You’ve got bold ideas and opinions with original concepts. Great start! However, all of that doesn’t matter much unless you can expertly convey them in writing. Whether you’re a student or a professional, in grad school or in a large corporation, good writing skills are the building blocks for long-term success.
Writing skills play a pivotal role when you’re preparing reports, research papers, assignments, and presentations. They also help you compose more compelling business proposals and newsletters, or even tell creative, enthralling stories.
Becoming a better writer may sound like an intimidating goal, but it’s not all that difficult if you put in the effort. Sure enough, it takes a lot of practice, but a bit of direction will get you on the right path. Here are some tips that will help you improve your writing skills.
1. Understand your purpose
Good writing starts with a clear goal. What’s the purpose of this article or that presentation? What do you hope to achieve from this paper or that email?
Perhaps you’re a marketing professional and want to write SEO optimized blog posts that help readers learn about tactics and strategies. Or you’re a student, and need to write a paper for your English class on To Kill a Mockingbird that discusses its subtle themes of racism. Whatever you aim to achieve, define your purpose at the start so your writing stays focused. You’ll know exactly in which direction you’re heading, and when you stray away from your primary goal.
2. Outline your ideas
To ensure that your purpose doesn’t become lost, outline your ideas before you start writing.
If you’ve ever written anything, you know how easy it is to zone out and write whatever is on your mind, forgetting to focus on your original purpose. A strong outline helps you avoid distraction in your text and keeps you on the right track toward structure and composition that makes sense for your readers.
For example, let’s say you have to write an essay about climate change. Prepare an outline that simply divides the essay into its specific parts, such as introduction, causes, effects, and solutions:
With an outline in place, you’ll also have an easier time assigning word limits for different sections so you don’t exceed the given word limit for that essay.
3. Get a writing tutor
No matter how many articles you read on how to improve your writing skills, there are principles and practices that only an experienced writing tutor can provide. Working alongside a writing professional provides you with personalized help learning English grammar and basic writing rules, as well as advanced techniques to hone your skills. An expert will identify and address your unique challenges, instead of giving you a one-size-fits-all tutorial.
4. Join a writing workshop
Honing your skills with a group of other learners gives you the unique chance to benefit from peer review and feedback. There are lots of useful observations and insights that you can discover from other writers, so joining a writing workshop is one of the key steps if you want to learn how to improve your writing skills.
Find and join relevant groups on LinkedIn to meet fellow writers in your niche or field. You might also want to look for writing workshops in your city through sites like Meetup.
5. Read as much as you write
Improving your writing skills requires lots and lots of reading. The more you read, the better you’ll become at forming sentences and choosing the right words to best convey your purpose. It’s important that you don’t stick to the same old stuff that you’ve been reading for ages. Diversify your reading material by expanding to new writing formats, genres, and viewpoints.
Instead of quickly skimming through the pages like you might when reading for pleasure, pay close attention to an author’s sentence structure and word choice. Try to determine what makes a specific piece of new (to you) writing impactful and what it can tell you about avoiding mistakes in your own work.
6. Embrace simplicity
Hemingway once said to “write the best story that you can.” He also told us to “write it as straight as you can.” Simplicity is elementary to effective writing – there’s no point in writing something that people struggle to understand.
Technique and vocabulary may be impressive, but if you want to make an impact on your readers, do it in words they can understand. Switch from overcomplicated and unfamiliar words to words that are shorter and easier to process.
Similarly, use contractions and conversational tones if you want to speak to your readers in everyday language that’s familiar to them.
For example, take a look at this sentence: “I’m quite convinced of your ability to properly emanate the imperative ideas without the extended use of ostentatious vocabulary.”
You can easily simplify this sentence by reducing the number of long, esoteric words and sticking to the central meaning of your overall point: “I’m sure you can get across the necessary ideas without using showy words.”
Here are some additional tips to embrace simplicity in your writing:
- Avoid filler words and phrases like just, really, at all times, point in time, during the course of, basically, essentially, literally, etc. It’s easy to use these kinds of words when we’re trying to be more conversational, because we use them in everyday conversations. However, using them in writing can make your points more difficult to understand by creating sentences that are unnecessarily long.
- Cut down the use of prepositional phrases, as they can make complicate your writing, not to mention be overly wordy. These are phrases that contain one or more prepositions along with the object they govern. For example: “the boy in the middle”, “the house on the shore”, etc. This doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely, but minimize their use. Ideally, cut some prepositions out if you see one every 10-15 words.
- Avoid overusing adverbs, especially to pad weak words. Something that’s “extremely funny” could instead be hilarious. If you’re “really very hungry” you could instead be starving or famished. If you’re “pretty tired”, you could instead be knackered or exhausted.
7. Get inspiration from your favorite writers
Some of your favorite writers could also be your best teachers. Study their work and find out what you like about it. See if you can apply the same technique to improve your writing.
Please note that this isn’t the same as plagiarism, because you’re not ripping off their work. Instead, you’re learning from their work and channeling some of their techniques to develop your own.
Does a writer use wordplay to add humor and excitement to their work? Try coming up with your own wordplay. Does a writer add unusual twists to real-life events to write stories that resonate with their readers? Try doing the same and see how it plays out for you.
8. Avoid over-explaining everything
It’s easy to go into too much detail when trying to explain something through writing. However, that thoroughness can have the opposite effect. You could confuse and overwhelm your readers with trivial details, and they’ll end up losing interest in your writing.
Analyze each piece of information and consider whether it’s essential to get your message across. If not, remove it. Weed out all the unnecessary details so you can tell your story as straight as possible.
9. Add a personal touch to your writing
Except when it comes to formal and professional writing, let your personality do the talking. Infuse your work with your own brand of individuality by adding personal anecdotes and original jokes. You can even use phrases and slang that you’d use in everyday conversation as well as your personal opinions…within reason, of course.
If you’re just relaying the same information that everyone else is writing about, your writing could end up bland and boring. Adding a personal touch makes your work more interesting, individual, and can make a huge difference in bringing your stories to life.
Write like your life depends on it
Of course, the most important tip to improve your writing skills is to write…a lot! You could follow all the rules above and still struggle to improve if you don’t practice enough. Write like it’s your job, even if it’s not. Experiment with different styles and techniques to find what surprises you, what fits your work best, and, eventually, what help you define your personal style.
Identify the weakest parts of your work and look for ways to strengthen them. Find a friend or an editor who will give you constructive, truthful feedback. Use their feedback to make improvements to your current technique. Try new ways of approaching your topic, and pay close attention to what changes as you develop your writing skills. The more you write, the more you learn, and the better you’ll get at writing.