Vol. 6. No. 2 R-3 September 2002
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Guidelines: A Cross-cultural Reading/Writing Text (2nd edition)

Ruth Spack (1996)
New York: St. Martin's Press.
Pp. xv + 385
ISBN 0-521-65740-7 (paper)
US $25.95

Many composition textbooks for English as a Second Language (ESL) students at university level share commonalities like stressing the role of journal writing with which students reflect on their readings and develop new ideas for their essays and incorporating into each chapter the writing samples written by ESL students from various countries and disciplines. With regard to writing skills, some ESL academic writing textbooks also address: the process of drafting including free writing, looping, cubing, and clustering; the conventions of English academic writing such as summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting and documenting sources in APA or MLA format; and editing skills.

Covering the afore-mentioned issues, Guidelines: a cross-cultural reading/writing text (Second edition), by Ruth Spack at Tufts University, is an outstanding reading and writing textbook serving university international students in a writing class. As its subtitle suggests, Guidelines highlights the connection between reading and writing, promotes cross-cultural communication, and aims at integrating ESL students into the general discourse community of American universities.

Guidelines consists of four parts. Part 1 deals with reading strategies and keeping a reading/writing journal, both of which are prerequisites of academic reading and writing. Part 2 is the body of the whole book, comprising of a wide variety of readings across time, cultures, nationalities, subjects, genders, and genres, and writing assignments based on those readings. The total eighteen chapters in part 2 are devoted to six types of writing, namely, writing from experience, writing from field research, writing from essays, writing from fiction, writing from poetry, and writing from library research. Each type of writing is presented through three chapters, which are organized in the same formula: first readings, then discussion activities, finally guidelines and writing assignments. Part 3 introduces academic writing conventions in a sequence of summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, as well as citing and documenting sources. Part 4 discusses the editing process.

Unique to the book is its introduction to independent research including field research and library research. Field research concerns about collecting data from conversations, observations, interviews, and surveys; while library research deals with how to explore a research topic, and then conduct research in the library, and finally composes a research essay. Users of the textbook may find chapters on library research particularly helpful. Many practical skills are demonstrated: finding journal articles with periodical indexes, evaluating sources by previewing and skimming, as well as presenting an oral report on research in an effective way.

Another feature of Guidelines lies in its lucidity and reader-friendly compilation. Each chapter highlights a couple of thumb of rules in a flame under the title of "guidelines", summarizing the skills, processes or key elements of writing. For instance, Chapter 24, Citing and Documenting Sources, introduces the APA and MLA format in the clearest way I have even seen among ESL composition textbooks. Moreover, chapter 27 A Handbook for Correcting Errors details some notoriously tricky grammar rules with illustrations, examples, and exercises. At the end of the book, a glossary is kindly provided to users to look up for the new words in the readings. With additional information on the readings and assignments, the Instructor's Manual ( ISBN 0-521-65798-9) can be a helpful resource for lesson planning.

On the other hand, I would also like to discuss some possibilities for further improvement of Guidelines . As one can tell from the glossary, some of the readings, most of which can be found in the chapters on fiction and poetry, have difficult vocabulary and even ambiguous sentences for those ESL students. Secondly, the book does not elaborate on how to write an effective paragraph, which sounds basic but many ESL students, even some ESL graduate students are not capable of. Thirdly, guidelines for embedded summary are absent in the book although there are writing assignments integrating summaries into an essay dealing with several fictions. Finally, at this computer age, a good writing textbook may address such topics as writing with a computer, searching the library database, and surfing useful websites like online writing labs, online dictionary, and www.apa.org etc.

Textbooks are prone to be vulnerable to criticisms from teachers and students. Even the best ones have to be adapted to each learning context. With clear guidance on general writing concerns and accessible research orientation, Guidelines is a well-organized reading and writing textbook painting a big picture to prepare ESL students for the academic community in American universities.

Yuehai Xiao
University of Cincinnati, USA

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