[Writing for Academic Purposes] [Presentation and Public Speaking Skills]

Writing and Presenting
ESL/EFL instructors need to be strong communicators. The MA in TESL program will require strong writing and presentation skills. Read through the following suggestions to help strengthen your writing and presentation skills.

A special note on plagiarism: all graduate students are expected to turn in and present assignments that are their own work. Any sources or materials cited, used, or consulted for assignments and presentations need to be properly cited, otherwise an assignment may be considered plagiarized and a violation of the university's Academic Honesty Policy. The Writing Center can provide you many great Writing Tips to Avoid Plagiarism.

Writing for Academic Purposes

The MA in TESL is a graduate degree. Graduate students are expected to demonstrate a high command of English and strong communication skills. One the strongest indicators is academic writing. MA in TESL students will be expected to adhere to the standards of academic English in all writing assignments. This includes attention to formatting your documents and to editing them for content, concision, and punctuation. If you are having trouble with using any of the features of your word processor, you may take a free online tutorial through Atomic Learning.

Thesis, Argumentation, and Using Sources

  • An academic paper requires that you, as the author, make clear your argument through a carefully-worded thesis statement in your introduction. If you do not make your argument explicit at the very beginning of your paper, your reader has to guess what you are writing about. An academic paper is not a mystery novel where you leave the “good stuff” until the end. A strong academic paper states the thesis right up front, presents evidence to argue this point, and then reiterates this thesisin the conclusion.
    • Anita Barry in Linguistic Perspectives on Language and Education (2008) discusses the difference between the “topic-centered style” and “topic-associating style” of discourse (p. 249). Standard academic English requires a “topic-centered style.” This requires an articulated thesis statement and that all arguments link directly to this thesis.
    • Standard American academic discourse places the burden of clarity on the writer. It is not your reader’s responsibility to sift through paragraphs of examples, quotes, and anecdotes to figure out what you are arguing. That is your responsibility as the writer.
  • Sources need to be used to support your argument, not simply inserted in the paper so that you have the minimal number of quotes. This requires you to evaluate every source that you use.
  • Rely on articles from journals and published booksas your primary sources. Web pages do not make strong sources (unless you are citing statistics from a special site, like the U.S. Census Bureau). If your paper uses too many web sites as sources, it will appear that you did not take the time to do proper research.
    • Never use wikipedia, dictionary.com, or any other general-use site as a source in a paper (you all have access to the Oxford English Dictionary through the Webster library site—this is an acceptable source).
    • Use the Internet to search for and access various sources (scholar.google.com and the library’s on-line databases).
  • NEVER use a quote without framingit into your own writing. Note the difference:
    • “One thing that teachers may discover when they engage their students in narrative construction is that, as is the case for other forms of language development, students come to the task with knowledge and expertise of their own” (Barry, 2008, p. 249). WRONG
    • Barry (2008) argues that “students come to the [writing] task with knowledge and expertise of their own,” which may help teachers when leading lessons on creating narratives (p. 249). CORRECT
  • Find stronger ways to introduce quotes in your paper. “Barry says/said” and “Schendl writes/wrote” do not show that you have evaluated their arguments. In editing your paper, find every instance of “NAME says/wrote” and edit them to make them stronger sentences using a strong reporting verbor framing the quotes into your own writing. See the following website for a nice list of reporting verbs (note how “says” is not on the list):
  • Watch the following video, which discusses incorporating sources into a paper (note the concept of the conversation):
  • Alerting your reader to who the author is and/or the context of this information will further strengthen your writing:
    • Example: “Dr. Sharokky Hollie, an advocate of the non-standard approach, cites the work of Hanni Taylor (1991) as evidence of its success. Taylor found that using a non-standard approach with African-American students reduced their use of AAVE in writing by 59% in comparison to a group of students still taught using the standard approach, who increased their use of AAVE in their writing by only 8%.” (Quote from TESL/COMM 5030 paper, used with permission)
    • Note how the author specifies who Hollie is and even notes how Hollis is citing someone else. The second sentence has a strong reporting of results from the cited literature.
  • In addition to finding sources that support your argument, your paper will be stronger if you can also articulate the opposing viewpoint and then discuss why the point that you are supporting is stronger (or why the opposition is in err).

