Skip to content



Another challenge for international students concerns the structure of written and oral texts, as these styles are embedded in a particular culture’s patterns of thinking, speaking and writing.

In Australian academic culture there is an expectation that text, both oral and written, will follow a linear structure which focuses on presenting the main point or thesis at the beginning, followed by supporting points leading to a conclusion. In this direct and deductive structure, there is no divergence from this main point and a limited value on background. As teachers we expect our students to conform to these expectations.

However, it is likely that students from culturally and linguistically diverse cultures will have experienced a high-context, circular discourse style, where there is thoughtful exposition of all aspects of a topic before coming to the main point. In contrast to the linear approach, this discourse style is indirect, subtle and inductive. Within this structure, digression is highly valued.

In the words of one international student:

In the sub-continent [Pakistan and India] the way we are taught to structure our essays is, we don't come to the point directly: we have to develop this major build up, before coming to the point...otherwise our lecturer won't think we have put in enough effort...but over here the thing was that 'bang' — go to the point directly and then you can start explaining...

Different structures for organising information in an assignment

Discourse style 1: Direct linear approach

Discourse style 1 is a simple representation of the approach to organising material in the Australian educational context. In discourse style 1, the student is expected to present the main point first, followed by explanation and analysis.

Discourse style 2: Explanation before getting to the main point

Discourse style 2 is another representation of what is common in many other cultures. In this discourse style, the student builds a case through background information, explanation and analysis and finally presents the main point.

Consider setting a short hurdle assignment (less than 300 words) which may require a detailed plan or outline of a future assessment task, or is related to class content requiring paraphrasing, in-text referencing and a reference list.

Provide feedback regarding the objectives of the assessment task, i.e. their discourse structure or their paraphrasing and referencing skills.

Assessment feedback (Tutorial)

Allow students to submit drafts to Turnitin to evaluate their paraphrasing.

Using Turnitin

An assessment task can be complex. Students may misinterpret instructions or be confused about what is required of them. Their interpretation can be very different from your expectations.

Analyse the question in class to encourage discussion and questioning. Check if the task is new or unusual as most students will respond by reducing it to something they are familiar with. Brainstorm or discuss what the assessment actually is and what shape it should take. Students may be unaware that argument or critical analysis is required, as well as expressing ideas in their own voice.

Assessment feedback (Strategy 1) (Tutorial)

International student stories: Structuring assignments (Tutorial)

Understanding an assignment topic (Tip sheet) (PDF 110KB)

Students often have difficulties distinguishing between genres and the style of writing required within a given genre, particularly if it is different from their previous educational context.

Ensure that instructions for the assignment task are clear and explicit – genre (essay, report, case study, reflective writing, etc.), marking criteria, expectations of response (analysis, discussion, reflection, etc.).

Provide a model of the type of response you expect and explain why that response was successful.

Assessment feedback (Strategy 2) (Tutorial)

Teach the task: Integrating language into course assessment (Tip sheet) (PDF 186KB)

Rubrics or marking guides are effective tools for discussing assessment task requirements and giving explicit feedback. Use samples to demonstrate how they are rated against the rubric (poor, average, excellent).

Using rubrics (Tutorial)

Structure opportunities in class for students to ask questions and clarify their understanding of course content to stimulate and improve their learning experience.

Using questions in class (Tip sheet) (PDF 68KB)

Language development through student interaction (Tip sheet) (PDF 65KB)

Checking understanding: Engage, review, refresh (PDF 67KB)