Writing essays will inevitably be a part of your course at university so improving your writing is important in order to achieve top marks. There is support though to help you with this.
For more advice, see writing skills.
Workshops may be organised by your department or by the Student Learning Centre. At Student Learning Centre workshops you will meet students from many different departments, both new and native speakers of English.
Some staff members are willing to read the drafts before you come and write things on them. When the supervisor makes a suggestion you need to understand whether he or she is saying you really should do something or just that you might want to do something.
If you find that writing is a difficult task then you may find yourself writing less and therefore improving less. Students who enjoy writing usually write more, have more practice and usually get even better.
When you are writing, try to keep going with your ideas as long as you can without thinking too much about the language. As one student said:
My words don't stop my thinking.
Use the best words you can to write the assignment. Then you can go back later and improve the language.
Students can learn if they see good examples of essays, as this student found:
I read aloud from good essays. That way I can hear good language in my head.
When you look at one of the essays that has a high grade, remember to read the comments from the marker. Why did the essay have such a good mark? Has the marker made any suggestions for making it better? Even an essay with a high grade could improve. Some people say you should look too at the essays with the low grades to see the difference? What does the marker say is wrong?
This next student has a good idea. If you talk about essay writing with all the students in your class you will collect plenty of ideas to try with your next essay.
For more advice, see essay writing.
Some students find that having a textbook is a help, even if they don't attend a class. You may even be able to find a book that tells you about essay writing in your own subject.
Some people say that just learning new words the way we do with our first language is good enough. Gradually as we read and listen we'll know more words. Many tests have been done to see if trying to learn words makes students remember them better and it seems that trying does help more than just waiting until you know them from reading and listening.
This last point needs explanation. When you come to a new word what do you do first? Many students turn quickly to their dictionaries but the dictionary is not always a great help, especially if you are using a small electronic dictionaries with only one meaning for each word. Another difficulty is that words do not have meanings just by themselves. They get their meaning partly from the words around them.
Even if your dictionary is really good, there is a reason for not using it immediately. Research shows us that when readers try to work out the meaning of the word on the page they say to themselves "What is that word most likely to mean? " before looking it up in the dictionary to check. In this way they remember it better.
Some of your reading will be available electronically. Here is a way to learn new words from an article:
What are the most important words? (Check how often these are mentioned.)
Which phrases do these words appear in most often? (Which words go before and after the important word?) For example, we talk about
A major crisis, a major decline
A grand event, the Grand Canal.
When you start to use words yourself, rather than just understand them when others use them, you come across another problem. Your dictionary may tell you that several words have the same meaning:
big, major, grand…
When you start to use them, though, you find that they don't all go with the same words.
In English many words are always followed by particular adverbs, such as to, by, from, with. See if you can find four examples in this paragraph.
Compared with many other languages, English is inclined to use more word groups. Certain words are grouped with other words in order to make a slightly different meaning from the meaning ….
You will learn these gradually as you read more. When you are writing essays a good dictionary will help you with these words. However, the essay marker should not have too much trouble understanding your meaning if you do make mistakes with some of these smaller words.
As you learn a new word start using it in your writing (assignments and reports) and saying it (in tutorials or in laboratory work). This is one way of helping yourself remember the word and, of course, it's a way of writing a good assignment.
Some students are afraid to start talking. They think "Maybe I'll make a pronunciation mistake." Try not to worry about this too much. Many students make a mistake in saying new words even in their own language. If you say them, someone else can correct you. If you are not sure, ask someone, “How do you pronounce that word? I’ve never heard it said.”
For further advice, see Chapter 8 of Studying in English, by Hayo Reinders, Linh Phung and Marilyn Lewis.
Reinders, H. and Phung, L. and Lewis, M (2017) Studying in English. London: Red Globe Press.
Below you will find some examples of websites that can help you to improve your English. We start with a site that gives tips on how to learn English effectively, especially by yourself, called Antimoon.com.
There are many dictionaries online, and most of them are free!
Below you will find a number of very specific dictionaries and glossaries. These contain words and definitions from various academic and professional fields. There are many more. You can find them by using a search engine like Google or Yahoo.