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A (Very) Simple Way to Improve Your Writing

  • Mark Rennella

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It’s called the “one-idea rule” — and any level of writer can use it.

The “one idea” rule is a simple concept that can help you sharpen your writing, persuade others by presenting your argument in a clear, concise, and engaging way. What exactly does the rule say?

  • Every component of a successful piece of writing should express only one idea.
  • In persuasive writing, your “one idea” is often the argument or belief you are presenting to the reader. Once you identify what that argument is, the “one-idea rule” can help you develop, revise, and connect the various components of your writing.
  • For instance, let’s say you’re writing an essay. There are three components you will be working with throughout your piece: the title, the paragraphs, and the sentences.
  • Each of these parts should be dedicated to just one idea. The ideas are not identical, of course, but they’re all related. If done correctly, the smaller ideas (in sentences) all build (in paragraphs) to support the main point (suggested in the title).

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Most advice about writing looks like a long laundry list of “do’s and don’ts.” These lists can be helpful from time to time, but they’re hard to remember … and, therefore, hard to depend on when you’re having trouble putting your thoughts to paper. During my time in academia, teaching composition at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I saw many people struggle with this.

Often, students would begin with strong ideas, but have trouble focusing their thoughts when it came time to translating those ideas into words  — resulting in essays with loose, distracted, and ultimately, confusing arguments. It’s not that their ideas weren’t valuable. There were just too many of them to digest at once.

Luckily, there is a (memorable) strategy that can help any level of writer greatly improve their work. I call it the one-idea rule:  Every component of a successful piece of writing should express only one idea.

You may be familiar with some of the variations of this rule, like the Pyramid Principle or  Purdue’s rules of thumb for paragraphs. After all, every great essay, article, or written work is grounded by a foundational idea — one that equally inspires the author and their audience.

In persuasive writing, which we will focus on here, your one idea is often the argument or belief you are presenting to the reader. Once you identify what that argument is, the “one-idea rule” can help you develop, revise, and connect the various components of your writing in a clear and convincing way.

For instance, let’s say you’re writing an essay. There are three components you’ll be working with throughout your piece: the title, the paragraphs, and the sentences. Each of these parts should be dedicated to just one idea. The ideas are not identical, of course, but they’re all related. If done correctly, the smaller ideas (in sentences) all build (in paragraphs) to support the main point (suggested in the title).

Why should you follow this rule?

There are many advantages to using the one-idea rule, but I’ll point out three that are particularly important:

You will sharpen your focus.  Many written pieces fail to be persuasive because they include too many ideas rather than too few. Having a clear end goal will keep you disciplined.

You will make more discoveries (and have more fun). Focus gives you freedom. When you have one specific idea you’re trying to portray, you can then experiment more broadly throughout your piece or even take a little detour without losing sight of your main point. You can dig more deeply into certain details, as long as they are related to the title, or your main idea.

You will become more confident. Knowing that you’re following a rule that describes all good writing gives you a chance to assess the quality of your own work, as well as the work of others — including your peers, your colleagues, and even well-known authors. Great writing is a skill, and once you understand how to structure papers in a compelling way, you’ll gain the confidence to decide what makes a piece truly interesting and persuasive.

How to Get Started

This rule may sound simple, but it takes practice to master.

So, what should you do the next time you begin an assignment, and you face the terrifying abyss of a blank page and a blinking cursor? How can you identify what your big “idea” is?

These three steps can help sharpen your focus.

1) Find an angle.

Maybe you’re writing on a topic that was assigned to you by an editor or a professor. Maybe you’re brainstorming a piece to pitch to a media outlet. Or maybe there is a subject you want to tackle but your focus feels too broad. Whatever the case, you have to come up with an angle — a clear and refreshing perspective on the topic at hand that presents a specific, unique, and well-supported argument or “idea.”

If you don’t know what argument you want to make, then you’re in trouble. To figure it out, ask yourself questions about the topic that tease out details related to it:

  • What do I know about this topic?
  • What do I not know about this topic but want to learn?
  • What inspires me about this topic?
  • Would others also find these issues interesting?

