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Non-Native Academic Writing PRO: How to Write even Better than an ENL


If you are a non-native, here’s a question to you: Do you want to write like a native speaker?


It’s a simple question, and the majority of non-native academic writers will probably say “Yes!” A small part will claim that it’s impossible. And some will take a stand and debate the meaning of “native speaker.”


But the truth is that everything depends on you. Non-native English writers prevail in the freelance academic writing industry, and it’s a fact, not a theory. So, if you’re willing at least to try to write like a native, there is certainly something you can do.

Everything Is about the Flow

What do you know about fluency? Yes, you see the word “fluent” every time someone is looking for a proficient writer with a good command of English. But did you know that it actually originates from the word “flow”? Being fluent in the language implies that your readers/listeners don’t have to make efforts to understand you or follow your thoughts. And that’s the biggest problem of non-natives: their writing sometimes just doesn’t flow.


So, how to change the situation? Besides adding tons of linking words, you need to put the information in the right order:


  1. Old (known) facts

  2. New (unknown) facts


Let’s check it out in the example:


I had the craziest 24 hours of my life yesterday! I got up to get to work on time at 7 a.m. I stood in a traffic jam for 1 hour and a half and managed to get to the office only at 9 a.m. I spilt my coffee on a new shirt, broke my phone and missed a meeting with influential partners during the next 4 hours.


Sounds a bit off? And what about the same example with a slight change of information placement?


Yesterday I had the craziest 24 hours of my life! At 7 a.m. I got up to get to work on time. But - after standing in a traffic jam for 1 hour and a half - I managed to get to the office only at 9 a.m. During the next 4 hours I spilt coffee on a new shirt, broke my phone and missed a meeting with influential partners.


Note how the unknown facts (in bold) turn into known ones (underlined) in every following sentence. This kind of sequence helps to create a bond between independent utterances for them to look like one cohesive text. And that’s exactly what makes your writing flow.

Passive Voice Is Here to Stay

In your everyday speech, you keep away from the passive voice because it sounds bulky and unnatural. However, when used in academic writing, it plays several important roles that can’t be ignored.


1. It helps to structure the information in the right order


Compare the examples:


  • The research center has new test objects. Every day two different groups of scientists observe them. The special conditions affect the behavior of the larger part.
  • The research center has new test objects. They are observed by two different groups of scientists every day. The behavior of the larger part is affected by the special conditions.


As discussed before, the correct sequence of information statement is essential for the text to flow, and the passive voice in this case is a great helper.


2. It makes the facts objective


The passive voice gives the chance to develop an argument without involving the writer. So, the events and facts are described impersonally and objectively.


Compare the examples:


  • I conducted the research using different methods and techniques.
  • The research was conducted using different methods and techniques.


The passive voice is a good tool to make your writing more serious and native-like. So, don’t neglect it.

Lexical Bundles Are Your Best Friends

According to the research, conducted by John Sinclair in 1991, native writers are more prone to use ready-made phrases than different spontaneous combinations of separate words. And as you may have guessed, these phrases are called lexical bundles.


These are not idioms or set expressions. Lexical bundles are word combinations repeatedly used in writing, and John Sinclair discovered them by using corpora and researching their frequency. Speaking in plain words, these are the words that just fit together. You know that you can change their combination, and it will be grammatically and stylistically correct. But it won’t sound right.


Examples of such lexical bundles:


These results show, it should be noted, in such a way as to, may be due to, this is not to say that, may or may not, it is important to, little research has been done, quality of life, etc.


You see – you can rephrase these word combinations, but they will sound unnatural. So, how to accumulate these lexical bundles and then use them in your writing? The answer is obvious: read the works of native English writers and mark the frequently used phrases. Writing them down in a list would be even a better practice because you’ll remember them faster and it will be easier to use them when they are all in one place.


As a result, you have three magic elements of native-like writing that indicate the level of the English language proficiency:


  •  flow;
  • passive voice;
  • language bundles.


If you have already enhanced your grammar, enriched your vocabulary and mastered the most important parts of academic writing, but there’s still something missing, ten to one that the problem is in the lack of one of these elements. Try to implement them in your writing, and after some time compare your old samples with the new ones. We bet there’ll be a great difference, visible even to your subjective eye.

So, give them a try and share what comes out of it later!




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