Being able to write well is essential to just about any job that doesn’t require heavy lifting, but it’s also one of the most difficult subjects to teach. For a lot of former students, learning how to write better is one skill that they were never really taught in school. Fortunately, it’s possible for just about anyone to learn how to write better sentences.
The following advice is a good place to start for anyone who is trying to learn how to become a better writer. Whether a person wants to learn how to write better essays or just how to get better at writing in general, this advice can help them to improve their work.
Learn a few Basic Essay Structures
There are a few basic structures for essays that everyone should master. The most common form is known as the five paragraph essay. Essentially, this format has a writer produce a brief introduction paragraph with a three-point thesis statement, a paragraph elaborating on each point in the thesis, and a concluding paragraph that restates the thesis.
While this format may seem familiar to many high school graduates, it’s surprising how many people were never taught this in school. The advantage to such a structure is that it makes getting across just about any point easy to do even for someone with little to no writing experience. Sticking with the formula makes it easy to identify the main topics that a person is writing about and the supporting reasons for these topics. Sticking with a this formula also makes it faster to write an essay.
Fiction writers should also take the time to learn about a few different basic story types. Learn about narrative voice, and it’s effect on the reader’s perception of a story.
Take a few minutes to plan your Writing
It can seem time consuming to have to write out an outline before a person starts to write, but it’s actually a good way to save time later on. A plan does not have to be very detailed; in fact, it should be a basic outline of the topics that a writer intends to cover.
By taking a few minutes to make a plan, a writer will be able to know what he or she is going to do when he or she starts to write. A good outline eliminates the problem of not knowing what to say next, or working in an extra section after an essay is written. A good outline will list the main topics to be covered, as well as mention the points and ideas that should be written about in each section.
Fiction writers will also need to come up with a plan in the form of a story board. This type of plan includes a brief biography of each character and an outline of each plot point in the story. A good story board will include the introduction of each character, every plot and scenery change, and a detailed outline of the events in the story that lead to the conclusion.
Writers who simply start writing because they have a good idea often find themselves stuck in the middle of a work without knowing what to say next or where to go with the characters. If a common criticism of their work is that the “ending made no sense” or “seemed to be stuck on”, it’s typically the result of a lack of planning.
Remember the advice to read regularly and read often? Reading other people’s writing is one of the best ways for a new writer improve his or her own writing, because it expands their knowledge of the subject they want to write about, exposes them to new methods, and improves their vocabulary.
Ideally, read about a variety of subjects. Non-fiction can help to improve someone’s general knowledge about the world, while fiction works can give ideas for new stories. Reading works in new genres is also a good way to get exposed to ideas that don’t usually come up in one’s own writing. For example, a science fiction author should branch out into reading romances in order to improve the relationships between characters in his or her own writing. Similarly, a romance author should read non-fiction books and articles about current topics in science in order to give his or her writing a unique angle.
Reading other works can also expose an author to new ideas for his or her stories. Beyond the obvious plot and character ideas, pay attention to how other authors set up their stories and essays. The structure of a story with multiple viewpoints can give a unique perspective into each character, or just a story boring and repetitive. An essay that effectively addresses one point of view can give a writer of the opposite view a good place to start making counter arguments.
Every new writer is constantly reminded to pay attention to this aspect of their work, but it really can’t be stressed enough. All too often, writers assume that the automatic spelling and grammar check on their computer will handle this. The truth is that proofreading is more than just making sure everything is spelled right.
Proofreading or editing is where an author reads his or her own work and thinks about how it will perceived by his or her audience. If a writer gets bored halfway through a piece, what will the reader think? Typically, this is a sign that something needs to change in a work; cut down scenes that tend to drag on for too long or add details about the scenery or actions of the characters.
It should also be mentioned that it is important for a writer to do his or her own proofreading. Simply handing over a rough draft to a friend almost invariably leads to advice such as “I liked it” or a long list of criticism that won’t actually improve the piece, only change it to the reader’s preferences. Professional editors approach proofreading from the point of view that a work needs to change in order to meet their employer’s demands. That might mean cutting word count so that an ad can take up more space on the page or eliminating a controversial plot or character. While they can make a piece publishable, it’s important to realize that their job is not necessarily to make a work better. Only the writer can do that.
Learn a few Tricks
While some of the this advice can take years to full implement, there are a few things a new writer can do to make small improvements to their writing now. These tricks have been around for years, but they work.
Never use “I” or “you”.
When writing informative essays, the use of “I” or “you” sounds immature. There is no need to address the reader directly for this type of writing. Ideally, these words should be avoided as much as possible in other types of writing as well. Persuasive writing can address the reader, but relying too much on personal statements probably means that the writing is very light on actual facts and good arguments. In fiction, there is hardly ever a reason to address the reader directly, but these words will come up frequently as characters talk to each other.
Have a few “go-to” openers and closers
Writer who complain that they just “don’t know where to begin” can benefit from this trick. Come up with a few standard opening and closing sentences. Even partial sentences can help to get a writer started. Some examples include:
“When I was young . . .”
“Many people assume that . . . but actually, . . .”
“A recent study showed that . . .”
As someone is becoming a writer, he or she will be less reliant on these stock phrases, but they can help a lot to get an essay or story started. Many writers choose to cross out these phrases and/or replace them with something different during the editing process.
Finally, remember that the key to how to write a better essay or story is to write often and regularly. Set a goal of a number of pages or word count every week, and stick with it.