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Essay Writing Tips for International Students

Resource from Shorelight Education

If you are an international student and English is not your first language, writing a college-level essay may take extra practice. But you can do it! 

For many international students, learning how to write an essay is essential to a successful college career. There are many types of essays and, when it comes to essay writing, there is more than one way to share your ideas and communicate well.

No matter your major, writing essays is important to getting good grades – and good writing skills will help you succeed in any future internship or job. 

So, how can international students get comfortable with essay writing, especially understanding an essay outline, thesis statement, and paragraph structure? We spoke with Maad El-Gali, ESL Instructor at University of the Pacific, to get his top academic essay writing tips.

Ready to start the essay writing process? 

Persuasive essay. Analytical essay. Informative essay. Short essay. Long essay… There are many essay formats, but no matter which type you have been assigned, each begins with an essay outline. 

Why create an essay outline?

Working from an outline lets you plan the main points of your essay and put them in order. This makes it easier to stay organized once you start writing. 

“I always require my students to work on an outline before they draft their essays,”

says El- Gali.

“Regardless of essay formats, an outline generally leads to successful writing because it allows students to picture what their essay will look like. [It also] allows me to give students feedback before they start [the essay writing process].” 

El-Gali teaches his students that every essay outline must have four parts:

  1. A thesis statement (also known as a central argument)

  2. Topic sentences

  3. Major and minor supporting arguments

  4. A conclusion

Once you have created an essay outline that’s complete with these four elements, you are ready to begin the academic essay writing process.


ESL essay writing do’s and don’ts

Using your outline as your guide, sit down to write your essay with the following key points in mind: 

Don’t write more than you need to. Do make sure your words matter.

“Multilingual writers (aka international students) tend to be focused more on the quantity rather than the quality of writing,” says El-Gali. “They believe that writing more means having a higher grade on writing assignments, which is not necessarily true.” In fact, adding too many extra words can result in a paragraph structure that is difficult for the reader to follow.

Don’t forget about your reader. Do find clear, clever ways to make your point.

Keep your reader in mind as you write and try to make your writing interesting, engaging, and relatable. Remember: Different languages have different writing rules and phrases. While writing, be aware of your readers’ perspectives and always aim to communicate clearly so your words will be understood.

Don’t just run spellcheck. Do edit and proofread essays thoroughly.

“This is crucial so that the English-speaking reader will understand the writer’s intention,” El-Gali says. Which brings us to the next step: editing.


The first draft is just the beginning 

Once your essay is written, it is time to begin the editing process. 

“Editing should be done after students have shaped their argument and done the first draft of the essay,”

says El-Gali. 

Most often, multilingual writers make errors related to English grammar, vocabulary, or sentence structure, and the editing process can help you fix these issues before you turn in the final version of the essay. Additionally, editing your work is key to ensure that you have made all your points clearly and consistently. 

Here are a few editing steps to follow:

  1. Give it some space. When you finish writing the first draft of your essay, put it aside for a day or two. It can be difficult to see your own mistakes right after writing.

  2. Revisit your outline. Make sure you covered everything by referring to your original plan. Your outline serves not only as a guide to get you started on your essay, but also to check your work.

  3. Ask for help. Have your Shorelight academic advisor or a native-English speaking classmate proofread your work to help identify areas in your essay that might need clarification or correction.

Editing can be the difference between an OK paper and a great one, so don’t skip this step!

Essay writing help is available if you need it

For many international students, college-level essay writing is a new skill. If you have outlined, written, and edited your essay and are still not sure whether it is ready to turn in, do not be afraid to ask for help. 

ESL students can get assistance with essay writing from a writing coach at the writing center on campus, or check with your Shorelight academic advisor to find the right resources.

Remember, the more college-level essays you write, the more familiar and comfortable you will be with the essay writing process. 

Follow these essay writing steps to develop strong writing skills. Keep up the good work!


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