Introduction to the Book


Welcome to “Building Academic Writing Skills”!

Shaped by learners’ needs and goals for accurate and fluent expressions in their academic study, this book provides carefully targeted and sequenced instructions in academic writing and editing for intermediate level English as a Second Language (ESL) students. It prepares them for the advanced level ESL and college level courses.

I. Organization of the Book

The book consists of four parts, with a total of twenty units and five appendices.

  • Part I, Unit 1 through 3

Academic writing basics, with a focus on the nature of academic writing, misconceptions about writing, the writing process, and the characteristics of paragraphs

  • Part II, Unit 4 through 6

Paragraph writing skills and essay introduction, with a focus on enumerative paragraphs, narrative paragraphs, and five – paragraph essays

  • Part III, Unit 7 through 20

Editing / grammar skills, with a focus on sentence structures with punctuation, verbs, nouns, pronouns, word forms, and word orders

  • Part IV, Appendix A through F

Information on the Non-Stop Non-Translation (NSNT) approach, weekly writing prompts, punctuation, capitalization, irregular verbs, and answer key. (The answer key is available to instructors.)


II. Features of the Book and Ways to Use them

Consistent organization

All units begin with learning objectives and a warm-up activity or pretest. All units end with unit review practice and a summary. Within each unit, scaffolding is provided, starting with basic concepts and strategies as well as examples followed by exercises and applications. Challenging words and their parts of speech are explained in context. Where appropriate, I have also included brief reviews of previously learned concepts as well as links to the related units within the book.


Flexibility in content “mix-and-match”

This book is designed as an intermediate level ESL writing textbook, with minimum additional supplements needed.  It closely aligns with the intermediate level writing (Writing III) curriculum requirements in the ESL & Linguistics Department at Harper College. However, other programs and institutions can easily adapt the contents to meet their needs. The writing-focused units (Part I and II) and the editing / grammar focused units (Part III), though linked with many cross-references, are separate to allow for the maximum flexibility in “mixing and matching” the order of information to be presented. Some units can also be used for students’ self study. A sample schedule is provided below for reference.


Contextualized language use in high interest subjects

I have made efforts to present meaningful, contextualized language models whenever possible, especially in Unit 7 through 19. There are engaging themes and authentic materials relevant to students’ lives, such as study in the U.S., winter fun in Chicago, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), New Food Plate Guidelines, social media, citizen science, customs around the world, and many more. In units where a unifying theme is not feasible, I have explored contextualized language use within segments of each unit.


Training in thinking in English with additional weekly writing prompts

My Non-Stop Non-Translate (NSNT) free writing approach is introduced in Appendix A. It is a tried-and-true method I have used for many years to help my students overcome their first language interference while cultivating their habit of thinking and writing in English. Besides multiple writing topics in each unit, I have included in Appendix A eight to ten prompts in each week of the semester and links to more prompts, with the hope that students will continue this endeavor beyond this course in their efforts to attain proficiency in writing. I recommend that Appendix A be explained in the beginning of the semester and applied throughout the course. A writing practice in NSNT is given at the end of each unit.


Ample writing samples

The book contains numerous original, quality paragraph and essay samples, many of which were written by my former Writing III students. Integrating rhetorical patterns with sound language use, these samples not only serve as a platform for their voices and stories but also demonstrate to all students that good writing is an achievable goal.


A solid editing / grammar foundation

Improvement in sentence structure and grammar takes much longer to attain than that of rhetorical modes in writing. Therefore, I have devoted 13 units (Unit 7 through 19) to the instructions and practice in the former.  By contextualizing the explanations and exercises through themes, I have endeavored not to reduce English to sets of mere grammatical rules. There are also many paragraph – level editing exercises that model meaningful, focused writing with varied grammatical structures. Unit 20 resembles an editing exercise bank that culminates all of the editing / grammar topics addressed in this book. All of these units are designed to equip students with tools for accurate and effective written communication.


