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6 Ways to Improve Your Writing

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The knowledge economy is one of the fastest growing industries in the world today, and still only in its inception stage. The language of this industry is writing, and those who wish to participate with savvy efficiency must have strong writing skills. While writing is often perceived as challenging, quality writing may be cultivated with practice, patience, and study. This blog will outline a comprehensive approach to improving your writing, emphasizing the need for practice, supportive study, knowing your audience, developing a confident and unique writing voice, and the simple disciplines which polish up any piece of writing. 

Writing Requirements Got You Down?

It is a paradox that elements which can be most inspiring can also be the most defeating, but the paradox hinges on the matter of perspective. There are many amazing writers accessible today, echoes from the past, and bright voices of today. With the pressure to perform building at every angle the examples of greatness and diversity can be as punishing as they are uplifting. However, the perspective to cultivate when seeking to improve your writing and be inspired by the greats is confidence. Confidence as a belief that you have something worth adding to the great conversation of humanity. The tips provided in this blog will each help nurture self-confidence, as they are all disciplines which nourish will power, an essential skill for writing. 

Confidence in your ability and right to express yourself through writing is a requirement in today’s world in which the knowledge economy is permeating all other industries. Growing daily, “Knowledge-intensive companies account for more than 40% of new employment growth during the past 50 years” (Brandt 166). Writing has become the primary way you present yourself and engage in the community of contemporary culture. Each one of these tips will help you become a better writer, but they are not all required, so as you read if one tip stands out intuitively more than the others try focusing on that one for a week. Now, to get to the meat of the intellectual brain-body mass building. 

The Writing Crisis

Indeed, there is a serious crisis when it comes to writing. Let's explore some key data:

  • According to a 2011 National Center for Educational Statistics report, almost 80% of students are not proficient when it comes to writing.
  • A P21.org employer study found that almost 30% of recent college graduates struggle with writing in the workplace.
  • Average SAT scores for writing are falling and they have been for many years.
  • Young high school students generally have an aversion to writing, as published in a PSU inquiry report.

It's extremely clear that there is a strong need for both guidance and third party writing help from trusted vendors.

The Writing Crisis - An Infographic PDF Download
Detailed statistics and metrics to explain the writing proficiency problem.
The Writing Crisis - An Infographic

Step #1: Practice Writing Daily

Practice is the route to success with any skill, and with writing this process of development never ends. However, writing is such a reflective, intuitive, and holistic practice that it also responds to the methods of creation. Thus, it is important to write on, about, and with many different tools. While writing on the computer is most efficient for data-driven reflections, it may not be as effective when writing creatively. Writing creatively requires both hemispheres of the brain to be active and engaged-synergized. While the left side may be content with the pluck and pound of a computer keyboard, the right brain needs to be romanced into giving up its perspective. Cultivating this relationship can be done through writing with pen and paper, as the act of writing longhand engages the creative right brain as well as the very feel of the paper and pen. 

Writing with pen and paper will take more time, but will also give your brain the chance to run through many permutations of expression. There are many ways to say anything, and knowing what you want to say is only the beginning, for choosing the way you express what you mean also has communicative power on an emotional level. During the course of writing longhand you will have ample time and space to discover what tones, phrases, and words best express your meaning in a fluid way which increases the enjoyment of both the process of self-expression through writing and its readability. Also, writing longhand has been scientifically proven to increase memory retention, so for those in school taking notes in this way will help cement the information in your mind (Mueller & Oppenheimer). 

When practicing private writing the conception of “best” is not helpful, because it is a space of personal reflection and cultivation. Unexpectedly out of the dross of rambling reflections gems may appear as a result of the space dedicated to nonjudgmental introversion, but these gems cannot be forced. Practicing writing is much like how Olympian athletes train, in that so much time and discipline is invested into the pre-game that the game itself appears effortless. In this way writing longhand is akin to the practice of Olympic swimmers training on a pool longer than the game pool so that when they are competing they will have increased stamina. For those who have a consistent practice of journaling, the requirements of college or writing in one’s profession will be much less challenging. 

Many successful writers have practiced their writing through journaling. However, this is out of the very love of writing and not out of a sense of duty to the craft. Here are a few ramblings of successful writers on their journaling: 

  • Virginia Woolf: I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat.
  • Franz Kafka: In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.
  • Susan Sontag: In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.
  • Anais Nin: This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions… I must relive my life in the dream. (Temple)

Step #2: The Essential Support of Reading

After practicing writing the best way to improve your writing is to read. Reading is like traveling for the mind, the imagination, and the heart. A writer who did not read would be like a tour-guide who had never been outside their apartment. As Victor Hugo wrote, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark” (Babauta). The more you read the more you fuel the fire of your imagination, experience, and insight. Not to mention learn a working in depth vocabulary, the structure of grammar, and how to structure a story. For even in academic writing, the power of a story structure exists as it is the most effective way to communicate in ways that are remembered. 