As you answer these questions, useful insights, questions, and unknowns will arise. For instance, perhaps you are interested in writing about “Mental Health on College Campuses.” Answering the questions listed above, may lead you down a path of discovery:

  • “I’ve seen on the news that many college students are depressed or dropping out.”
  • “I don’t know many details about mental health issues on college campuses specific to this pandemic.”
  • “It would be great to discover new solutions to the problem or find the best existing solutions, and explain them clearly to readers.”
  • Students themselves, and institutions trying to support them, may be interested.

From here, you might start out with the goal of writing about “solutions to mental health problems faced by college students.” That’s a good start, but it’s still too vague, and may be challenging for you (someone just beginning to study the issue) to tackle effectively.

The good news is that you can narrow down your idea. Coming up with a headline is a great way to do this. For example, you might title your paper, “3 Ways Colleges Can Address Mental Health Issues Among Students.” Notice how your focus immediately narrows. This will help you stay on track and investigate a clearer solution to the problem you have identified.

2) Find evidence .

Now that you have chosen a single idea or issue to discuss, assemble facts, evidence, or data that may be useful or surprising to others, and that also support the point you want to make. Sticking with our original example, research a few ideas about “mental health in college” to draw a reader’s attention:

  • Stats about college enrollment and dropout rates in the last two years
  • Percentage of students feeling isolated
  • Greatest mental health challenges students are facing
  • What universities are currently doing to help
  • What universities are not doing to help
  • Preventive measures for mental health problems
  • Stigmas around discussing mental health
  • Impacts of virtual class vs. in-person class

As you research, a few of these ideas may jump out to you as directly supportive of your argument. Be sure to record them. Likewise, take note of any evidence you come across that counters your argument. If you are able to call out and address counterpoints before the reader discovers them, you will strengthen your main idea.

While you’re brainstorming details to include in your essay, be careful to exclude examples that aren’t obviously related to that main idea (e.g., cafeteria food on campus), unless that information provides some pertinent information or context (e.g., bad food depresses students).

3) Outline .

Organize the pertinent evidence or examples you have discovered to create an outline for your piece. If all of your examples are obviously related to the main topic, then it will be relatively easy to order them into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The main elements of the outline are marked in bold:

  • Main Idea / Title : 3 Ways Colleges Can Address Mental Health Issues Among Students
  • Statistics about enrollment and drop-out rates in the last two years
  • Students feeling isolated despite being grouped in dorms
  • Stigma around talking openly about mental health
  • How should instructors help and reach out to students?
  • Preventive measures for mental health problems at school
  • Creating psychologically safe spaces on campus
  • Using Zoom to help people wherever they are
  • Finding novel ways to gather
  • Conclusion : Colleges can do more to create safe spaces for students to vocalize their mental health needs. The more students who seek help, the more lives will be improved. Those students will walk away with skills that can help them now, and in the future.

You can gut check your idea by sharing your outline with an audience, like your trusted peers, family members, or friends. Pay attention to their reactions. Ask them questions about what they liked or didn’t; what they didn’t understand; what they want to know more about. These are exactly the kinds of question about an essay’s main idea that you should ask yourself each time you work on a paper. Then, adjust your outline (including the title when appropriate) based on what you learned from your discussions.

This should be enough to get you off to a strong start. If you continue to practice, you can turn this exercise into a productive habit. It can be particularly useful when you face an assignment that seems either uninteresting or too difficult. Find just one foundational idea that interests you about any subject , and you will be able to summon the motivation, energy, and direction required to finish the task, and do it well.

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  • MR Mark Rennella is Associate Editor at HBP and has published two books, Entrepreneurs, Managers, and Leaders and The Boston Cosmopolitans .  

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7 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

Writing, like any other skill, is something you can get better at with time and practice. Learn how.

[Featured Image]: A woman with curly hair and wearing a white long sleeve shirt, writing in her notebook, while sitting in front of her computer.

From sending emails to preparing presentations, writing is often a day-to-day task in many professions spanning diverse industries. Writing skills go beyond grammar and spelling. Accuracy, clarity, persuasiveness, and several other elements play a part in ensuring your writing is conveying the right message.

What are writing skills?

Writing is a technical skill that you use to communicate effectively through the written word. Though these may vary depending on what you’re writing, there are several that transcend categories. Writing skills can more specifically include:

Sentence construction

Research and accuracy


Each of these components can influence the quality of writing.

