The Basics of Writing Well – Part 2
Good writing does not come from complicated word choice or dazzling literary technique. Simple and precise writing with rich, original examples will excite your audience and entice them to come back for more. The ability to write simply is the a common trait that all of our favorite writers share. The following tips will help you develop the skills necessary to succeed as a student of any subject; because, “If you cannot write well, you cannot think well, and if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” – George Orwell
Eliminate unnecessary words that don’t need to be there
If you’re not sure whether your writing is simple enough, try this exercise: highlight all the words in your essay that are not absolutely essential to each sentence (i.e. I think, quite, very, a bit, etc). Go back and read each sentence without the highlighted words. If your sentences now sound more clear and concise, then permanently delete the highlighted words. Use this simple acronym to help you remember: KISS (Keep it Short & Simple).
President Lincoln’s famous Second Inaugural Address consisted of only 700 words. About 500 of the 700 words contained only one syllable. Of the remaining 200 words, 120 of them contained only two syllables. Lincoln’s address proves that one can communicate effectively with simple prose.
Keeping a daily journal is a great way to improve your writing. The more you write, the better you will get at expressing yourself on paper.Daily writing refines your skills and helps make the process of writing become second nature — something that really helps especially on timed test such as the SAT or ACT where you are already under pressure. A daily practice also stimulates your creative mind and will provide ideas for your future writing.
The best way to improve your writing is to read the works of others. Studies show that students who read more have better writing skills. You need not limit yourself to textbooks or tedious novels. Make it fun by reading magazines, newspapers, short stories, and blogs. All will provide new ideas for your writing.
Novice writers are notorious for overstating something in order to appear more convincing. Overstatement, however, does not equal proof. For example, “John Johnson was the greatest astronaut that ever lived.” Not only is this statement unprovable, but the hyperbole itself fails to indicate why the author would assert such a thing. If your essay relies on hyperbole instead of proof, it is a weak essay.
Colloquial expressions should not be employed in formal writing because they sound too conversational. Using “well” to begin a sentence is one example. “Very” and “really” are also somewhat colloquial and often redundant, particularly when doubled, like so, “The history exam was really, really hard.”
Importance of a good vocabulary
Regardless of what you are writing, you should have a vocabulary that will provide clear communication of your ideas. It is critical to know the reading level of your audience and to adjust your vocabulary accordingly. Students of all ages should constantly work at improving their knowledge of words.
Paying attention to words used around you is the best way to increase your working vocabulary. Rote memorization of vocabulary words is not as effective as taking your time and writing down new words you read or hear. Word games with friends are also a great and entertaining way to broaden your lexicon.
A good vocabulary does not necessarily mean knowing many long or difficult words. Instead, it means knowing how to use the right words to clearly express yourself to your reader.
Blake H. is an instructor and tutor for Revolution Prep. Blake attended Cal Poly –SLO as an undergrad and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Architecture at California College of the Arts.