Tips to improve professional writing if English isn’t your first language.
I wrapped up one of my biggest projects of the year and my BIG struggle was to write a concise SUMMARY REPORT 😱 and my writing was not doing justice to our findings. As a researcher, my goal is to deliver the voices of users and I wasn’t really doing that on paper. 😭 I am pretty capable of utilizing English but it isn’t my mother tongue and that always is lingering in my mind…
I am still learning to be a better writer. I want you to grow too! So here are my lessons learned:
What is not working:
- Treating your professional writing as if it was a “test”
A lot of my professional international friends and I used to respond to work-related writing as if it was a university test which led us away from the psychological and intellectual ‘space’ of working with the written English language. Like many of my friends, I too impatiently waited until I can get it ‘right.’
- Relying too much on our peers' feedback
I know this is an obvious one but hear me out 😅
Someone pointing out our mistakes doesn’t work for our learning simply because we copy or emulate the corrections. (Fregeau, 1999; Cohen, & Cavalcanti, 1990).Therefore, this cycle of feedback is detrimental to our growth in English because we are not learning how to recognize or correct errors on our own. I get it … it feels safer when we receive positive validation but relying too much on that... I guess we’ll never grow.
- Confusing written feedback can produce negative feelings
Writing is already difficult and receiving tons of suggestions may cause us to feel confused, frustrated, sad, and neglect some of the comments left on the document. Non-native speakers have an extra layer of understanding both the written feedback and some of the unspoken invisible cultural norms. Naturally, we may not know how to respond to the suggested comments leaving that written feedback with little use because simply we don’t understand how to productively use that feedback. Finally, comments on the content tend to be negative and point out problems more than telling the non-native English author what they are doing right.
What Works backed by research!
There are effective points to the traditional feedback we receive, Fathman and Walley (1990) discovered that when non-native speakers receive feedback that indicated the place but not the types of errors, students significantly improved their writing in the upcoming iterations of the paper.
- Have a 1:1 spoken chat with the person giving you feedback.
As noted earlier, many non-native speakers find understanding written feedback confusing. Bouncing your ideas in 1:1 sessions allows both the author and the person a chance to trace the causes of the problems arising from the author’s writing and it enables a space to develop strategies for improvement.
- Don’t be afraid to express your ideas in your 1:1 chat
1:1 chats enable you a chance to trace the causes of the problems arising from both the feedback and the writing. Ask direct questions to gain a deeper understanding of what the feedback means.
- Allow at least one person to be part of your rewrite process; this is not a test.
No one is grading how great you are at grammar. Writing is an art that requires multiple iterations. Let someone be part of that process by providing you fresh input but remember don’t depend too much on them.
Phases to get the most benefits out feedback
- This suggestion you made was really helpful. Thank you very much.
- You made some suggestions in regards to ______. Tell me more about your thoughts.
- I am still not clear on this part of your feedback. Could you give me an example?
- Do you have an example of this suggestion you made here?
- Here, I am still confused because _________. Can you make this clearer?
- Is there another way to say this?
- Why do you think so?
- Is this paragraph complete?
- Is this idea complete?
- Do you think this is necessary? Why or why not?
- Should this paragraph be divided?
- Are my topic sentences clear?
- This is a great suggestion but I am not sure what this means ^^; what would this sentence mean in simple English?
All right! You have reached the end of my lessons learned from my last summary report. I could not have achieved that level of detail and storytelling if it wasn’t for my manager and my coworker who provided me with targeted feedback.