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Editing academic research papers

Editing academic research by ESL writers

The United States and Canada are host to many thousands of students from other countries who study in their colleges and universities. Many come as a result of significant financial sacrifice by their families, were at the top of their classes in their home countries, and are therefore highly motivated to succeed in their academic careers.

For those whose native language is not English, writing research papers and theses presents a problem. Their study habits, research skills and knowledge of their subject may be second to none, but they find it difficult to express themselves in English.

This is frequently a problem of linguistic interference from their native language. For example, East Asian students whose languages do not have definite and indefinite articles tend to leave them out or misuse them. More subtly, students who learned English from teachers who were themselves not native speakers and who emphasized the “classics” have a tendency to write in an orotund style that sounds dated today.

English prepositions are everyone’s problem — non-native speakers with decades of writing experience are often still unsure of their idiomatic use.

And back again to style. This is part science and part art. There are rules and principles, but they are applied more as in musical composition than as in algebra. A good editor will be able to understand the meaning of a paragraph despite the fact that it is written in a somewhat plodding and clunky way and, without changing that meaning, smooth out the bumps and make it graceful. The goal is to make the work easy for your professor to read while developing and sustaining the message.

Finally, citation styles. Whichever you choose — Chicago, MLA, APA or a specialized style, a competent editor will parse your footnotes and bibliography entries to make sure the reference style is correct.

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