There are all types of writers, styles of writing, and ways of approaching any writing subject. The most effective writers are those who know the rules of writing, but know when to bend or even break them in order to make a point. As Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read” (Babauta). The most effective way to boost your reading capacity is to always carry a book on you, for you never know when a window will be discovered or created to cultivate this relationship. 

Benefits of Reading
See how reading can help you in school, work and life.
The Benefits of Reading

The more you read the more connected you will feel with the literary community, and the more prepared you will be to add your voice to the cacophony of brilliance. According to a Huffington Post article, reading improves not only your vocabulary, but most aspects of your life. If you have tried to do this and found yourself uninspired that is likely because you have yet to find the writers you love. Remember what Stephen King wrote on this, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that” (Hanski). Do not give up, keep searching, experimenting, and if you find a writer you like research what writers they write, and let the expansion begin. For more information about the pros of hitting the books, check out another Ultius article titled Six Ways Reading Makes You a Better Writer.

Step #3: Finding Your Unique Voice

With all the writing going on today if your writing is going to make an impact it must have a unique and authentic voice. Your writing voice is your style, tone, and the way you present yourself through your writing. Writing in your voice will have many profound impacts on your writing, making it:

  1. More fun to read and to create.
  2. Enable it to be remembered by readers.
  3. Easier to write because you will not be going through a complicated deliberation over how to sound, but will chose to sound like you.
  4. Build your reputation (and even explore writing careers with Ultius).
  5. Bring out your unique perspective on what you are writing about, which increases its value.

The most effective way to discover your unique writing voice is to understand who you are, and cultivate self-awareness. This comes with time, and is greatly aided by the process of journaling. A major pitfall that many young writers make is trying to sound more intelligent (or knowledgeable) than they are, and the insecurity in this act comes through, weakening the entire work. So, rather than present any inauthentic, let every writing become an investigation into yourself. This will give your education the added boost of being a practice of cultivating self-awareness. Blog writer Jeff Goins offers a few tips for those who need some guidance in discovering their unique voice:

  • Describe yourself in three adjectives. Example: snarky, fun, and flirty.
  • Ask (and answer) the question: “Is this how I talk?”
  • Imagine your ideal reader. Describe him in detail. Then, write to him, and only him. Example: My ideal reader is smart. He has a sense of humor, a short attention span…
  • Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
  • Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice. (Goins)

When you have discovered and cultivated your authentic and unique writing voice absolutely anything you choose to write about can become interesting. A good place to look for examples of writing with a unique voice is the Ultius company blog. Here, our most talented writers contribute their views and analysis on some of the most relevant topics of the day.

Step #4: Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is tantamount to knowing what language to communicate with. Without a thorough understanding of the type of people intended to read your writing the style of communication chosen could miss the mark. For example, if you are writing a sample argumentative essay then doing an audience analysis is always a requirement. The mark is your personal best in quality, applicability, and style. When the mark is hit your writing will not only be effective at communication, but will leave a lasting impression which will help establish your reputation.

Three ways to know your audience are to:

1) Talk with them;
2) Study their demographical character; and
3) Read their writing. 

In the sales industry, knowing your audience is also called “Mirroring”, and refers to speaking to the customer in the same style that they communicate with you. This style is cadence, word choice, speed, and even volume. Mirroring is done so the customer can quickly understand what is being communicated, and feels welcome and comfortable with the speaker. However, when doing this there is a line that must never be crossed, and that line is part of the delineation of your mark. While some of your audience may not be as intelligent, well read, or have English as their first language, it is key never to talk down to your audience. The difference between making things simple and talking/writing down is the assumption that the audience is stupid. Whether or not this is anywhere near accurate, the assumption will bleed through the lines of your writing and offend people resulting in your mark being missed.

Also key in knowing your audience is knowing what sector of the knowledge economy is looking to utilize the writing you are specializing in (Bentley, Tinney, and Chia 117). This is no less true while in college since the class you are writing for reflects the economy you are training for. 

Step #5: The Power of Research 

Research is a key aspect of successful writing in college and beyond (click here for a detailed guide on doing academic research). The more you research the more qualified you will become to contribute something of value to any discussion. The very process of research is education in action, and studies reveal that students who write with their research at hand (in front of them=accessible) show a more comprehensive understanding of their topic as they are more likely to reread and research in depth during the process of writing (Stotsky 630). No one learns or creates in a vacuum, and many brilliant creators through history have propped up their insights through a generous helping of study from other experts. 

