5 tips for excellent writing

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Writing in English is hard. If English is your second language, it can be harder. We’re not talking about writing novels or poetry here. All of us need to write at school or work. These materials can range from essays, reports, presentations to short emails.

It’s hard but it’s not impossible. Just like any other skill, you need to practice so you can write well. If it’s a struggle for you, here are five tips that can help you:

  1. Keep the purpose clear in your mind

    First things first: Why are you writing? To inform? Educate? Entertain or impress? Having this in mind will set your focus. It will help you prioritize on the message, tone, and style of the piece.

    For example, if you’re writing a memo or an email, your priority is to get the message across quickly. You go straight to the point and put the most important message first. You also use simple, straightforward language. Here’s an example:

    Don’t write: The organization will provide interested parties further notice upon availability of the professional development sessions.
    You should write: We will tell you when to come in for training.

    (Example adapted from The Plain Language Passcard, Literacy Partners of Manitoba)
  2. Again, simple is good!

    Novelist Ernest Hemingway was a strong advocate of simple and clear writing. He hated flowery prose and adjectives. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author followed four rules in writing:

    1. Use short sentences.
    2. Use short paragraphs.
    3. Use vigorous English (use the most precise and most descriptive words).
    4. Be positive, not negative (describe what something is, not what it isn’t).
      For example: instead of “inexpensive” write “affordable” or instead of “unclear” say it’s “confusing”.
    (Ernest Hemingway’s 5 tips for writing well, Brian Clark, Copyblogger).

    Here are 5 more tips to keep your writing tight for school or work from EngVid:

    Need more help in keeping your writing brief and to the point? Try the Hemingway app.

  3. Think about your audience

    If you are writing for your boss and colleagues, you may use jargon because they will understand them. But if you are writing for a more general audience, think twice about using technical terms. If you’re writing a report for school, it will be valuable to know if your professor prefers multipage reports or short ones. And if you’re preparing a presentation, know if your audience will be able to appreciate humour before you start your talk with a joke. Writing for busy people? You know that you need to place the more important information first.

    Knowing your audience allows you to organize your message and plan your content, style and the length of your piece.

  4. Check some templates/samples

    If you can’t imagine how your manuscript should look like, get inspiration from others. Go online and search for some templates or examples of the type of writing you need to do. Get ideas. Note the structure and flow of writing. See how the writer connects one idea to the next. Notice the tone and style.

    But be careful about copying too closely. Never plagiarize!

  5. Reread and proofread

    Never send out written work without reviewing it first. A simple misspelled word can ruin an entire piece. Read Tips when proofreading and editing your work. You can also ask a friend to review your work for you.

Want to improve your writing skills?

There is no shortcut to writing well other than to study and practice. Vocabulary and spelling are the foundations of good writing. To do this, you must:

  1. Make reading a habit
    • Reading helps you increase your vocabulary.
    • You’ll become familiar with spelling and variations of how some words are spelled.
    • You’ll become familiar with the patterns of writing. You’ll get used to how words flow in a sentence.
    • It will help you improve your sentence construction.
  2. Practice, practice, practice
  3. Get online help or find a mentor

Sources: How to improve your writing by yourself, Shivali Nayak and Allison Chan, Learn English; Five home-based activities to improve your writing, Australia Plus, Learn English; 5 simple ways to improve your written English, Wil, English Live. All accessed December 20, 2017.

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