Global Styles of Rhetorical Organization

In 1966, Robert B. Kaplan published the following diagram to illustrate what he took to be the preferred or most common ways of organizing written discourse across different cultures:

Kaplan’s schema has been criticized for being overly reductionist, but it does raise some interesting questions about how the value attached to focus and directness in academic writing vary culturally.  Whereas sticking to a tight focus and advancing one’s argument in linear, systematic fashion tend to be thought of as virtues in American academic writing, such characteristics may vary in relative importance in other academic cultures — as compared to, for instance, approaching a topic from many different angles.

Expectations about catering to the reader may also differ by language and culture.  Is it the author’s responsibility to present arguments in a way that is easy for readers to understand?  Or does such reader-centric writing show a lack of esteem for the reader’s intelligence?

When writing a paper for an international audience, then, it is worth reflecting upon the audience’s expectations, to see how well your preferred style of organization matches up with what your readers expect.



Kaplan, R. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning 16, 1–20.

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