5 tips for excellent writing

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Writing in English can be tough. It can be even tougher if English is not your first language. We don’t mean writing books or poems. We all have to write for school or work. This could be essays, reports, presentations or even short emails.

Writing is tough, but it’s not impossible. Like any other skill, you need to practice to get better. If you find it hard, here are five tips that can help you:

  1. Always remember why you are writing

    The first thing to ask yourself is: Why am I writing? Is it to give information? To teach? To make people laugh or to impress them? Knowing this will help you focus. It will help you decide what is most important in your message, how you say it, and how you write it. For example, if you’re writing a note or an email, you want to make your point quickly. You get to the point and put the most important message first. You also use easy, clear 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 the training is ready.

    (Example adapted from The Plain Language Passcard, Literacy Partners of Manitoba)
  2. Simple is best!

    The writer Ernest Hemingway liked simple and clear writing. He didn’t like fancy words and descriptions. The famous writer followed four rules when he wrote:

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

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

    Need more help in keeping your writing short and clear? Try the Hemingway app.

  3. Think about who will read your writing

    If you are writing for your boss and workmates, you can use special words because they will understand them. But if you are writing for everyone, think twice about using hard words. If you’re writing a report for school, it’s good to know if your teacher likes long reports or short ones. And if you’re preparing a talk, know if your audience likes jokes before you start your talk with a joke. Writing for busy people? You know that you need to put the most important information first. Knowing your audience helps you plan your message, how you write it, and how long it should be.

  4. Look at some examples

    If you can’t imagine how your writing should look, get ideas from others. Go online and look for examples of the type of writing you need to do. Get ideas. Look at the structure and flow of writing. See how the writer links one idea to the next. Notice the tone and style. But be careful about copying too closely. Never copy someone else’s work!

  5. Read and check your work

    Never send out written work without checking it first. A simple spelling mistake can ruin a whole piece of writing. Read Tips when proofreading and editing your work. You can also ask a friend to check your work for you.

Want to improve your writing skills?

Writing well takes time and practice. Good writing is based on knowing many words and spelling them right. Here are some steps to help you:

  1. Make reading a habit
    • Reading can help you learn more words.
    • You can learn how to spell words and see different ways to spell some words.
    • You can see how words are used in sentences.
    • Reading can help you get better at making sentences.
  2. Practice, practice, practice
  3. Get help online or find a teacher

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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