There is a belief, among many students, that some of us are just good writers and some of us are not and never will be. Nothing could be more wrong! Good or poor writing is the result of several factors:
- The training that begins at the elementary school level. Whether is it called communication arts, language arts or just plain English, the course work should follow a sequential curriculum. This means that teachers of English, and, ultimately, English writing skills, are well trained to teach it. Unfortunately, at the elementary level, teachers must be “Jacks of all trades,” and their skill sets may lie in areas other than English!
- Careful and Regular Feedback: When students write, no matter what the grade level, they need to get feedback, so that they can remediate their skill challenges. If no one ever teaches and re-teaches sentence structure problems, the student moves on and continues to write fragments and run-ons! Unfortunately, (again), teachers of English have many students and only so many hours for evaluating student writing, making corrections and comments or finding the time to have a personal remediation session with an individual student.
- Students at the secondary and college levels are often un-motivated to be proactive in their search for help to improve their essay writing. They lack the time, amidst all of their other course work, employment, and activity demands; they accept the fact that they will never be good writers and take the low grades or find others to write essays and papers for them; they are looking toward jobs and/or careers that will only require minimal writing (or so they think!). If, on the other hand, they take those pro-active steps, through tutoring or writing labs, they really can improve!
How to Improve English Writing Skills
Students and adults alike can always embark upon a plan to improve their writing skills. Here is a list of some very concrete methods for doing this – methods that research shows really work!
- Read – Read A Lot: Research does show that people who are really vociferous readers ultimately have better writing skills. Read anything! There are great novels that are of high interest, and the authors of these novels use good grammar! You don’t have to read those boring classics that are always a part of English classes. Read some contemporary authors like John Grisham, Le Chiles, or James Patterson – they write stuff you will not be able to put down!
- Practice: This strategy cannot be emphasized enough! You just need to write, even if the grammar, spelling, and punctuation is poor. Better yet, write using Word and activate the grammar and spell check features. Then, when you get that red line, you can click and see the correct spelling. When you get the green line, be sure to go there and click the grammar function. It will explain how the phrase or sentence should be corrected, and it will tell you why! Be mindful, however, that grammar checks do not catch everything, like agreement between subjects and verbs, verb tenses, and such, but you will get the basics that will help you with sentence fragments and run-ons. You can refine the others things at a later date.
- Get a Writing Coach: This may be a private tutor (you will have to pay) or the services of a writing lab on campus. Gradually, you will begin to pick up the skills of better writing. The other plus of using a writing lab is that you can take your essay and paper assignments in and get “real time” help with stuff you will actually have to turn in for a grade. A big plus!
- Get a Grammar and Composition Textbook: No, this does not sound too exciting, but if you are really motivated, you need to start at the beginning of the book and work through every chapter – remember, to improve English writing skills, you need sequential learning! And, if you go to a big box book retailer, you will find lots of books that are better than that old grammar text you had in high school! They really are getting better at this stuff now. And do the assignments that are in the book – all of them!
Good writing is not an art – it is a science. There are rules to follow for sentence and paragraph structure; there are rules for punctuation and spelling; there are important ways in which you have to organize content so that it flows well. The “art” part of writing lies in creativity. There are many creative people, however, who are not good writers and who wish they were. As you pass into adulthood, moreover, do not think that you will never have to use writing skills. You may have to compose letters or memos; you may have to email your boss; you may have to prepare a report. Good writing is a must for everyone, no matter how much our technology advances!