As an ESL writer, I remember the pain of writing a paper in America for the first time. The paper required a critical response to a book we were reading; however, my response was a single-page introduction to the book—no quotations, no citations, no critical thoughts and even no formatting. The result was that I was invited to my professor’s office to discuss it. Looking back to the writing I had, I can say that I have improved. I’d like to give some useful tips here for ESL writers who are in the same dilemma as I was.
Calm down first:
It is common for ESL students to feel anxious when they first arrive in America; so, you may not be the only one who is having a panic attack about writing papers. It is necessary for you to calm down first, then to figure out an effective way to solve your problems. For example, if you get a twelve-page assignment and have no idea on where to start, you could ask others for help and calm yourself down.
Visiting professors, the writing center or asking classmates:
According to different cultural conventions, it might be considered rude to bother professors with questions in some countries. But it is definitely okay in America to visit your professors and ask them for help. They are friendly and willing to help. It is very helpful to ask professors or your classmates about everything you don’t know. Visiting the writing center with your questions and concerns will also give solutions to your writing dilemmas. Your writing will be largely improved by communicating with others.
Getting to know genre:
To know what you’re writing about before anything is very crucial. Different countries have different conventions to various genres. Thus, it is necessary to learn how different genres function in America when you first arrive. There are lots of sources about genre you could use in the library and some useful handouts in the writing center.
Learning Citation Rules:
I know citations are alien to some ESL writers, including myself; however, understanding citations and plagiarism is crucial in American academies. No matter what citation you need to learn, it is always a bit annoying at the beginning. Keeping a calm attitude is important. You can always visit the writing center for handouts or sessions on citation systems when you have trouble figuring it out on your own.
It takes time to improve your grammar. Some writers think having a perfect paper with no grammar errors is the best thing. But it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. For ESL writers, learning what mistakes you make and how to fix them is just the process of gaining experience. There is no need to be afraid of making errors, but please remember to learn from your mistakes.