Writing in FrenchWriter's Web
Alicia Surdyk, UR Writing Fellow
This page was compiled with the help of the Modern Language Department, Dr. Julie Baker, and Dr. Katrina Perry.
(printable version here)

Writing in a first language is difficult. Writing in a second language proves to be even more of a challenge. This page is intended to help those students who face the task of writing in French.

Tips for getting started:

The first idea that professors suggest is to always write in French! To become a better writer, you must begin to think in French, letting your thought process help you with the writing, not hold you back by trying to translate in your head. Use simple French if you must, but get in the habit of putting your thoughts down on the page in the language. This will be difficult at first, but here are some ways to organize your thoughts and to help you with the process.

  • Make an outline of your thoughts
  • Brainstorm any ideas that come to mind and write them on the page
  • Use vocabulary lists to trigger your creativity and thought
  • Cluster your ideas in groups and use lines to connect your thoughts on paper.

Advice while writing:

Do not get caught up in trying to do a word for word translation from English. There are different syntaxes and different grammatical structures in French than in English. If you try to do a direct translation of your thoughts, you will get frustrated when you cannot find the idiomatic expressions that you want to use. Instead, use grammatical structures that you know. To make your paper better without being overwhelmed with structure, vary your vocabulary. Be sure to consult a French-English dictionary and then to check the definition in a French dictionary. The department recommends the Harper-Collins College Dictionary and Le Micro Robert.

Here are some more specific tips to keep in mind while writing.

  • Avoid general words like tres or choses
  • Do not use the passive voice unless there is a special situation. The French tend to avoid this structure
  • Be sure to check for subject/verb agreement
  • Make sure that adjectives agree with the noun in gender and in number
  • Use transitional words to make your sentences more interesting and complex.

More ways to improve your writing:

A good idea to keep in mind is that your writing can only be as advanced as your reading level. Therefore, read in French as much as possible! As you read, you will begin to notice certain patterns of structure that the French tend to use. As you write, keep these patterns in mind and use them in your own writing. Doing this will help to diminish the English accent that not only appears in your voice but also in your writing.

Using your peers for help is also a good idea when writing. A technique called peer-editing can help you and a partner to notice errors in each other’s writing that you not have noticed on our own.

Some words of caution:

Plagiarism is much easier to fall into within a foreign language than in your native language. Students tend to find information on the internet and copy and paste it into essays without citing it. Plagiarism is illegal no matter the language! Be sure to give a full citation for every source that you use in the correct format of the langue. Different professors will require you to cite in different formats, so be sure to ask your professor which format he or she prefers.

Some sample papers, with professors' commentary:

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