Why are writing skills important?

Being able to write well is a form of effective communication , which many employers see as a crucial job skill . In fact, strong communication—spanning written, verbal, non-verbal, and visual—is among the nine common employability skills that employers seek in job candidates.

Regardless of your role, with good writing skills, you can clearly transcribe your thoughts into meaningful messages, enabling you to share your ideas, build relationships, and strengthen your professional image.

Learn more: Important Communication Skills and How to Improve Them

How to improve your writing skills

Writing, like any other skill, is something we can get better at with time and practice. Here are some strategies for developing your own written communication:

1. Review grammar and spelling basics.

Grammar and spelling form the foundation of good writing. Writing with proper grammar and spelling communicates your professionality and attention to detail to your reader. It also makes your writing easier to understand.  

Plus, knowing when and how to use less-common punctuation, like colons, semicolons, and em-dashes, can unlock new ways to structure sentences and elevate your writing. 

If you’re looking to strengthen your grammar and spelling, start by consulting a writing manual. The Elements of Style by William Stunk and E.B. White has long been considered a staple for writers. You can find similar resources at your local library, bookstore, or online.

2. Read what you want to write.

Knowing what a finished piece of writing can look like can guide your own. If you’re trying to write a humorous short story, read humorous short stories. Writing a book review? Find a few and take note of how they’re structured. Pay attention to what makes them good and what you want to emulate (without plagiarizing, of course). If you’re working on a school assignment, you can ask your instructor for examples of successful pieces from past students.

Make reading a part of your everyday life to improve your writing. Try reading the news in the morning or picking up a book before you head to bed. If you haven’t been a big reader in the past, start with topics you’re interested in, or ask friends and family for recommendations. You’ll gradually begin to understand what subjects, genres, and authors you enjoy.

3. Proofread.

While it’s tempting to submit work as soon as you’re done with it, build in some time to revisit what you’ve written to catch errors big and small. Here are a few proofreading tips to keep in mind:

Set your work aside before you edit. Try to step away from your writing for a day or more so you can come back to it with fresh, more objective eyes. Crunched for time? Even allotting 20 minutes between writing and proofreading can allow you to approach your work with renewed energy.

Start with easy fixes, then progress to bigger changes. Starting with easier changes can get you in the rhythm for proofreading, allow you to read through your work once more, and clear distractions so you can focus on bigger edits. Read through your work to catch misspellings, inconsistencies, and grammar errors. Then address the larger problems with structure or awkward transitions. 

If you could say something in fewer words, do so. Being unnecessarily wordy can cloud your message and confuse the reader. Pare down phrases that are redundant, repetitive, or obvious.

Read out loud. Reading out loud can help you find awkward phrases and areas where your writing doesn’t flow well. 

Should you use computer spelling and grammar tools?

Many computer-based tools—like spell check on your word processor, or Grammarly — can help you find and fix simple spelling and grammar errors. These tools are not perfect but can help even the most seasoned of writers avoid mistakes. Take note of any frequently highlighted words or phrases so that you can avoid the same mistakes in the future.

4. Get feedback.

Whether you’re writing emails or essays, asking for feedback is a great way to see how somebody besides yourself will interpret your text. Have an idea of what you’d like your proofreader to focus on—the structure, conclusion, the persuasiveness of an argument, or otherwise. 

Approach a trusted friend, family member, coworker, or instructor. If you’re a student, your school might also have a writing resource center you can reach out to. 

You might also consider forming a writing group or joining a writing class. Find writing courses online, at your local community college, or at independent writing workshops in your city.

5. Think about structure.

Grammar and spelling keep your writing consistent and legible, but structure ensures the big ideas get across to the reader.

In many cases, forming an outline will help solidify structure. An outline can clarify what you’re hoping to convey in each section, enable you to visualize the flow of your piece, and surface parts that require more research or thought. 

Structure might look different depending on what you’re writing. An essay typically has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A fiction piece might follow the six-stage plot structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement. Choose what’s best for your purposes.

Like many skills, one of the best ways to improve your writing is to practice. Here are a few ways you can get started:

Start a journal or a blog.

