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English as an Additional Language

EAL / ESL Writing Tips at Red River College

Advanced writing skills are essential to your success at Red River College. This is also true at work, where writing skills help you communicate with colleagues and customers, and help you express innovative ideas to managers.  Good writers are good communicators, and communication skills are an integral part of the modern workplace.

If you need personalized assistance with your writing, please visit the Academic Success Centre for an EAL Writing Tutor.

Here is a list of important steps to remember when working on writing assignments at RRC:
Develop your message first 

When writing, many EAL students try to perfect their grammar and spelling during the first draft. Correct grammar and spelling is important, but it should be addressed and edited in the final stages of writing. Your first draft, your first stage of writing provides a time to explore and experiment with what you want to say. Your first draft will always contain errors and needed changes. This is true for all writers, and is a necessary and valuable part of the writing process.

Ensure you put enough thought into the development of your argument or thesis. Before correcting the grammar in your paper, complete the structure of the presentation of your idea. Make sure you are happy with the arguments and have finalized all your main points. Once you have a good first draft you should go back to check for spelling errors, grammar and the appropriate use of vocabulary. It can be frustrating and a waste of time correcting errors in content that you will end up cutting as you revise and edit in the end stages.

Take time to edit

Time is one of the most important keys to good writing. This is true for all writers, and is especially true when writing in a second language. Leave yourself enough time to plan, write, edit, and write again. You will need more time to complete a paper than your peers whose first language is English. Know that you will not write perfectly the first time. All good writers need to go through a series of drafts before they are happy with the final product.

When you are ready for the final edit, it is important to play close attention to: 

  • Grammar and spelling,
  • Syntax (the way we construct sentences), and
  • Genre (the category of writing you are working in).

Try using Camosun College’s self-editing checklist to ensure you’ve addressed these points. This is perfect to use in your final writing stages:

Dr. Karen Gocsik at Dartmouth ( identifies a top ten list of common EAL errors when writing. They are listed below, with links to Purdue’s ESL web resources to help you work on understanding their proper usage:

1) Articles
2) Prepositions
3) Infinitives
4) Using the Wrong Parts of Speech
5) Agreement
6) Verb Tense and Forms
7) Active and Passive Voices
8) Sentence Structure/Sentence Boundaries
9) Punctuation
10) Style – or “how we say things here”

Use your experience 

  • The knowledge you have coming from a different country has dramatic advantages for your writing. If possible, use your awareness of different cultures, ways of living and economic systems in your writing. You have a unique international perspective that can give you an advantage over those who have not thought about issues outside of Canada. Your unique experience adds texture and a global perspective -- knowledge that is constantly being sought by employers as economic systems continue to globalize.

The more you write and read, the faster your skills will develop 

  • Writing becomes better with practice. The more you write, the more comfortable you will become expressing yourself in written English. Just like speaking, writing skills only develop when they are used, practiced and refined.
  • Reading is also clearly tied to writing skills. The more you read material written in the form of English you want to write in, the better you will become. For example, if you are nervous about writing technical reports, ask your instructor where you can find examples of model reports. Read as many models as you can. Pay close attention to the structure, the technical terminology and from your reading you will learn the formatting, phrases and style used in that style, or genre, of writing.

Canadian college language expectations  

  • Every culture takes a different route to communicating ideas. Canadians see their communication style as “linear”, in that we expect writers to state their main point quickly. This approach differs in other cultures. Many cultures place value on saving the main point for the end, others talk “around” the main point, and trust the reader to understand the point the writer is trying to make.
  • It is important to be aware of the writing style you are used to. Think about your first language, and how you would express an idea. Do you like to give the history of the point? Do you like to talk about the surrounding issues? Do you feel that detail adds understanding and context to your main message? After understanding how you present ideas, take time to listen to the way your instructors present information. Is it different from how you would approach it? Why or why not? Try to understand cultural differences in communication, and analyze the differences between the norms in your culture and the norms in Canadian colleges.

Different genres, different expectations 

  • Every piece of writing at the college has a different purpose. Think about the writing you might see in a week: emails, newspaper articles, memos and technical reports. The different types of writing are called different writing genres, and each genre has different requirements. For example, be aware the language and you use in emails is different from the formal expectations of a technical report. Similarly, technical reports are very different from business communications, where language turns from using vocabulary and structures that are objective to a persuasive tone and approach.

Finally, use RRC student support services.

The RRC Academic Success Centre has an EAL Writing Tutors program and EAL workshops that may be of help. Visit the centre to learn more. EAL Writing Tutors help you identify the writing issues you need to improve, and will help you set up a learning plan to address them. They can also act as a guide, assisting you in understanding your writing assignment.

RRC’s office of Diversity and Immigrant Student Support has a number of programs that can help you better understand Canadian culture and College expectations. They also offer a mentorship program that gives you one-on-one time with a Canadian-born student, allowing you to ask questions about Canada and the college in a relaxed setting, in your own time.

There are also many excellent web resources that deal with ESL / EAL writing issues. Please take a look: 

Grammar and  Resources: