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A Guide to Writing Better Essays in a Foreign Language

Oct 3,19

Essays are an important part of most university programmes, so learning how to write good ones early in your academic career will save you a lot of headaches later on. Of course, the struggle to improve your writing skills is somewhat more difficult if the language of your studies is not your mother tongue. 

But with the help of a few useful tips, you’ll soon learn how to improve your writing skills to produce better essays, even in a foreign language.

Read in the language you’re writing

Even if you’re forced to write your essays in your second language, you might be tempted to gather ideas and inspiration from literature in your first. But that would be a mistake. 

Reading in the language you’re writing has several benefits:

First, it’ll help you get accustomed to its rhythm and sentence structure. In the process, finetuning your brain to the new syntax. Second, you won’t need to waste time later on translating the sources you’re referencing in your essays. Third, it will help your brain switch over from your native language to the one you’re writing in, making the process of putting together your essay much easier. And finally, it will quickly improve your relevant vocabulary – an investment that will pay you dividends all through your university career.

Make sure you know the rules

Writing essays will, at first, certainly seem like a tricky business. Not only do different types of essays require you to customise your writing, but cultures also have varying intellectual styles you should try to reflect. These details make the difference between good and great writing. So, understanding what is expected from you is vital to producing better essays.

With this much variety, it can be hard to know where to start. But this is where the first tip comes into play again. 

If you want to learn how to write a better argumentative essay in German, just read existing examples to give you an idea of how to accomplish that. And, on a micro-level, your university will certainly have some type of a style guide for you to follow, so make sure you’re well familiar with its contents.

Come up with a plan

Of course, a plan is necessary for any essay, but it’s even more important when you’re writing in a foreign language. Creating a plan will help you organise your thoughts and make sure you follow all the rules you’re supposed to. And don’t forget to make sure you’re again working in the same language you’re supposed to write in.

The traditional essay structure is quite simple: an introduction, body, and conclusion; however, your plan should cover, in as much detail as possible, what you’re aiming to cover where. Add the sources you’re referencing and make sure everything follows a logical order. 

It might be a good idea to start with brainstorming; just make sure you also focus afterwards and create a logical structure for your essay. It might seem like a lot of work at first, but these approaches help cultivate good writing discipline.

Only once you have a satisfactory plan, should you start working on the content of your essay.

Don’t be afraid to be different

Of course, you’ll need to follow the general requirements for producing an acceptable essay. But you shouldn’t let that stifle your own style. Trying to produce the same results as everyone else in your class will not only lead to disappointment, it can also zap your enjoyment of the writing process. 

It’s a fine line between honouring the cross-cultural requirements for academic writing and losing your flair. But if you’ve created a good enough outline, filling in the blanks with plenty of you-ness should be a walk in the park. Hopefully, producing an end result that is both in line with your university’s standards and your personal style.

Rest, reread, edit, proofread 

Another step that is absolutely vital for writing better essays is to do proper post-writing work. 

First, clear your head of the writing for a little bit. Take a walk or enjoy another past-time to take your mind off the finished task. It’s often in those quieter moments that new ideas spring to mind on how to improve your writing. 

Once you’ve rested and regrouped, go over your work again. First, just read it through without focusing on anything. Then, read it again a few times and, in turn, have a closer look at your sentence structure, wording, and grammar. 

Make the necessary edits and proofread your work again. 

Ask for native speaker feedback

Your supervisor will ultimately be the one to give you the most thorough feedback, but there’s no harm in asking someone to go over your work before you hand it in. 

The best option would be someone with experience in academic writing in the language you’re writing in, as they would be the ones to recognise those unsaid rules that vary from country to country. But even any other native speaker will often be able to give you insights that can improve your writing in the long run.

Another option is to look for a professional teacher to help you our or, if all other options fail, there are also some excellent language learning textbooks out there to help you.

Conclusion

You will work on improving your essay writing skills all through your academic career, but it’s important to lay the proper groundwork right off the start. That way you can focus on improving your argumentation and general language skills as you go along. 

Immersing yourself in the language you’re writing in is key. So, read your sources, finish your entire pre-writing process, and try to think in your target language. Next, make sure you’re aware of the requirements you’re expected to fulfil, but don’t forget you can always approach writing services from an original and personal angle. 

Finally, once you’ve finished, do proper post-writing work, also asking help from native speakers. This will make sure you have plenty of opportunities to improve your overall writing, making the process a lot easier in the future.

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Liisi is a passionate autodidact with a wide variety of interests. She has also been thrilled about languages since she was a child. These days, she spends a lot of her time reading, writing, and helping other language learners find private teachers.

October 3, 2019

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