Studying overseas is no cakewalk. From the culture shock to being away from your loved ones and learning how to live in a new city, there are plenty of problems that you face. Having English as your second language doesn’t make things any easier on the academic front too. You have to write your thesis in a language that may not be entirely familiar. The process can be riddled with challenges, and you need to be prepared. Read on as we discuss some of the most common problems that ESL PhD students face and how ESL editing services can help.

1.    Difficulty Grasping the Conventions of Academic Writing

As an ESL PhD student, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the conventions of academic writing. Given how these conventions can be highly complex, this process can be a challenge. Even native students struggle to fully adopt the requirements of academic writing when working on their thesis. This difficulty is because academic writing doesn’t just require you to get the grammar and spelling right. You must also be aware of how to write formal sentence structures and use proper terms and phrases. There are several rules that you need to keep in mind, as well. These include:


  • No contractions
  • No personal adverbs and personal pronouns
  • No unspecific determinate words such as incredible, super, huge, etc.
  • No talking in absolutes (for example, you should not say things like “This proves that X and Y have a directly proportaional relationship.” Instead, you can say “This seems to suggest a directly proportional relationship between the variables X and Y.”)


There are other rules that guide academic writing, but these should give you some idea about the amount of care you need to exercise when writing your PhD thesis.

2.    Finding the Research Process Challenging

PhD students are required to conduct extensive reviews of the available literature in their area of study and apply it within the context of their dissertation. This process can be harder for ESL students because the literature in question is in a foreign language. As a result, students may struggle to grasp its meaning and need more time to fully comprehend complicated texts. It can slow things down, and students may not be able to conduct an effective literature review without requiring further guidance from their peers and thesis advisor. Students may also struggle to use the information available in the best way possible, which can compromise the quality of their research.


One way to overcome this issue is by reading as much as possible. Students shouldn’t limit themselves to academic texts, as well. They can try to read fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, and magazines. As they become more familiar with the language, they will also be able to understand academic texts more easily.

3.    Lack of Critical Thinking Skills

ESL students tend to come from different cultural backgrounds, and their education system may not have trained them to develop critical thinking skills. The lack of critical thinking skills can greatly impede their efforts to acquire a PhD. Some ways that ESL students can overcome this issue include:


  • Asking more questions to expand your knowledge.
  • Considering real-life examples and problems that demonstrate a phenomenon.
  • Reflecting upon the information you come across and probing into it to check its accuracy.
  • Having discussions and debates with your peers to consider different viewpoints.

4.    Difficulty in Self-Expression

As per a study, ESL students also struggle to express their own voice in academic writing. Students find it difficult to balance their own views with those of other writers. The source of this problem is most often rooted in a lack of self-confidence. ESL students may feel they are not as experienced or intelligent as other writers and thus may feel reluctant to share their original ideas.


Besides this, if students do not possess sufficient background information on their area of study, they may find it difficult to present an informed opinion. This is particularly important when presenting the rationale behind the results observed. If a student is unaware of why a particular phenomenon occurs, they may not be able to present a comprehensive discussion that accounts for all aspects.

5.    Difficulty in Paraphrasing and Referencing

Research also suggests that ESL PhD students can find it hard to incorporate the ideas of other writers into their work. This issue arises because students struggle with paraphrasing, citations, and referencing. Most prominently, 44% of ESL students consider referencing and citations to be a challenge. Even though students are taught about citations and referencing, they may need some practice before they can integrate these practices into their dissertation.

Wrapping It Up

The road to acquiring a PhD isn’t an easy one. It gets even harder if English isn’t your first language. You might struggle to understand the conventions of academic writing and make use of the existing research available. You could also find it difficult to share your own views, paraphrase, and properly add references.


Edit911 offers editing and proofreading services for ESL students that can help you overcome at least some if not all of these issues. We can help you make sure your writing meets the standards required in academia. Reach out to us today to learn more about our ESL editing services.