8 tips to help you be a better writer
Writing well is one of the most useful and important skills a student can acquire, says Vita Alligood, JD, an online instructor in the communication program for University of Phoenix. Yet, she notes, developing this ability isn’t always the highest priority for many scholars.
Here, Alligood offers eight tips to help you refine your writing:
Write every day.
Does practice make perfect? Yes, Alligood insists.
“Writing in a traditional context — term papers, letters and journals — can make a real difference,” she says, because all involve creating thoughtful, carefully crafted sentences and paragraphs. “But writing every day in a social media context, with its abbreviations and short, ungrammatical phrases will not improve your writing skills,” she cautions. “Beware the difference.”
Read other writers.
“Read accomplished, published writers on a regular basis,” Alligood recommends. “Their knowledge of language and skill with words will have an impact,” she notes, because reading well-constructed fiction and nonfiction will help you understand how good writing should look and read.
Create a writing schedule.
Few people write well under pressure. Starting on your school paper the night before it’s due, for instance, means you’ll likely have less time to edit and polish your prose. Most instructors provide a list of assignments at the beginning of each course. Since you’ll know all of the deadlines ahead of time, make it a point to plan and prepare strong papers, Alligood says.
She suggests creating a schedule for each paper — perhaps a week for research, a week for writing and a third week for revision and rewriting.
Outline your work.
Even if you don’t use a traditional outline, at least sketch out your paper before you begin. Start with a sentence or two that summarizes your theme, then list the points you want to make and a basic concluding statement.
This approach not only helps guide your writing, but it also gives you a means to measure your progress and stay focused on your topic, Alligood says.
Write your introduction last.
A big stumbling block for many writers is how and where to begin. Try starting with your second paragraph, Alligood suggests, with the goal of returning to your introduction once you’ve nailed your theme. You often can summarize your points more clearly in an introduction after you’ve written the paper. This trick, she notes, can take the pressure off of having to craft a perfect first paragraph.
Be meticulous in your points.
Pretend that what you’re writing will be read by an expert on the subject, Alligood advises. “Otherwise, you’re less likely to try very hard to make your points,” she notes.
For each point you want to make, she suggests that you write a setup, followed by an expert quote and then specifics from a recent study or paper on the point you’re making.
Use Internet resources.
Alligood recommends checking out the University’s Center for Writing Excellence, which offers live tutorials, style guides and advice on everything from grammar rules to how to organize a term paper.
She also routinely refers students to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab. “It uses plain English to describe basics of writing and its best application,” she says. You also could check out apps for better writing at sites such as TeachThought.
Spell-check and grammar-check don’t catch everything, Alligood warns. Having another set of eyes review your work is always a good idea, so offer to swap proofreading chores with a classmate or friend.
“The most frequent mistake I see is students skipping that final proofread,” she says. “Don’t do it.”