Join a class or writing workshop.

Practice free writing.

Write letters to friends or family.

Put together an opinion piece for your local newspaper or publication you like.

7. Know some common fixes.

Even if a text is grammatically correct, you may be able to make it more dynamic and interesting with some polish. Here are some common ways you can sharpen your writing:

Choose strong verbs (for example, “sprinted,” “dashed,” or “bolted” instead of “ran”).

Avoid passive voice.

Vary sentence length.

Cut unnecessary words.

Replace cliches with original phrasing.

Showing your writing skills in a job search

Your writing skills will shine throughout the job search process , whether or not you intend to show them off. This is because job applications are largely written materials, including your cover letter , resume , and email communications . Use these opportunities to demonstrate your writing skills to prospective employers by submitting clear, accurate, and engaging materials.

Additionally, if you have specialized expertise, such as experience with legal writing, medical writing, technical writing, or scientific writing, you can note that in a resume skills section and further detail that experience within your cover letter or during your interviews .

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Getting started

Whether you’re a scientist or a product manager, journalist or entrepreneur, writing effectively will enable you to communicate your ideas to the world. Through practice, exposure, and familiarizing yourself with basic rules, you’ll be able to use your writing to say exactly what you want to say.

If you’re looking for a structured way to expand your writing skillset, explore writing courses on Coursera —the first week is free.

Give your team access to a catalog of 8,000+ engaging courses and hands-on Guided Projects to help them develop impactful skills. Learn more about Coursera for Business .

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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  • Build the skills you need to succeed, anytime you need them—whether you’re starting your first job, switching to a new career, or advancing in your current role.

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Cut Words

How To Improve Your Writing By Cutting Eight Words

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It’s often said that editing is a process of subtraction. Write what feels right and then keep cutting what doesn’t work until you’re left with something that does. It’s not the whole truth, but as a theory it does address a crucial truth of great writing – it’s not just about what you write, but what you choose to remove.

Many authors have unique issues that can only be addressed by this kind of editing – you might overuse certain terms or struggle to write dialogue – but there are also common problems that crop up for every writer. These are the words and phrases that sap pace, weaken writing, and bore readers.

In this article, I’ll be identifying eight of the worst offenders, and offering tricks to banish them from your writing. I’ll provide examples so you can see the immediate improvement that cutting these words has, and include practice sentences so you can try it out for yourself. Before that, though, there’s something you need to remember…

Writing isn’t editing, editing isn’t writing

The quote ‘write drunk, edit sober’ is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. As literal advice it’s questionable, but as a comment on the different mindsets needed for each activity it’s spot on. Writing is about expression – it’s a purely creative endeavor, translating bustling, energetic thought to the page. Editing is just as vital to the finished product, but it’s a meticulous, detail-orientated task that requires a very different approach.

As an author, it’s easy to try and mix these two activities – to write a sentence and then rework it again and again before moving onto the next. As tempting as this can be, it usually ends up being the worst of both worlds. You’ll likely find that you lose your train of thought and creative energy, while lacking the bigger picture needed to make genuinely useful editorial contributions.

Instead, try to separate the processes. Write then edit, write then edit, and try to keep one from spoiling the other. The words and phrases I’m going to list below are poor storytelling, but they’re also common expressions that are easy to fall back on when you’re writing. Trying to pick up on them as you go – or trying to banish them from your authorial vocabulary – isn’t effective, and can prove incredibly irritating. Instead, use them with abandon as you write, then hunt them down when you edit. No matter how many of these troublesome terms you find in your writing, don’t reprimand yourself; writing is about refining creative thought into engaging expression, and every one of the words below that you cut is another step on that journey.

#8 – ‘Quickly’ (and nearly every other adverb)

Including adverbs in your writing is like adding salt to a meal; small quantities can add flavor, but overdo it and you’ll spoil the whole thing. Modern writing is more concerned with adverbs than ever before, and many of the top pieces of writing software now come with a built-in adverb detector to tell you when you’re using too many. So why is it that this type of word is so reviled?

[bctt tweet=”Including too many adverbs in your writing can spoil it.”]

