier, which does not change the essential identity.
      2. In Japanese, the names are different, suggesting perhaps that Japanese people think of “older brother” and “younger brother” as two quite different identities.
    3. Straw man argument: this is often used in propaganda so it is useful to be aware of it. Avoid using it yourself in academic writing. Here is the more complete explanation on Japanese Wikipedia:ストローマン
    4. The importance of defining terms: see this example
    5. Free writing: how was your Golden Week?
    6. “What is study?”
      1. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
    7. 1-to-1 conferencing
    8. Collected homework

AW1: WEEK 3, APRIL 26TH, 2019


Explain why you do or did something important in your life, e.g. why you decide to come to KPU, why you joined a club, why you started to do a part-time job, why you went abroad, etc.

Remember: you are writing for university-educated English-speaking readers who may not be familiar with details of Japan and Japanese culture, so you need to explain not only your reasons but also your values – what is important to you and why.

Today’s class

  1. Thinking academically
    1. Ask questions before judging, writing or speaking
      1. in order to get accurate information
      2. (in addition to the wh- questions) cui bono?
    2. Define your terms, e.g. what exactly is the meaning of business in the expression “mind your own business”
    3. Categorize: what is “obon”? – It’s a Japanese religious festival. What is “kama-meshi”? – It’s a rice dish in which various ingredients are added to the rice and then they are all cooked together in a pot.
    4. Refute the argument
      1. E.g. “I disagree with Sakuragi because many people who do not graduate from university also contribute to society.” – This is true, but it does not refute Sakuragi’s argument because Sakuragi did not say only university graduates contribute. The writer is not responding to what Sakuragi actually said, but from what the writer assumed Sakuragi intended.
  2. Free writing:
    1. Why do people take off their shoes before entering a Japanese house or home?
    2. Why do so many people visit shrines or temples at New Year, even though they are not religious?
    3. Why do many people in Japan bow even in their cars or on the phone?
  3. Suggestions for learning about Western principles:
    1. The story of Genesis in the Bible, especially the events in the Garden of Eden
    2. The ten commandments (in the Bible, in the book “Exodus”)
    3. The movie Shane
    4. The 1943 novel (and 1949 movie) “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. There is a Japanese translation.
    5. Addendum. These Japanese books are good for learning about principles in general and why they are useful and important:
      1. プリンシプルのない日本
      2. ドラゴン桜 漫画
      3. ドラゴン桜 (TV drama)
      4. エンゼルバンク ドラゴン桜外伝
      5. インベスターZ

AW1: WEEK 2, APRIL 19TH, 2019

Today’s class

  1. Principles of academic writing (review)
    1. Ask questions before judging, deciding, writing or speaking – in order to get correct and accurate information.
      1. E.g. before writing about Trump’s “America First” slogan, ask
        1. what does it mean (not what you think it means but an objectively verifiable meaning)?
        2. who first used this expression?
        3. when was it used?
    2. Define your terms.
      1. e.g. when writing about the American principle of “mind your own business”, first define “business” and the meaning of the expression “mind your own business”.
      2. This definition should be objectively verifiable, i.e. not your own personal interpretation.
    3. “A is A” – Aristotle’s Law of Identity. I found a Japanese explanation of it. You can download it here.
  2. Free writing (5 minutes): what was your week like since last class? How many classes do you have in a week?
  3. It is important for you, as students learning to write in English, that you have some understanding of Western principles, otherwise your writing may not be persuasive.
    1. E.g., suggesting people should do something “because everyone else is doing it” is unlikely to persuade a Western reader. It is not a reason for action. Why not? (Explanation next week.)
    2. I explained about the behaviour of sheep. (People who behave like sheep, i.e. doing what everyone else does without thinking, are sometimes called “sheeple” (sheep + people)).
  4. Watch this video and
    1. Summarize in English what the man (Sakuragi) says;
    2. Give your opinion about what he says, explaining the reason for your opinion.

AW1: WEEK 1, April 12th, 2019

Welcome to Sheffner’s Academic Writing I (AW1) class.

The textbook is

Writers at Work: The Essay (Upper-Intermediate) Student’s Book. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Dorothy Zemach & Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz (authors) ISBN: 978-0521-693-028

We will start using this from next week.

You can download today’s (Friday April 12th) presentation here:

Homework: send me an email.

  • Introduce yourself briefly
  • tell me why you are taking this class (briefly)
  • make a short comment about today’s class (April 12th).
  • Use a current email address that you check regularly. I will use this to contact you from time to time during the semester.

Check out the email format image if you’re not sure of the format.

I’m looking forward to this semester. See you next Friday, April 19th.

Today’s class

  • Course intro (see link above)
  • What is academic writing?
  • What is the origin of the word “academic”?
  • Who started it? Where?
  • What are the characteristics of academic writing?
    • Asking questions BEFORE judging
      • What? When? Where? Who? How?Why?
    • Defininitions / define your terms
  • Liberal Arts:
    • grammar
    • logic
    • rhetoric
  • Free writing – 5 minutes – tell me about your spring vacation. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or logical order. Just write. Do not edit while writing. Writing and editing are two different activities that use different parts of the brain. Trying to do both at the same time is a bad idea.
  • 5 American principles:
    1. God helps those who help themselves
    2. Mind your own business
    3. Live and let live
    4. Let’s make a deal
    5. Our children’s future will be better
  • Write your own list of Japanese or your own personal principles, and a brief comparison with the 5 American ones.
  • Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. To persuade others, it is necessary to understand how they think. Therefore, it is important and necessary for writing persuasively in English to understand English-speakers’ principles and values.

AW2: WEEK 15, February 1st, 2019


Well done to all the students who wrote their final timed essays. If you still need to hand in an essay, I need to receive it by email (because I’m not coming back to KPU until next semester) and by Friday Feb. 8th as I must hand in your final grades by then.

I enjoyed teaching you all, and I look forward to teaching your juniors next April. If any of you would like to chat with me after class, come and find me after 4th period on Fridays. I’ll be happy to see you.

Today’s class

Clarification of main points of academic writing:

  1. Define your terms (meaning of the key words in the question, title or topic). E.g. “War means destruction and ‘good for the economy’ means some businesses will get profits from war.” Or, “Japanese New Year traditions include first visit to the shrine, sending and receiving New Year’s cards, giving New Year’s money gifts and preparing and eating traditional New Year’s dishes. There are others but these are the ones most familiar to people today.”
  2. Avoid rhetorical questions, e.g. “Is war really good for the economy?”
  3. Answer the question: “Discuss” does NOT mean “persuade”; avoid using the words like “should” or “I (dis)agree” in such an essay.

For your final timed essay (45 minutes), choose one of the four timed essays assigned so far. No dictionaries, no Internet devices, no notes.