Monday 24 March 2014

12 Simple Steps to Improve Writing Skills

  1. Writing is hard; you will make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to just let go and put down your ideas on the page. Don’t worry too much about grammar when you are writing. Just write! Let it flow. The purpose of grammar is not to confound you with meaningless rules, but to facilitate the sharing of ideas between people. Nonetheless, as you write, you will want to improve your grammar. The rules of grammar are simply descriptions of how people communicate ideas. People are generally smart enough to understand the ideas when there are only one or two errors in a sentence, but as they pile up, communication is impeded. The fewer errors in your writing, the better you communicate your ideas.
  2. Help is out there. Believe in yourself, but know it comes in small steps. There is no writer so great that he or she can’t improve, and no writer so bad that her or she can’t learn to communicate. Do not allow yourself to be bogged down by negative self-talk; just acknowledge that there are lots of resources to help you write better.
  3. Be willing to learn. Open yourself up to correction. Read grammar blogs. Don’t get caught up in trivial arguments about what is “correct,” but start recognizing what the common errors that drive readers crazy so you can avoid them.
  4. Make a list of goals for your writing.  You’ve already made a general commitment to improve by reading this; now be specific. For example, you may need to improve your use of references for academic writing. (Visit the Purdue University Open Writing Lab). You may want to improve your vocabulary. (Play the vocabulary game on Free Rice and help feed the world at the same time). You may need to simply learn the 8 parts of speech, so you can understand the conversations you are about to have. The thing about starting is just to start. You can always add to your list later as you accomplish some of these goals.
  5. Share your list with someone who writes better than you do. Listen to their advice. Everyone had to learn at some point. Once you begin to have conversations about writing, you will see that you can improve. Visit websites that discuss writing such as Grammar Girl.
  6. Become willing to improve. It’s important to have a positive attitude. Just make the decision to look at grammar in a new way. Think of it as just another learning curve. At first it’s difficult, then it gets easier. Willingness is the key.
  7. Make a commitment to improve. Don’t confuse willingness to commitment. Commitment means taking action.
  8. Make a list of errors that you commonly make. This is the first real step to becoming a better writer. Figure out what some of the mistakes you are currently making and learn how to fix them. The list doesn’t have to be exhaustive (and you can always add to it later), but if you can identify your worst faults, you have a chance of correcting them.
  9. For each of the items on the list, find the correction. This list will be important in your proofreading efforts because you will need to think about each of these as you proofread your own work.
  10. Proofread. Probably the biggest difference between a good writer and a poor one is proofreading. I have been writing professionally for over 30 years and I continue to make the most basic mistakes when the ideas are flowing out of my head. Sometimes it’s a typo because my fingers are not in touch with my brain; sometimes it’s an error that just slips in. But I always proofread carefully before printing, posting, or sending. I proofread several times. Learning to proofread is one of the most important skills after learning the rules of writing.
  11. Every day, read something about writing better. Once you have started to write better it’s easy to rest on your laurels. But as in any endeavor, constant improvement must be the goal. Subscribe to a daily writing tip. Follow a grammarian on Twitter. Just make sure you think about it every day.
  12. Now that you are a better writer, help others to improve. There is nothing that solidifies knowledge about a topic like having to explain it to others. If you really understand it, you can explain it. If not, you will find you need to go back and study it a little more. That’s why I offer free grammar help. The more I help people, the more I understand myself.

Some people may find these 12 steps familiar; certainly I acknowledge that similar steps have helped people improve in many areas of their lives. While improving your writing might not be as life changing as quitting drinking, for many people wanting to get a college education, or who want to move into a managerial position at work, gaining some writing skill can open up a new world of possibilities.
Updated April 2, 2014.