General Writing, Formatting, and Editing

  • Before you turn in any paper assignment, always read your paper out loud. You will find so many errors of grammar, spelling, transitions, etc. Even if a paper is twenty pages long, take the time to read it out loud (I do even if it is more than one hundred pages).
  • If a sentence in your paper could appear in any other paper, then it is too general and needs to be made more specific.
  • APA format requires author’s name, year of publication, and page number(yes, all three) for in-text citations. There are different formats for in-text citation depending on if the author’s name appears in the sentence or not. Every space, comma, period, and parenthesis must be spaced out correctly.
    • “Anita Barry (2008) in her book Linguistic Perspectives on Language and Education contrasts two styles of discourse: a ‘topic-centered style’ and a ‘topic-associating style’ (p. 249).”
    • “Another important factor to consider is that “[t]he federal Constitution makes no mention of language” (Barry, 2008, p. 249), meaning that English is not the official language of the United States.
  • Be certain to look up how to cite different kinds of sources both for in-text citations and your list of references (books, articles, edited books, works with no author, web sites, etc.)
  • Remember to double space your list of references with hanging indentation.
  • Note that the correct abbreviation for “page” in APA is “p.” and for “pages” is “pp.”
  • Note that there must be a space after every comma and periodwith the exception of the ellipsis “…”).
    • (Barry,2008, p.249). WRONG
    • (Barry, 2008, p. 249). CORRECT
  • There should only be one space between words (never two or more, although two spaces after a period is correct, if done consistently).
  • Note that the in-text citation is part of the sentence; therefore, it must be followed by any needed punctuation (not before):
    • “…knowledge and expertise of their own.” (Barry, 2008, p. 249) WRONG
    • “…knowledge and expertise of their own” (Barry, 2008, p. 249). CORRECT
  • Do not insert extra commaswhen doing citations:
    • Barry, (2008), contends that, “native speakers…” WRONG
    • Barry (2008) contends that “native speakers…” CORRECT
  • Note that compound adjectives (and other compound modifiers) beforea noun are hyphenated:
    • “The single-gender classroom” vs. “The classroom was single gender.”
    • "The long-term benefits" vs. "The benefits will be long term."
  • Please refrain from using contractions in academic papers
  • The Oatmeal has many informative and humorous pages on punctuation, spelling, and writing:
  • Academic papers should also be written using a serif font. Times New Roman is a serif font (serifs are the little feet on the letters). Sans-serif fonts (like Arial) are not appropriate for academic paper and make it more difficult for your reader.
  • An academic paper always needs page numbers. The page number goes in the top right-hand corner, in the header. Never put the page numbers in the main body of your text.

The Writing Process

  • Writing an academic paper requires preparation, writing, and editing. You must spend time on all three phases.
  • In the preparation phase, you need to take the time to do a lot of research. If you only find the minimum number of sources, you have not done enough research. You need to consult more sources so that you can select which sources are the best.
  • Remember that you are not simply looking for a few quotes to embed in your paper, you are looking for authors, articles, and books that support and contradict your thesis.
  • Take time to craft your thesis statement, and make certain that it is arguable.
    • The terms “I believe,” “I think,” “I will explain,” “I will describe,” or “I will explore” do not contribute to a strong argument.
    • You should be able to write a thesis that also argues the opposite point (even though you do not include this in your paper).
    • Remember that your thesis statement presents your position (it shows that you are taking a side, which side you are taking, and why).
  • Your thesis needs to be clearly articulated in your introduction. There should be no question that this is your thesis; it should be easily identifiable.
  • Once you articulate your thesis, be certain that the rest of your paper stays on topic and relates back to this central thesis.
  • After you finish writing your paper, take the time to edit your work!!
    • Read the entire paper out loud.
    • Identify weaker sentences and strengthen them.
    • Try reading your paper backwards (last sentence first, then second to last, etc.). You will find more errors that way.
    • Cut longer, run-on sentences into sentences of manageable length.
    • Cut page-long paragraphs into shorter paragraphs.
    • Combine shorter sentences with simple structures to other sentences with transitions of coordination and subordination.
    • Check for grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors. Turning in a paper with misspelled words, misplaced commas, spaces where they don’t belong, missing spaces, etc. is like walking into a business interview wearing torn-up jeans and a ratty t-shirt.
  • Always consult resources for proper format (especially for APA citations—both in text and your reference page) and follow them precisely! With these resources being so readily available on the Internet, there is no excuse for not knowing how to do this.


