What's different between UK and US literary essay writing traditions?
January 16, 2015 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I have it in my mind that US literary essays tend to be extremely clear and didactic (perhaps modelled on the five-paragraph school essay), while British essays are sometimes more open-ended and elliptical, and French essays verge on the abstract. However, I can't find any source that confirms or denies this on the internet (and searching only brings up essay content farms.) Help?

I would love to see a written description somewhere of the different literary essay writing traditions in different countries. (Not just the US and UK.) Or failing that, can you confirm or deny my idea about this?

(I would also be stoked to get some recommendations of essays you like that are nonlinear or otherwise weird.)
posted by feets to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how much in favor this idea is in academic circles nowadays, but there used to be this concept called contrastive rhetoric that dealt with, in part, how writing patterns were different in various languages. I always liked the diagram you can see on page 21 of this pdf, where you can see an illustration of the different ways paragraphs and ideas are developed in different languages.
posted by megancita at 9:42 PM on January 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

This is just my experience, rather than anything academic I'm afraid, so take it with a pinch of salt. But US essays and full to the brim with footnotes for expanding points that don't fit into the essaynor that are tangential to the point being made. In English academics essays they'd just not include that information.
posted by Braeburn at 7:36 AM on January 17, 2015

This is no more than an anecdotal data point, but your general assumptions are correct in my experience. If I had submitted some of my papers that I wrote for graduate school in the UK to my freshman literature professor in the US, it would've been redlined the fuck out of and reduced to just a few sentences.

The general rule in the UK is, academic writing or otherwise, the old "Why do things the simple, clear way when you can complicate them?"

The contrast is clearer in journalistic writing, where in Italian newspaper articles you have to read the entire article before it gets to the point, whereas US newspaper articles state the facts right in the opening sentences.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 12:50 PM on January 17, 2015

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