A writing guide for English learners



Alyana Acacio

University of California, Berkeley graduate class of 2017

Is English not your first language? Then maybe you’re intimidated by writing in English. Maybe you feel that writing in English at a native level is a bar you can never reach… WRONG! Whether it’s writing a gripping application to college, or to prepare for the IELTS writing section, mastery of English writing IS within your grasp.


Better, even! If you follow these tips, you’ll write at a higher level than most native speakers, many of whom never fully learn how to use their birth-given language!

Tip #1: Avoid writing polysyllabic if you’re not actually familiar with them

There’s an error in the grammar of that tip! Can you spot it? “Polysyllabic” – though it IS a word in the English dictionary – isn’t an adverb or noun! It’s an adjective. The correct sentence would be “Avoid using polysyllabic words if you’re not actually familiar with them.”

This can be a problem for ESL learners looking to improve their IELTS writing score, or for anyone looking to write better in English. Rather than copy and paste from the thesaurus, it’s better to just cut “polysyllabic” from your draft – and anything else you exhumed from the thesaurus. Don’t use those rococo words unless you actually understand them!

Tip #2: Lay off the slang, dude.

If you’ve learned a tonna English from catchy songs or TV, academic writing and the IELTS are NOT the place to use them. In other words, the title of this tip (and the sentence preceding this one) are great examples of how NOT to write the perfect IELTS essay!

Some commonly spoken expressions (“gonna” for “going to”, or “a tonna” for “a ton of”) aren’t even proper English words. Other words, like “dude”, are probably going to hurt you far more than they’ll help. In general, in academic writing, you should avoid slang and colloquial expressions altogether – or “lay off” them, as people might say in the street, but NOT in a formal essay!

Tip #3: You probably shouldn’t use “you”, either

When you’re getting ready to write an academic essay – for example, preparing for the IELTS essay – you’re NOT speaking to an audience. There’s no “you” in a formal essay. You’re presenting the facts or your viewpoints; nothing more.

There ARE places to use the word “you” in English writing. When there’s a defined audience – for example, people looking to improve their English-language writing for college applications or for the IELTS. When I’m writing to a group of known readers, I can write “you”. However, if you write “you” in the IELTS essay or your college application, you’re writing to the people who will be scoring your essay or deciding whether to admit you. This is probably NOT a good idea!

These are just a few writing tips for academic English. Follow these, and you’ll write better than ninety percent of native speakers, who don’t take the trouble to improve their English writing! But, if you’d still like help in Hong Kong, Helppo offers personalised, native English-speaking tutors to help you prepare for the IELTS writing section, or to apply to college in the USA or UK. Take advantage of Helppo’s expert, Hong Kong-based tutors, and reach out today!