How to improve your English writing skills
by Rajul Goveas
Are you the kind of person who picks up a pen to write and has words on the tip of your tongue, but they refuse to come on to the paper? Or maybe they quickly fall on to the paper, show up on your screen, but you don’t want to show anyone your writing? Don’t panic. Even the best writers get writer’s block or have had their work rejected many times.
Writing requires vocabulary, grammar, spelling, punctuation, structure and, most importantly, ideas.
But the first step is a simple one: Just sit down and get started.
In this post, we’ll look at some general tips to help you improve your writing, whatever you want to write. Then we’ll focus on some specific areas to help you get better at different types of writing.
These areas are:
- Email and letter writing
- Creative writing
- Paragraph writing
- Cohesion in writing
I’ll also share some useful links for some more practice below, so don’t forget to check those out too.
Why should you write?
There are many reasons to write: Maybe you need to write emails or letters in English for work or business. You might be a creative person wanting to write stories in English or content for an advertisement. Perhaps you are a script writer wanting to write dialogues in English. Maybe you have an English exam coming up, such as IELTS, and want to get a high band score with that perfect essay.
On top of all this, you can also write for fun! Write because you like to use the words you know and see them on the screen or on paper. Writing for fun is also a great way to build your confidence and ability.
Tips for improving your all-round writing skills
There are some good ways to improve your all-round writing skills, whatever you want to write:
- To write well, read a lot and read different things e.g. storybooks, newspapers, magazines. As you read, notice the words, their spellings, ideas in the writing and the message they are trying to convey. Try to use this in your own writing to build your range of expression.
- You can improve your writing by reading texts in the style you want to write in (emails, stories, scripts and adverts all have different structures and rules). Look beyond the text and try to understand how they are structured – are headings used? How are paragraphs written? What kind of language is used?
- Some people like to keep a diary. Do you keep one? Try making some notes in it often. This means you will get into the habit of writing which will help you improve.
- Try expressing yourself when you message using words instead of using emojis. This will help you build vocabulary.
- Remember what you heard in the news, or on TV talks etc. and recreate it in your own words. This will help you build your information-giving and storytelling skills.
- Be creative. Rewrite fight scenes into romantic or comedy scenes to enjoy your writing. Share with your friends to have a good laugh. Creativity is good to help you generate ideas and make your writing interesting.
- Plan your writing and check what you have written after completing it. Read it as if you are the intended reader and not the writer. Will your reader understand everything?
Improving your writing approach
It’s a good idea to follow the same approach whenever you write, whatever you are writing.
Well, here’s one simple and POWERful technique:
Firstly, plan your writing. A lot of this will depend on who your reader will be. Think of what you want to write about and note down the points you want to include.
Your writing will be understood much more easily if it is well-organised. Put your ideas in order.
Consider writing how many paragraphs you will need when organising your writing.
Now that you have planned and organised what you want to write in your mind or sketched it out on a sheet of paper, start writing.
When you write quickly, it is easy to make mistakes, and this makes a poor impression. Always proofread your writing carefully.
Some common mistakes you often make could be spelling errors, incorrect punctuation, incorrect use of capitals etc. Autocorrect, though a fantastic feature, may also miss some points. Always check everything carefully even after your computer's spell checker has auto corrected spellings.
Make the corrections and revise your text. You might even want to rewrite some words or points for which you have better words.
Remember to read as if you are the reader – is everything clear?
That’s it. You’re done and ready to share!
Watch this video for some more great tips to help you improve your writing skills.
Improving specific writing skills
Now let’s look at how you can improve specific areas of your writing. We’ll cover:
- Email and letter writing
- Creative writing
- Paragraph writing
- Cohesion in writing
Tips for emails or letter writing in English
Do you write emails and or letters? If the answer is yes, here are some easy to remember tips.
(Do note, there are many similarities between emails and letter; so, let’s put the two together and call it email writing as there are more emails written these days than letters.)
- Write with the reader in mind – what message do you want to get across?
- Write in an active voice instead of passive voice, this makes your message clear.
- Avoid jargon to help your reader understand fully.
- Develop a personal, warm tone – personal emails are usually informal and business emails are usually formal or semi-formal.
- Avoid long sentences as these can be difficult to read.
- Use short paragraphs so you reader can follow easily.
- Write to the point and avoid unnecessary information.
