Writing, Editing, and POWER Consulting as a Non-Native English Speaker (By Wura Jacobs, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)


Writing, Editing, and POWER Consulting as a Non-Native English Speaker 

By Wura Jacobs, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant


“Can I be an effective writer or author of the English language?” From discussing with friends and colleagues, I found that this is an issue that nags me and many other non-native English speaking students. As an International student and a POWER consultant, even with a science journalism/writing degree under my belt, I still find myself doubting my competence and effectiveness as a writer and editor of English language writing.


Armed with my doubt, I decided to embark on a quest to inquire from established authors and editors what their take was on Non-Native English speakers as effective authors and editors in English language. I spoke to some faculty, senior colleagues, established authors (native English speakers and non-native English speakers), academic writers, and editors and below are some of the things I learned from them:


  • Your first attempt at writing or providing feedback might not necessarily earn an ovation or even praise for your work. Like your first time learning to ride a bike, you might fall or get bruised, but with tenacity, it only gets better from then on.
  • Your credibility will not be questioned if you’re able to justify your writing or feedback with a good rationale.
  • Writing or giving feedback on writing transcends correct use of language. There are many other aspects of a manuscript that needs to be checked such as structure, organization, flow, and the general logic of the manuscript. Whether written by native or non-native English speakers, every manuscript can use help in these areas.
  • If you show passion and enthusiasm towards a project (either writing or providing feedback) that goes a long way to communicate your abilities as a writer or a consultant. Don’t be intimidated, put aside personalities and concentrate on the clarity of the manuscript.
  • Know your weakness! A renowned comedian, when asked to give advice to aspiring comedians said “make sure the first joke you tell is about you.” This is not to say that you should go about advertising your weakness. Rather, make sure you have a working list of the common mistakes you’re prone to making. With your list in hand, make sure to check the manuscript you’re writing or providing feedback on for those common errors.
  • To get better in English language requires immersing yourself in it. Consciously think in English and never aim to sound “scientific.” Rather, let your aim be to communicate clearly and concisely. The English language is conflicting and confusing, believe me. Even native speakers and seasoned writers engage in debates about correct use of some words (let’s make that a future blog post J).

As a Non-Native English Speaker, remember:


  • When asked to provide feedback on a manuscript, you did not write the manuscript, you’re only trying to make it better.
  • Language is not always the focus; thus your nativity is secondary.
  • You can leverage on your “not-too-technical vocabulary” and make manuscripts you write or provide feedback on clearer and more readable.

Since I learned these things, have I practiced them? For the most part, yes. Do I still doubt and second-guess myself? Yes, more often than I’d like. But, has that stopped me from writing or consulting? Of course not! My writing/editing skill is a work in progress (and you should see yours that way too). You never know everything; after all, learning is a lifelong process. Socrates himself alluded to this saying, “Education is kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”