Writing skills are important in the modern era as we communicate across the globe. This course is aim to provide the basic skills of English.
Effective Writing Techniques
- What’s the occasion/purpose?
- To share
- To inform
- To persuade
- To entertain
- Who is my audience?
- Outline—Memory and Organization
- Develop a routine
- What to include in introductions
- The importance of the topic
- Background information (history)
- Common ground (you and I)
- Description (e.g., of the problem)
- A thesis (what you are arguing)
- Keep it short
It may be helpful to skip the introduction and come back to it when you’ve finished the paper.
- Revisit the thesis (not re-state)
- Explain what will happen if your view isn’t adopted
- Explain the significance of your main point
- Keep it short
Organization and Content
- Make sure that your memo, proposal, letter, or essay follows a natural, cohesive structure. Structure your paragraphs in terms of either chronology (first, second, third) or importance (most to least, or vice versa).
- Within paragraphs, go from old to new information.
- Use analogies, comparisons, and examples to emphasize your point.
- Be descriptive.
- Discuss past, present, and future (potential) outcomes (causes and effects).
- Vary your sentence structure.
BE DIRECT—SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, MEAN WHAT YOU SAY
- Avoid wordiness, especially phrases such as there are, because of this reason, and for the purpose of.
WRONG: There are many teachers who are planning to attend next week’s meeting for the purpose of discussing the need for raises.
CORRECT: Many teachers plan to attend next week’s meeting to discuss the need for raises.
- Don’t be wishy-washy. Avoid phrases like in my opinion, I think, I feel, it seems,
WRONG: In my opinion, it seems like students should pay higher tuition because I think it would make them more conscientious.
CORRECT: Students should pay higher tuition because it would make them more conscientious.
- Avoid adverbs, particularly –ly endings.
WRONG: Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly, etc.
CORRECT: First, Second, Third.
Often, adverbs contradict the action of the verb. Unless you’re being ironic, this can create confusion. For example, The river ran slowly through the valley. Instead of an adverb, find a better verb choice—The river crept through the valley.
- Using stronger verbs—Substituting crept for ran in the preceding sentence is a good demonstration of finding the precise word versus a near approximation. Most writers can benefit by using stronger verbs. Did the old man walk down the road, or did he amble, stroll, totter, stagger, creep, stumble, or teeter? As a general rule, it is better to use action verbs rather than linking verbs (be verbs).
OKAY: Steven is talking, and the students are listening.
BETTER: Steven talks, and the students listen.
- Active Voice vs. Passive Voice—In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action of the verb. In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb. Sentences written in passive voice tend to be flat and tend to slow the reader down. Active voice tends to be clearer and more direct, and requires fewer words.
PASSIVE: The boy was bitten by the dog.
ACTIVE: The dog bit the boy.
A sentence written in passive voice will always have a be verb construction (though not all be verbs indicate passive voice). What must be determined is what you want the emphasis to be on—the performer of the action or who (or what) receives the action.
PASSIVE: The house was built by the construction workers.
ACTIVE: The construction workers built the house.
The active voice in the preceding example seems, in this context, to be much more efficient. However, in the following example, notice how the passive voice makes for better reading.
EXAMPLE: The house, which had survived two hurricanes, a fire, and three different owners, was built by a now defunct construction company.
One final note on passive voice: When checking for passive construction, look for clue words such as by and for.
- Write like you speak. Don’t get dictionary-happy! While elevated language is an admirable goal, be very careful about dropping in antidisestablishmentarianism. If your audience knows you, they will know you don’t normally talk like that; if your audience doesn’t know you, they may think that you are trying to make them look ignorant. And when you use a word erroneously, there’s always someone dying to point it out to you! This goes back to knowing your audience.
- Obviously, the more extensive your vocabulary, the more confident your writing, and the more effective; when you can learn new words and add them to your everyday lexicon, you immediately attain a higher level of respect. You can enhance your communicative skills with some very simple and enjoyable hobbies.
- Read every day.
- Write every day.
- Do crossword puzzles or other word games.
OTHER THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Misplaced modifiers—Ex: Mark raced home to Momma, having been frightened by the bees.
- Dangling modifiers—Ex: Looking into the oven, the turkey wasn’t done.
- Combining sentences with questions—Ex: We’re going to the movies tomorrow night, do you want to come?
- Stating the obvious—Ex: The radio, through which we could hear music, was broken.
- Using clichés—cold as ice, bull in a china shop, up the creek, the last straw, etc.
- Using slang—Ex: It would be cool to make a passing grade in English.
Final Thought: While reference guides are very handy tools for grammar and mechanics, it is worth the investment to by a book dedicated to more practical topics such as getting started, how to write an introduction, how to be descriptive, and so on. One such book that I recently came across is Working It Out: A Trouble-shooting Guide For Writers, by Barbara Fine Clouse.