ESOL writing strategies
It takes a lot of courage and determination to study at tertiary level in another language and generally lecturers are understanding about minor grammatical issues if your overall meaning is clear. If grammar has been a marking issue in your past assignments, then these tips may help.
- Avoid contractions. For example, use ‘do not’ rather than ‘don't’.
- Avoid spoken or (colloquial) English (check this in a good monolingual dictionary).
- Avoid personal pronouns wherever possible. Often a passive verb structure sounds more objective. For example, use "It may be said that…" rather than "I think that…" or “This can indicate that…” rather than “ This tells us that…”
- Avoid pronouns like ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘these’, particularly if you are starting a new sentence. Be specific to improve clarity and avoid confusion (for example, use “Collecting data is time consuming”) rather than “It is time consuming”.
- Use key words from your question to structure your response. Do not worry if your writing sounds a bit repetitive. Using key words from your instructions signposts focus and engagement and your instructions are likely to be grammatically correct. Key words from your instructions also lets your busy, overworked marker know that you are making another point (for example, “Another benefit of taking a gap year before university is…”, “A further benefit of taking a gap year before university is…”). Using key words from your instructions can also help with focus and making sure you do not wander off topic.
- Avoid using new words or synonyms from the dictionary unless you have seen at least five examples of the new word in use in a sentence. It is better to be repetitive and use the same word several times than use an unfamiliar synonym incorrectly.
- Avoid absolutes (always, never) or generalisations (for example, "The National Party's policies benefit New Zealanders" can be changed to "The National Party's policies may benefit New Zealanders").
- Consider your grammar. Make sure the grammar and spell check is turned on in your word processing software. Common mistakes to watch for include incorrectly used articles (i.e., the, an, a), possessive pronouns (e.g., its, theirs), and lack of subject verb agreement.
- Make your points clear and relevant. Often it is better to have short (under 20 words), simple sentences than long, grammatically complex sentences.
- Your marker must be able to find their way through your work with little effort.
- See structure guidelines for your assignments in your course handbook or listen for instructions from your lecturer.
- Use transitional words and signposting phrases to improve flow. These are words used to link ideas/sentences (e.g., ‘Therefore,’ ‘However,’ ‘On the other hand’). them regularly throughout your work. These are particularly important if you know your grammar is weak. Note: the word ‘besides’ is often seen ESOL writing and is more suited to conversational English than signposting in academic writing.
Argument and critical thinking
Students at Massey are often expected to build a well-developed argument in their writing. This shows markers that students are capable of critical thinking.
How to develop a strong argument
- Build up ideas point by point.
- Show you have evaluated the content of your sources.
- Acknowledge opposing arguments (counter-arguments).
- Convince the reader of a point of view.
Plagiarising is copying someone else's ideas without acknowledging them. Massey University takes plagiarism very seriously. Many markers run students' assignments through a programme called Turnitin. This programme determines whether a student has plagiarised or not. Tutors can also compare other parts of your work or other assignments with the work in question to determine whether you have plagiarised or not. Alternatively, they can enter some questionable sentences into a search engine on the internet and check if there are similarities between your work and texts on web sites. Therefore, plagiarism must be avoided.
- Not all courses require the same referencing style. Check if you are required to use APA, Harvard, Chicago, MLA or other.
- Make an appointment with a writing consultant.
- Find a good referencing handbook to help you, for example, the Publication manual of the American Psychological Association.
- Copy the referencing style in your course handbook.
When using someone else's ideas you have two options: quoting and paraphrasing.
- Avoid quoting unless you cannot write the idea more clearly yourself.
- As a general rule, use no more than one or two quotes for every 1000 words you write.
- Copy the original text exactly word for word.
- Include quotation marks and page number/s. For example, “Harrison's theory was largely ignored in the early 1950s” (Jamison, 1999, p. 42).
- Quotes of 40 or more words: Indent, remove the quotation marks, and include author, date and page number. Remember to both introduce the quote and tie it into your paragraph following the quote:
Ingold supports this concept of holistic inter-relatedness:
Indigenous peoples regard all products of the human mind and heart as interrelated, and as flowing from the same source: the relationships between the people and their land, their kinship with other living creatures that share the land, and with the spirit world (2003, p. 150).
Ingold's description of the way indigenous people position themselves in the world is reflected in my argument that…
- Restate the main idea/s by using only your own words
- Cite the author and the date (and the page number if requested by your course controller).