Vocabulary building

I have purposefully added ten to twenty useful but challenging words in each unit to help students build better vocabulary skills. Students can learn these words from the context by hovering their computer cursor over the words. At the end of each unit, they can review each word by studying its part of speech and meaning in two ways: with the footnotes and with an interactive flashcard activity.


Interactive contents

Interactive contents, created in an open-source platform called H5P, are built into some explanations and many exercises to offer a higher degree of student engagement as well as immediate feedback on their practice. These exercises add enjoyment to activities in class and reviews at home.


Harper resources

Many Harper resources have been featured in the exercises and writing samples, including Harper history,  ESL scholarship, student clubs, Fast Track programs, Early Childhood Laboratory School, and others. Faculty outside of Harper can easily modify the information to reflect the resources of their program or institution.


Available formats

While this book is best used in its web-book format on the computer, other formats such as EPUB and Digital PDF are also provided and downloadable from the cover page of the book. Students who prefer a hard copy are able to print the book in the PDF print format. However, due to technological limitations, the interactive contents cannot always be reflected in those formats though weblinks are given.


III. Sample Course Schedule

A sample course schedule for your reference (based on a 16-week semester):


Part I and II

Writing Focused Units

Part III

Editing / Grammar Focused Units

Part IV



Unit 1 Introduction to Academic Writing

Unit 7 Sentence Essentials

Appendix A NSNT Approach and Additional Weekly Prompts for Writing


Unit 2 Writing Process

Unit 7 Sentence Essentials (continued)

Appendix B Capitalization;

NSNT Writing Practice


Unit 3 Parts and Characteristics of a Good Paragraph

Unit 8 Three Common Errors in Sentence Structure and Punctuation

NSNT Writing Practice


Unit 3 Parts and Characteristics of a Good Paragraph (continued)

Unit 8 Three Common Errors in Sentence Structure and Punctuation (continued)

Appendix C Punctuation;

NSNT Writing Practice


Review Unit 1, 2, and 3

Unit 9 Verb Basics in Academic Writing

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 4 Enumerative Paragraphs

Unit 10 Subject-Verb Agreement

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 4 Enumerative Paragraphs (continued)

Unit 11 Verb Tenses – Present

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 4 Enumerative Paragraphs (continued)

Unit 12 Verb Tenses – Past

NSNT Writing Practice;

Midterm Follow-up


Unit 5 Narrative Paragraphs

Unit 13 Verb Tenses – Future

Appendix D Irregular Verbs;

NSNT Writing Practice


Unit 5 Narrative Paragraphs (continued)

Unit 14 Verb Tenses – Mixed

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 5 Narrative Paragraphs (continued)

Unit 15 Modals

NSNT Writing Practice



Review Unit 4 and Unit 5

Unit 16 Nouns

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 8 Essay Introduction

Unit 17 Pronouns

NSNT Writing Practice



Unit 8 Essay Introduction (continued)

Unit 18 Word Forms

NSNT Writing Practice


Unit 8 Essay Introduction (continued)

Unit 19 Word Order

NSNT Writing Practice



Review Unit 8


Unit 20 Editing Review

NSNT Writing Practice;

Final Reflections

17 Finals Week

Final Review and Assessment



IV. About the Author

I am a professor in the English as a Second Language & Linguistics Department at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, where I have been teaching since 1999. This book has been almost two years in the making.  It is truly a labor of love.

I am looking forward to receiving comments and suggestions from colleagues and students. I can be reached at


V. Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Harper College for granting me a sabbatical leave in Fall 2021 to focus on this book project.

My gratitude also goes to Chris Dobson, Instructional Multimedia Developer at Harper College, for his technical expertise and support.

I am indebted to my students, whose perseverance in attaining an American education has inspired me to pursue this undertaking. In particular, my appreciation goes to many students who have generously allowed me to share their writing samples.

Finally, I could never adequately thank my family, whose steadfast support has made my professional pursuits so much more enjoyable.


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