Look at this email between colleagues. Notice the tips from above in action.
From: Sonika Gomez
To: Simran Raj
Subject: Request for new price list for Golden Glow face creams
We are presenting to some new clients next Monday 10 December and they are interested in our Golden Glow face creams.
I understand from Anya that the prices have changed recently. She mentioned that you have the new price list. Do you think you could email it to me?
I would be grateful if we could have it by close of business on Thursday 6 December. That would give us time to prepare for our presentation.
Thanks very much for your help.
Finally, there are a couple of important things you need to remember; email etiquette and the ‘KISS’ rule.
Email etiquette means you choose the right approach and level of formality. Semi-formal or formal emails, for example, use the correct salutation and sign off and usually avoid using contractions (I’d, we’re, you’ll etc.)
Learn more about email etiquette here.
The KISS rule is: Keep It Short & Simple – your reader will thank you!
Tips for creative writing
Let’s turn our thoughts to some fun writing; story writing in English, or creative writing. Are you curious as to what I am going to say here? Good! Then you are on the right track as creative writers should always be curious. Why? Because that’s where you will get your ideas from.
Look around you for inspiration, your family and personal experiences are great sources for interesting stories. The ordinary or the extraordinary events and people you have experienced lend colour to your life, don’t they?
Think of other stories from movies or plays you have seen. Are there ideas from there you can borrow?
- Think of stories that have different emotions. Step back into the past and think of your time in school, the friends you made and lost, your best friends in college and the ones you were so jealous of. Then the lovely warm moments, like being at home with wonderful grandparents you wished would live forever.
Turn your inspiration into a story. Think of the setting or backdrop of your story. All the people become the characters and all the emotions help you develop the narrative.
Develop your vocabulary, especially nouns, verbs and adjectives that will help you describe things and vary your language.
Are you starting out as a story writer? You can find some great beginner tips here.
Do you want to build your vocabulary to help your describe things? Start here with an activity on describing appearance.
Tips for paragraph writing
Why do we need paragraphs? Because they help the reader progress through your writing and understand your ideas. It is a good idea to write a new idea in each new paragraph. You can follow a basic paragraph structure to help you write clearly and logically.
Note that is normal to leave a line between each paragraph to clearly mark the division.
Look at this example to see good paragraphing in action:
My last holiday was a 3-week trip to Cairns in North Queensland, Australia. I know Cairns well because I lived there when I was at university, more than fifteen years ago.
Instead of staying in a hotel, I stayed with two of my old friends in their lovely spacious home. It was so much fun, and a little bit like my old life. I wanted to do all the same things I did in my university days, so I visited all the familiar places and mainly the university. It has changed, is a lot bigger and looks more modern. I also cycled down to the supermarket near my old house. I loved seeing all the different foods. I was really happy to find my favourite Woodside cheese and double coated chocolate Tim Tam biscuits, but they were a bit more expensive than I remember!
- Each paragraph has one central idea.
- There is a topic sentence which tells you what the paragraph is about. This is usually the first sentence in the paragraph.
- Add a few more sentences to give a supporting point or develop the idea written about in the topic sentence.
- The last sentence in each paragraph sums up the main idea of the paragraph and it can also link to the next paragraph.
To find out more about writing about a holiday like the example above visit this site.
Tips for cohesion in writing
Cohesion is the use of various cohesive devices to link individual sentences and ideas. This is required to make our ideas flow naturally and help the reader follow what we are saying.
Look at this paragraph and notice how the underlined words and phrases link the text together:
It is true that these days everything you want to know is a few clicks away as long as you have internet access. However, not everyone has working internet all the time, for example in certain buildings or remote locations, so we do need to be able to remember information. Moreover, it takes time to look up everything you need to know online, whereas remembering something is immediate. The human memory is a much more efficient system.
Here are some ideas to help you link your text:
- Use linking words, devices and expressions (although, in addition, what’s more etc.) to link different parts of text.
- Use signposting words like firstly, secondly, and finally.
- Use pronouns to refer to things mentioned before or after (I went out with Jo on Sunday. She looked awful).
- Organise or list your points (see how I use bullet points?)
- Use examples to support your point
- State contrasting ideas (on the other hand, however etc.)
- Write about consequences if any (as a result, due to this etc.)
Find out more about linking words here and here.
Are you ready to write? Get started now!