Are you Enrolled in a Doctoral Program? 3 Ways to Improve your Academic Writing in English

Like so many absolutely brilliant doctoral students in America, the UK, and other English-speaking countries, English is not your first language. But you've left your home country to study and improve your future prospects, enrolling in an advanced degree program that's taught in English. Of course, most PhD students who've been admitted to academic programs in the US have an advanced understanding of the English language, which must be demonstrated by good scores on the TOEFL. At the same time, however, the more you work toward improve your academic English writing skills, the more clearly you present your brilliant research to others. Here's how:

1. Spend lots of time reading native English dissertations in your field.

The best way to improve your writing, no matter what kind of writing it is, is to read as much as you can. For example, if you want to be a journalist, you'd read lots of newspapers and magazines. If you want to write novels, you'd read as many novels as you can. If you want to improve your academic English, read as much doctoral research as you can. By reading dissertations in your specific field, not only will you learn more about your specialty's corpus of research, but you'll also subconsciously absorb the standard ways that different concepts are described.

2. Consider working with a writing tutor.

When I was in college, I worked for a research institute as a writing tutor for non-native academics. Many of the researchers I taught learned extremely quickly because of their obvious intelligence. All they needed was a guide to show them the way. By working with a tutor, you can more efficiently improve your English writing skills. Most universities offer such programs for their graduate students, so be sure to check with the Graduate Student Association or even the English department.

3. Understand that having outstanding academic writing skills doesn't necessitate English fluency.

As indicated in this fascinating report, "English in Academia: Does Nativeness Matter?," the author posits that native fluency in English doesn't necessarily translate into better academic writing skills. When you enter academia, "academic" English can be an entirely different language altogether for everyone involved, including native speakers. You must all relearn to write in some sense. As such, don't worry about the impact that your English proficiency will have on your academic work. Just do your best to work, focus on developing expertise, practice writing, and the writing skills will come. Good luck!

About the writer

Melanie Foster is a freelance writer and editor. As a former doctoral student, she hopes to guide her readers through the ins and outs of applying to and succeeding in graduate school. Check out more of her writing at


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