Kagakugijutsukei no genba de yakudatsu eibun no kakikata[How to write useful English for the field of science]
[N. McArdle, J. T. Muraoka, and S. Tokikuni. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2007. pp. x + 220. ¥2,500. ISBN: 978-4-06-155608-9.]
This writing reference book is made up of 13 chapters, reflecting the authors’ intent to provide a comprehensive guide to all aspects of scientific writing for Japanese users. The book begins with a chapter devoted to general principles such as spacing, paragraph indentation, and reminders such as distinguishing between the number 1 and the letters l and capital I. Chapter 2 covers business letters, faxes, and email. Chapter 3 covers the writing of research articles, with subsections for each aspect from creating titles to listing references, and includes a practical description of plagiarism. Chapter 4 advises on oral presentations and the differences between research presentation and publication. Chapter 5 covers patent applications, Chapter 6 details resume and CV writing, and Chapter 7 covers business meeting agendas. Chapter 8 explains how to write meeting minutes, Chapter 9 explains reports (technical, feasibility, and general), and Chapter 10 covers the writing of proposals. Chapter 11 covers manuals and user guides, Chapter 12 advises on punctuation and spelling, and Chapter 13 offers listings of scientific abbreviations and symbols, and advice on usage.
Clearly tailored to an audience of scientists and engineers in industry (who have the greatest need to generate the other covered genres, in addition to research articles), the book offers explanatory description and prescriptive guidance, richly supplemented by models of various genres and sub-genres. For example, Chapter 5 explains the patent application process, advises on wording, and offers a series of five model letters regarding a patent application.
The book is a reference guide rather than a textbook. However, Chapter 3, 研究論文 [Research articles] seemed a promising resource for my graduation thesis writing class. At my university, all seniors must produce a thesis in English, reporting research carried out in a faculty advisor’s laboratory. The challenge for my university seniors is to learn, in the space of a semester, the conventions of research article writing, formatting principles, and the rhetoric of scientific communication within computer science.
I decided to use the chapter on research writing to provide my students with some background knowledge before presenting to them my own explanations in English about thesis writing. This was an occasion when L1 (first language) use in the classroom was appropriate (see Bonnah, 2011 for a reasoned argument for L1 use in the classroom and Nation, 2003, for the broader principles) because the students have a double burden: they must learn the English for the concepts at the same time they are learning the concepts themselves. The Japanese text provides them with a way to access these concepts, a needed preparation for learning application (Snow, Met, & Genesee, 1989).
The reaction by students to this injection of Japanese into the classroom was captured by a short Likert−scaled written survey in the final week. Ten of 12 students found the explanation of research writing offered in Japanese to be extremely useful, while the other two found it somewhat useful. To the statement “I gained new knowledge from the Japanese reading,” eight answered strongly agree and four answered agree. One quarter of the students used the free comments space, adding “I think this class do not need using English,” “The reading made the explanation easy to understand,” and “The Japanese materials were useful.”
The book is clearly task-based, with an inductive approach that breaks down each step and provides detailed guidance for the adult learner through modeling, templates, and tips on writing style. It does not lend itself, however, to classroom work, either in pairs or in teams. The book is designed to offer resources to an individual scientist or engineer who must write in English, whereas its use in the classroom is best confined to supplemental instruction. Though the book is thus limited in pedagogical application, as a reference work this book will be useful for any Japanese writer who has to express scientific discourse in English.
Bonnah, T. (2011). My dream: Towards a methodology for using Japanese in the ESL classroom. The Language Teacher, 35(1), 57-59.
Nation, P. (2003). The role of the first language in foreign language learning. The Asian EFL Journal, 5(2), 1-8.
Snow, A. M., Met, M., & Genesee, F. (1989). A conceptual framework for the integration of language and content in second/foreign language instruction. TESOL Quarterly, 23(2), 201-217.