  • The Online Writing Center is available at http://www.webster.edu/academic-resource-center/writingcenter/online-writing-center.html.
    • There are handouts available 24/7
    • You may submit your paper for assistance and feedback, but you must plan in advance. If a paper is due Sunday, you can’t sent it in Friday and expect feedback (remember that most university office close during the weekend). Plan far in advance (try to have a draft done a week in advance to get adequate feedback).
    • Do not complain that the Online Writing Center staff did get back to you because you waited until the last minute or the weekend to get feedback.
  • Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) is perhaps the on-line resources most often referenced (Webster’s Online Writing Center even lists it).

Presentation and Public Speaking Skills

When you give a presentation or teach a lesson, your audience and learners will not only pay attention to what you say, but how you say it. For this reason, it is important for you to strengthen your public speaking and presentation style. Whenever speaking in front of a group of people, consider the following features:
  • Vocal Delivery – Most importantly, your audience and learners needs to be able to hear you. Soft-spoken people may be seen as weak or unintelligent. When speaking, be certain to project your voice so all can hear you and to articulate so that your words can be more easily understood. Monotone speech is very boring to listen to. Use thought groups, primary phrase stress, and intonation to highlight your speech.
  • Eye Contact – Your audience and learners wants to know that you recognize that they exist. Make certain to keep eye contact with your audience and learners. Be certain to vary to whom you give eye contact. Avoid giving all your eye contact to only the first few rows or only the last few rows. Try to vary where you look throughout your presentation or lesson.
  • Gestures – Use of gestures (like pointing, motioning, denoting size with hands, etc.) can help make your talk or lesson more interesting. It can also help highlight important points. Avoid over-using gestures. If you are constantly gesturing and moving your hands it could become distracting.
  • Body Movement – Standing in one place can bore your audience or learners and may be interpreted as you being too rigid. Moving around will make your presentation and lesson flow more and can help relax your audience and learners some. Moving around can also assist you with good eye contact. But avoid pacing too much while speaking.
  • Facial Expressions – A blank face on a speaker or teacher will seem boring and may be interpreted as the speaker not caring about what he or she has to say. A simple smile goes a long way to relax an audience and set them in a receptive mood to listen. Facial expressions of excitement, disgust, surprise, and confusion can all add to your presentation to highlight the mood.
  • Energy Level – Regardless of whether you are tired, put energy into your presentation. A tired and boring delivery will put your audience to sleep and make your job of presenting more difficult and more painful. A higher energy level will capture your audience’s attention and make your topic more interesting.

All of the above elements play important roles in your oral presentations and presented lessons. When speaking to an audience or a group of learners, learn to “self-monitor” by paying attention to the above factors. Also use the feedback in class (from your fellow students and the instructor) or from your learners. Video taping your presentation or lesson to watch yourself can also help.

Visuals such as handouts and Power Point presentations can also help with presentations and lessons. When developing these, keep the following in mind:
  • Always include important information on handouts (for example, your name, the name of the course, etc.).
  • Always include references to other materials that you use (as you would do in an academic paper).
  • Keep the text in your handouts and Power Points to a minimum (avoid long passages of text, especially in Power Point slides).
  • Consider including key terms, key dates, and other key information in your handout and Power Point.
  • You should not read from your handout or Power Point during your presentation or lesson, rather use these to refer to to keep you on track (though you may read off key quotes).
  • If you do not know how to use Power Point or want to improve your skills with the program, take the online tutorial through Atomic Learning.
  • You may also consider using a tool like Prezi to create a visual for your presentation.

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