A supportive aspect of research is that any aspect of writing you are unfamiliar with (format, citation styles, etc.) can be researched as well. There are many writing guides available for the complex requirements for Thesis Proposals, Studies, Dissertations, and the various permutations of the academic landscape. While at first such new dimensions of expression may be daunting, following a writing guide is akin to learning the rules of game before playing it. Research is the exploration which enables the discovery which will be shared through writing, and during research it is helpful to create notecards with facts and quotes which will support your writing. Also, during the research process the framework for the paper may emerge in the form of an outline as the most penetrating themes emerge. Research is the journey to the culmination of the writing, and no step on the journey goes to waste for those who are paying attention and enjoying the process. 

Step #6: Proofread Your Work 

Proofreading is a key step to improving your writing, and one of the final steps before releasing the creation into the world. Effective proof reading entails knowing what to look for, and these tips will help you polish up the writing effort. Firstly, whenever possible proof read on a different day than you finish the work. This time away will give your brain a chance to refresh itself from the intensive process of creation, giving you the objectivity to see errors. Also, it is helpful to have one or more other people proof read the work due to the simple fact that their objectivity may uncover errors the creator would miss. Make sure you print out your draft, because proofreading on the computer can be more difficult due to eye strain. Here are a few specific and common grammar errors to look out for:

  • Watch Out for Homonyms: Switching accept with except or complement with compliment could be disastrous, so pay attention to them.
  • Watch Out for Contractions and Apostrophes: People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. 
  • Check the Punctuation: Focusing on the words is good, but do not neglect the punctuation. Pay attention to capitalized words, missing or extra commas, periods used incorrectly and so on.
  • Check the Numbers: Stating that the value of an acquisition was $10,000 instead of $100,000 is definitely not the same thing. What about the population of China, is it 1,2 million or 1,2 billion? (Daily Writing Tips)

If proofreading becomes overwhelming, just remember you can always proofread as you go (or hire a trusted proofreading service like Ultius). Also, largely unknown is the benefit of reading your work out load to proof read. The brain automatically corrects for mistakes when reading, but when reading aloud awkward or wrong syntax stands out like a sore thumb and is much easier to correct. If you do not have people you trust to help you with your proof reading there are professional editing services available online for just such a purpose.

Check out our tips on tools and technology for writers to help you be a great writer!

Concluding Thoughts on Improving Writing

These tips to improving your writing are also tips to improve the experience of education and the cultivation of the fruits thereof. Practicing writing everyday through journaling will bring you into more playful and intimate contact with the mechanics of expression. Reading will immerse you in the community of expression, fueling your imagination with inspiration even as it nourishes your desire for mental adventure. Journaling and reading will help you find your unique voice, your authentic contribution to the collective conversation of culture. Knowing your audience will allow you to reach them with the value of what you have to share. The process of researching will sharpen the tools of your mind, and expand your conceptions of any topic (explore the Ultius essay writing guide for more information on this topic). Proof reading is the final polishing of the gem of your efforts, adding the spit and shine which will reflect your passion into the world. 

So, try these tips! You have a unique and valuable contribution to make to the world, one which no one else could do. Your expression is carried on the confidence and clarity of your voice, and in the bravery of your authenticity. Remember: Practice Makes Awesome! 

Works Cited

Babauta, Leo. “How to Use Reading to Become a Better Writer.” Write to Done, 2016. Retrieved from: http://writetodone.com/how-to-use-reading-to-become-a-better-writer/

Bentley, J.P.H., Mari Vawn Tinney, and Bing Howe Chia. “Intercultural Internet-based learning: Know your audience and what it values.” Educational Technology Research and Development 53.2 (2005): 117-127. Retrieved from: http://miketsao.coe.uga.edu/projecth/read/Intercultural%20Internet-Based%20Learning.pdf

Brandt, Deborah. “Writing for a living literacy and the knowledge economy.” Written Communication 22.2 (2005): 166-197. Retrieved from: http://writingaboutwriting.umassd.wikispaces.net/file/view/brandt_647.pdf/309665800/brandt_647.pdf

Daily Writing Tips. “8 Proofreading Tips And Techniques.” Dailywritingtips.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/8-proofreading-tips-and-techniques/

Goins, Jeff. “10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice.” Goinswriter.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://goinswriter.com/writing-voice/

Hanski, Mike. “Want to Be a Better Writer? Read More.” The Huffington Post, 22 Jun. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-hanski/read-more_b_5192754.html

Mueller, Pam A., and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard

Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.” Psychological Science, 23 Apr. 2014. Retrieved from: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/22/0956797614524581.abstract

Stotsky, Sandra. “Research on reading/writing relationships: A synthesis and suggested directions.” Language arts 60.5 (1983): 627-642. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED243139.pdf#page=16

Temple, Emily. “10 Famous Authors on the Importance of Keeping a Journal.” Flavorwire.com. 29 Jan. 2013. Retrieved from: http://flavorwire.com/367030/10-famous-authors-on-the-importance-of-keeping-a-journal

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