Preserving the Writer's Voice

Original sentence by a Japanese L1/English L2 writer: 
It is said that in Japan to write own names well is to represent how intelligent people are.

Reformulation 1: 
It is said in Japan that writing one’s name well represents how intelligent people are.

Reformulation 2: 
It is said in Japan that writing one’s name well is a sign of intelligence.

Reformulation 3: 
The Japanese say that writing one’s name well is a sign of intelligence.

The first and second reformulations preserve the writer’s voice by keeping the passive construction It is said in Japan. The Oregon State University video Writing Across Borders explains that one characteristic of Japanese writing is that writers state things less directly than is the custom in the U.S., and Japanese readers are expected to work harder than U.S. readers to follow the writer’s meaning. The passive construction seems to match the way a Japanese L1 writer might express herself in her native language. If I were the writer, I might favor the second reformulation, which preserves the writer’s voice with the phrase It is said in Japan, while changing the clunky phrase represents how intelligent people are to the phrase is a sign of intelligence, which flows more naturally in English. As a native English speaker, I like the third reformulation the best because it most closely resembles the way I would express the idea myself, using an active rather than passive construction, but it really loses the Japanese writer’s voice.


  1. I must say that I was quite fascinated by the section about reformulation and appropriation in our textbook. You may recall that after reading the textbook sections on accommodationist, separatist and assimilationist stances, I struggled with the idea that we (tutors) may not be giving writers the information they wanted or needed. This section on reformulation has given me a tool to address that issue. Proposing different levels of reformulation and allowing the writer to select what reformulation they are comfortable with takes the onus off of me and puts it on them. They choose how much of their voice the sentence retains and how much it doesn’t.

    I agree with your descriptions of the reformulations. I wrote a similar response to the three reformulations. I also choose the second reformulation as the most correct, according to English grammar, but retaining the writer’s voice. I would also have written the 3rd sentence if I were writing it, but I like the idea (depending on the writers audience, of course) of leaving it in the form of the 2nd reformulation—it feels more true to me written with more of the writer’s native language coming through.


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