As students at all levels head back to the classroom this fall, and as e-mails become more and more the way we communicate, now is a good time to review some basic writing skills. With the continuing growth of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in, good, clear writing is more important today than ever before. Here are six tips to improve your writing.
1. Don't be intimidated by the white page, the blank screen, or the keyboard waiting for your touch. Writing is communication, not all that different from talking. As a writer, you're talking to the person who'll be reading your writing. Relax. And talk to the person, with the help of your pencil, pen, or keystrokes.
2. Rules are boring, especially grammar rules. Who wants to think about what the past perfect tense is, or how to use it? Still ... an innate sense of how these rules come together to form a language is a good thing, and needed for clear writing. How to brush up on these rules without dusting off a 6th-grade English text book? Read. That's it. Read everyday. Something. A good place to start is with the daily newspaper. Subscribe, buy one at 7-11, or pick up one of the many free papers available all over the city and suburbs. Read from a variety of publications, from the latest bestselling novel to a nonfiction book on a subject you're fascinated by. Reading everyday will help you understand how writers use the language. Your writing will improve.
3. Don't write run-on sentences that shift from talk about your night out at a restaurant to your dreams for world peace to your memories about growing up in Seattle during the 1960s, when everything seemed less hurried. Break the sentences and your thought patterns down. You went with your family to an amazing French restaurant last night. How do the French do it?
Thoughts, and sentences, deserve time. And space. Don't run them together.
4. Don't overuse the exclamation mark. Think of it this way: you don't speak as if most sentences end with an exclamation mark. Don't write that way.
Exclamation marks should only be used to show excitement, or alarm. If a character in a story you're writing sees a baby about to touch a hot radiator, she may shout, "No!" Or ... (as just happened to me, two minutes ago) if someone in your piece drives their finger into the sharp end of an exposed nail, he may shout, "Ow! Damn it!"
But besides expressions of genuine excitement, or alarm, be prudent when using this punctuation mark.
Actually, the exposed-nail incident reminds me of something: the overuse of the exclamation mark is like the overuse of what used to be known as "cuss" words. If your writing is filled with cuss words -- or profanity -- or exclamation marks, then, when the occasion arises when they are needed, they will have lost their potency.
5. Remember the declarative sentence. When we first learned to read and write in first grade, we learned sentences like "Ann went up the hill with David." In a way, if you can understand that sentence, and how it's put together, you can understand how to write.
Everything in the language grows from the declarative sentence. Nail that, and you're on your way.
6. Vary your sentence types. Don't write sentence after sentence of the same length or grammatical form. Mix things up. Long sentences next to short ones. Sentences with phrases at the end and sentences with phrases at the beginning. Maybe a foreign phrase sometimes, n'est-ce pas?
The point is: writing, like life, can get boring when there's no variety. Spice up your writing. Like adding salt, pepper, and oregano to your tomato sauce, mixing up your sentence types will add flavor to your writing.
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