Wednesday, May 4, 2016

10 Tips to Improve Academic Writing Skills in English by Antonio Tooley

It is challenging enough to learn to speak, write, and think in English, but when non-native students go abroad to study and pursue their academic careers, things become even more complicated. Why? Because they will be, among other things, required to write academic papers, such as essays or even dissertations, depending on the level they are at.

Such tasks require thorough understanding of the language, grammar, and a pretty decent vocabulary, in addition to extensive knowledge on the actual subject matter. Academic writing is rather hard on native speakers, and it’s even worse on those who use English as their second language. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them.

However, if you belong in that group, you should not despair, because there are some guidelines you can follow to make your academic writing just as good as that of any native speaker. In this article, you will find 10 tips that will help you improve your academic writing in English, even if you are a foreign student. Keep on reading.

1. Read Academic Writing by Other People
Of course, it goes without saying that you will be required to read many, many academic papers, but instead of just using them to extract information for your own writing, try and look at them from a writer’s point of view. Pay attention to how the author is using the language to make an impact and guide the reader through their paper. Also, you can find plenty of help online, such as this guide on how to write a dissertation.

2. Don't Make the Same Mistakes Other Non-Native Students Do
Most foreign students don’t notice the literary mistakes they make, such as punctuation, using the wrong prepositions, a or an instead of the, or vice versa, or they simply translate a phrase from their own language into English, which doesn’t sound terribly good or is something a native speakers would ever use. According to the Berkeley Student Learning Center, fixing all of these is fairly simple. Check out their list of the most problematic writing clichés students use.

3. Read Anything You Can Get Your Hands On
Even though reading academic papers will help you with your current assignment, reading other things like books, novels, magazines, articles, short stories, or even blogs, will greatly improve your knowledge of the English language and expand your vocabulary. Every now and then, you will run into a phrase or word that you will like and memorize, and use later in one of your papers. Try to make it as varied as possible, because that’s how you can enhance your vocabulary.

4. Write
Again, there will be no shortage of writing assignments for you in college, but in order to work out those small writing kinks which usually tell whether or not you’re a native speaker, you should write as much as you can, because some of those mistakes tend to diminish as you develop a feel for what sounds right. If you want proof, look no further than the reputable writers online who are also ESL speakers, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from their writing.

5. Have Native Speakers Review Your Work
Most people tend to consider the way they write to be something very personal, which is why it can be very hard to listen to someone pick it apart and point out all the mistakes that you’ve made in your academic paper. However, sometimes, it is necessary to set your own ego aside, because such criticism will serve you well in the long run. You can bet that you won’t make those same mistakes again after receiving honest criticism from a person you trust.

6. Try Your Hand at Translating
One of the most effective exercises you can do is translate a piece of writing from English into your own native language, or the other way around, because that’s how you can really gain a better understanding of the language. And if you are struggling, that only means you will be reaching for the dictionary more often, which is a good thing, because that’s one of the ways to learn new words, phrases, and idioms.

7. If Your College Has a Writing Center, Make Yourself a Regular
A writing center will often provide you with a tutor that will help you hone your literary and verbal skills. While you are not supposed to use them as a means of editing your essays each and every time, they can help you out by pointing out some of the most common mistakes you are making when writing academic papers, and by providing more elegant alternatives.

8. Provide Examples Instead of Explanations
Sometimes, even native speakers will find it impossible to find the right words and phrases in order to be able to explain complex concepts properly, and for non-native speakers, it can become a nightmare. However, one way of working around this issue until you master the language well enough is to provide examples instead of explanations. Just make sure that they are pertinent to the topic and you will be fine.

9. Edit Your Work
Once you have completed an essay or your dissertation, you should feel good about yourself, but not so good that you avoid going over it a few times and figuring out what can be done to improve it. We are not just talking about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also things like clichés, wordiness, overly complicated or unreadable sentences, and so on. Tighten up your writing every chance you get.

10. Avoid Plagiarism
Even though you may come across a paragraph or a sentence written by someone else that you really like, resist the temptation to use it in your own writing, unless you are quoting the author, or have thoroughly paraphrased the literary construction in question. Plagiarism is one of the worst academic offenses, and you want to stay as far away from it as possible.

You may notice that nearly all of these tips are anything but quick fixes. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts if you want to take your academic writing to the next level. But, now you can focus on the methods that really work, and before you know it, you will be able to write just as well as any native speaker out there. Good luck!

Antonio is a hopeless optimist who enjoys basking in the world's brightest colors. He loves biking to distant places and occasionally he gets lost. When not doing that he's blogging and teaching ESL. He will be happy to meet you on Facebook and Twitter.