Writing a thesis when English is not your first language can feel like a daunting prospect. Most PhD theses can go up to 80,000 words, and if you are an ESL student, then trying to produce an error-free thesis of this length is likely to keep you up at night. The good news? There are plenty of strategies at your disposal that can help you improve your writing skills. Read on as we discuss writing tips for ESL students that can help you organize your ideas into comprehensible texts and avoid spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.

A person typing on their laptop against a blurred background

1.    Read As Many Books As You Can

Academic writing is very different from creative writing. It’s a lot more complex and requires a unique approach. That said, if you are trying to improve your writing skills, then a reading-based strategy is still very helpful. This is primarily because reading fiction or non-fiction allows you to become familiar with proper sentence structure. It also helps broaden your vocabulary. The more you read, the better you’ll get at writing in English.

Now, we know what you are thinking; why not read published papers instead? While this can be helpful, it is often difficult to navigate the complexity of academic writing when English isn’t your first language. Reading fiction and non-fiction is easier because the language is comparatively simpler. You can use it as a tool to familiarize yourself with the compositional aspect of English. That’s the main goal here.

2.    Emulate Your Favorite Authors

This is another useful strategy that can help ESL students. If your writing sounds clunky and doesn’t flow well, then you can address this problem by following in the footsteps of published writers whose work you like.

You can try and emulate their writing style until you are able to develop a distinct style that belongs to you. As per his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin used a similar method to improve his writing skills. Here’s what he would do:

  • Benjamin would start by reading an essay that he admired.
  • He would prepare notes on each sentence studying the sentiment behind it.
  • He would look over his notes for a few days and then try and write the essay using his own words.
  • He would then compare the original essay to his version and pinpoint faults and errors.
  • He would revise and improve his version until he was happy with the results.

You can opt for a similar approach and use the work of your favorite authors as a basis for when you try and express your own ideas. Doing this on a regular basis can help you identify your mistakes and refine your writing style.

3.    Learn Both Simple and Complex Writing Styles

Academic writing is often associated with a complex writing style that makes you sound sophisticated. This usually isn’t necessary when you are writing a thesis, though. In most cases, complex and lengthy sentences can be hard to follow. This is particularly important when you are writing up your research. In such cases, you will need to express a series of complex ideas in a clear and comprehensive manner that is easy to grasp. Learning to balance the use of both simple and sophisticated language is very important here.

How can you do that, though? Our advice is to learn both writing styles. You can try out writing exercises that help you exercise more control over advanced sentence structures. For example, you can take a series of simple sentences and combine them to create something more complex. This can give you more practice on how to add subordinate clauses to the main clause.

You can also try and break down complex sentences into simpler ones to pinpoint their main components. Doing so can also help you see if you have understood the original sentence correctly. Moreover, if you are able to present this sentence in a simpler manner while still retaining its meaning, it can lend more weight to your writing.

4.    Don’t Refrain From Adding Words in Your Native Language While Practicing

Being able to write in a way such that your ideas flow freely, your sentences don’t sound choppy, and you are able to communicate everything clearly – That’s the dream, isn’t it? Of course, that’s not quite how it works when you sit down to write in real life.

You are bound to get stuck in some place or the other, which can derail your progress. This is particularly common when you are struggling to find the right word. Fixating on this can be counterproductive. A better approach would be to include a word from your native language that captures what you’re trying to communicate and move along. You can always come back and replace it with a word in English.

 Bonus Tip: We strongly suggest you avoid writing your thesis in your native language so you can translate it into English later. This is harder than it looks, and it will be difficult for you to retain the essence of your original work in the translation.

5.    Make Use of Blended Learning

As per a 2020 study, blended learning appears to benefit ESL students trying to improve their writing skills. It integrates traditional learning approaches with tools like listening to podcasts and videocasts and participating in online forums. As per the results of this study, blended learning can help ESL student develop their skills in a creative and feasible manner. It improves the quality of their writing and also boosts their interest in the English language. It is great for self-esteem too.

Wrapping It Up

Writing a thesis can be immensely challenging. However, as long as you work on your writing skills, you should be able to write something that presents your research in an effective manner.

A little feedback also goes a long way when you are trying to improve your writing skills. You can ask a peer who is a native English speaker to look over your work and offer their feedback. It can help you identify any weaknesses and work on them. You can also hire a proofreader to review your work. This applies to both international and native students. Even if you are an amazing writer, it is nearly impossible to write a thesis without making some mistake or the other along the way.

Professional proofreaders can also offer you objective feedback on your writing, and you can use it to enhance the quality of your thesis. Reach out to Edit911 today if you are interested in learning more!