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Tips For Writing Essays For UK/US Universities For ESL students

21st February 2019 blog

When writing an essay, it is important to consider whether you are writing according to US guidelines and spelling systems or the UK system. There can be many differences between these two systems related to spelling, references, or just general vocabulary.
US and UK spelling

Regardless of which country your university is in, when it comes to writing your essay in English you will either use the US system or the UK system. Present day spell checking software is extremely efficient but it is always recommended that you check the spelling in your essay yourself. In the table below you can see some of the most common mistakes which are made by ESL students when writing in one particular type of English.

 Dilemma  US  UK
 Whether to use z/s  Organize, Organization,  Generalize, Analyze  Organise, Organisation,  Generalise, Analyse
 Whether to use or/our  Color, Flavor, Neighbor,  Behavior  Colour, Flavour, Neighbour,  Behaviour
 Whether to use l/ll  Labeled, Traveled,  Modeling  Labelled, Travelled,  Modelling
 Whether to use s/c  Practise  Practice
 Whether to use er/re  Center  Centre


As well as spelling, there are a number of other features which may be used in US essays but not in UK essays.


One of the most important aspects of an essay is the referencing style. If you are writing an essay for a US university, the odds are they have very different requirements from the UK. Many American universities require students to use a different style guideline. Having said this, there can also be a lot of similarities between US and UK essays so the best way is to make sure you are extremely familiar with the style you should be following.

Vocabulary choice

Americans obviously use many words which are not used very often in the UK. If American vocabulary is used in a UK essay it may not be the end of the world, but in some cases this can create confusion. Below we can see an example of when a UK essay may incorrectly employ Americanisms:

He made this discovery whilst majoring in Mathematics

He made this discovery whilst studying for a degree in Mathematics

The term college is another interesting example of US versus UK vocabulary choice. Indeed this has a slightly different meaning  in the UK when compared to the US. If you were to refer to someone’s college years in an English essay, you would be talking about the period of education prior to their degree whereas in a US essay this would be referring to an institution which awards degrees. If you are careful then vocabulary choice should not really be a problem. More often than not, if an ESL student is using UK English then he/she will be very familiar with English vocabulary.

Gabriella Mangialardi.

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