The transition from high school to college is an exciting part of any student’s life. Still, there are several aspects of that transition that require a degree of acclimation, like the new and often confusing world of academic reading and writing. Unlike some of the reading that you have done in high school, academic writing has a specific format, tone, and body of language that can, at times, seem overly complicated and make the subject harder to understand.
For international students, developing strong academic reading and writing skills can be doubly challenging. Not only is the subject not written in their first language, it can also seem like an entirely new language unto itself. If you are planning to attend an English-speaking college or university, there are several ways that you can begin to develop your reading and writing skills before starting the fall semester:
1. Begin exploring your field via abstracts and keywords
One reason that students—both international and otherwise—struggle with scholarly writing is because of its language and style. Each academic subject has theories, technical terms, and formats that can make comprehending the material challenging. Rather than simply opening a textbook and reading, consider beginning with the abstracts and keywords that are published with scholarly articles.
An abstract is a short description, roughly a paragraph in length, that generally appears at the front of a work. Abstracts provide the reader with a sense of the article’s content, as well as what the author hoped to achieve by writing it. You may not learn much from the abstract, but it will introduce you to the article’s key terms and theories in a simple format. Likewise, reviewing the list of keywords that accompany the article can be a great way to start building your academic vocabulary. More often than not, these terms will be related to the article and the broader field of study. When a word is unfamiliar to you, look it up, and record its definition.
2. Seek out translations
English is in part a challenging language because it makes heavy use of slang, regional dialect, and other linguistic quirks. Fortunately, much of scholarly writing avoids such language, and it instead works with facts and evidence. Nevertheless, when reading academic writing, the key to comprehension lies in recognizing the context. The context in which the subject is discussed can frequently change the meaning of a particular word or phrase, which can make it difficult for non-native speakers to follow the logic of the work.
If possible, try to locate a translation of the text in your first language. For popular novels and seminal articles, this may be relatively simple, and it can help you identify the context and work backwards to fully understand the English text. Keep in mind that you should not rely entirely on these translations, but instead just for puzzling sentences and paragraphs.
If you choose to use translations, ensure they are proper translations, rather than text translated by a computer. Though translation software has improved in recent years, it is still incapable of accurately recognizing context and nuance, which can inadvertently make your reading even more challenging that it was before.
3. Practice writing fact, not opinion
Most scholarly writing is based on careful research. In light of this information, it is important that you collect evidence and review facts before you try to write about a subject. This may sound obvious, but having a strong understanding of your topic before you begin to write means that you will be less likely to insert unfounded opinions.
To practice this type of writing, think of a subject that you are very familiar with, and choose one aspect of it that interests you most. Then, practice writing several paragraphs that deal only with facts. As you write, be sure to clearly note where your information came from. Remember, you are not writing a novel—you are synthesizing information for a particular audience who will want to know where you got your ideas, and why you think they need to know them.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.