5 tips for clear, crisp and excellent writing

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Writing in English can be hard

  1. If English is your second language, it can be harder.
  2. Everyone needs to learn how to write well.
  3. We may need to write an essay at school.
  4. We write reports and emails at work.

It’s hard but not impossible

Writing in English can be learned just like any other skill.


Five tips for excellent writing:

  1. Keep the purpose clear in your mind

    • Why are you writing?
      • To inform?
      • To educate?
      • To entertain or impress?
    • Keep the purpose in mind. It will help you arrange your thoughts.
    • It will help you decide on which message to write first.
    • It will help you choose the tone and type of words to use.

    Example:
    For a report or an email message:

    • Go straight to the point.
    • Mention the most important message in the first paragraph.
    • Use simple language.
    • Don’t use long words. You don’t need to sound sophisticated.
    • Get the message across quickly.
    • It has to be easy to understand.

    What if you want to write to communicate AND impress at the same time?

    • Sometimes, we need to impress employers or our bosses.
    • Use technical terms and buzzwords if you need to.
    • Don’t use difficult words. You will sound fake.
    • Make the message clear and simple.

    For example, don’t write:
    The organization will provide interested parties further notice upon availability of the professional development sessions.

    Write this instead:

    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 believer of simple and clear writing.

    He 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 for clear writing from EngVid:

    Try the Hemingway app.

  3. Know who you are writing for

    • Know what your audience likes. It will help you write better.
    • Know that you are writing for other people (not for yourself).
    • Plan your content and message based on your audience.

    Examples:

    • You can use jargon when writing for your boss and colleagues. They will understand the language. Don’t use jargon for a general audience.
    • Ask if your professor likes long reports or short ones.
    • Don’t use jokes in your presentation if the audience will not understand them.
    • Write the most important information first when writing for busy people.
  4. Check templates or samples

    • Get inspiration from others if you don’t know how to start.
    • Go online. Look for examples of the type of writing you need to do. Get ideas.
    • Notice the structure and flow of writing.
    • See how the writer connects one idea to the next.
    • Notice the tone and style.
    • Don’t copy everything. Never plagiarize!
  5. Reread and proofread

Keep working to improve your writing skill:

Improve your vocabulary and spelling by:

  1. Reading
    • It will help build your vocabulary.
    • It will improve your spelling skills.
    • It will make you familiar with the patterns of writing.
    • It will help you improve your sentences.
  2. Practice, practice, practice!
    • Join online forums or groups. Ask questions or comment online.
    • Do online journaling. Here are some suggested tools: 5 killer online journaling tools you should try out, Hannah Braime, LifeHack.org.
    • Use a notebook and pen. Start a diary.
    • Get a pen pal (email or snail mail).
  3. Get online help or find a mentor

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