The answer is that adverbs are seldom necessary. They’re an immediate way of sharing how something was done, but creative writing offers better ways of communicating this information. The most obvious is in the choice of verb. Consider the following sentence:

He ran quickly ahead, looking back contemptuously over his shoulder.

While not ‘wrong’ this sentence is certainly inelegant, since it uses so many words to establish a single image. It’s something you could get away with as a one-off, but if multiple sentences are written in this style then the reader will start to get bored. Instead, choose verbs that communicate the same information:

He galloped ahead, sneering back over his shoulder.

Alternatively, consider whether the additional description is even necessary. ‘Contemptuously’ adds an attitude that needs to be conveyed in some way, but ‘quickly’ doesn’t add any specificity to ‘ran’:

He ran ahead, sneering back over his shoulder.

This logic is especially applicable when attributing dialogue . It’s here that adverbs sound most tacked-on, since they’re usually part of a three-word phrase. Below I’ve listed a few examples of adverbs in dialogue attribution, each of which is followed by an improved rewrite where the verb is used to better effect.

“Leave me alone!” she shouted sadly. → “Leave me alone!” she wailed. “Just sit down,” he said pleadingly. → “Just sit down,” he begged. “It’s not your money,” she said quietly. → “It’s not your money,” she murmured.

In the examples above, as in most cases, the presence of adverbs makes the description seem more clinical – a bare bones account that makes the reader feel removed from the situation. Proper verb use, on the other hand, makes the moment more immediate, inviting the reader in.

Adverbs can also be rendered pointless by the context of a story. Stephen King covers this in his memoir On Writing :

Consider the sentence ‘He closed the door firmly’… You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between ‘He closed the door’ and ‘He slammed the door’, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant? – Stephen King, On Writing

It’s a combination of the factors I’ve listed above that make adverbs so treacherous – you usually don’t need them and, when you do, there’s usually a verb that can do the job better. It doesn’t mean that you should scour every adverb from your story, but it does mean that you should ask important questions about whether an adverb has really earned its place.

If you want to try your hand at discerning whether adverbs need to be removed, incorporated into verbs, or replaced by context, then you can use the paragraph below for practise:

“I want to join the circus,” I said weakly. Mother sucked her teeth sourly. “And do what?” she asked incredulously. It was a question I had been ready for, and I felt my back straighten. “Tame lions,” I said confidently. “There’s no money in it,” she said definitively. “Well, I might require a small loan to get started,” I said carefully. Mother looked up at me quickly, smiling cruelly. “Ah, now we come to it,” she said triumphantly.

#7 – ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’

Sticking with adverbs, ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ are twin terms that can most commonly be found trying to ruin action scenes. These words are especially tricky, since authors are often fooled into thinking they help a scene.

[bctt tweet=”‘Forward’ and ‘backward’ are terms that can often ruin your action scenes.”]

‘Forward’ and ‘backward’ are choreographing words, describing to your reader exactly how to imagine the action. The problem is that action works best when most of it is left up to the reader’s imagination. Many writers struggle with action because they feel like they won’t be able to paint an accurate picture in a reader’s mind. Their solution is to qualify every term, describing exactly what they see in their mind’s eye.

Unfortunately, doing this often has the opposite effect. It’s easy to become too precise, losing both the pace and the reader’s attention:

He gathered all his strength and swung forward, every ounce of his power in the swing. At the last second he realised she had seen it coming, and could do nothing as she stepped back, throwing her knee up and into his chin. He reeled backward, realising he had nothing left as he began the long fall down to the canvas.

The sentence above contains too much information. It takes two separate sentences for a punch to be thrown and for it to miss. This may not seem like a problem, but writing a fight scene (or any kind of action) is about recreating the experience, not explaining what happened. The reader needs to feel like they’re in the thick of it, and allowing them to do the choreographing is the best way of making that happen:

He swung as hard as he could but she darted aside, coming back with a knee to the chin that had him on the floor before he knew what was happening. He spat blood and tried to rise, but there was nothing left to give.

Here things happen quickly, and while the key details remain the same (punch, knee, down), the reader is asked to add their own fine details. Remember that action scenes are all about saying what happens . Saying how it happens is a luxury that can get in the way of this goal, and approaching it that way will do wonders for your writing.

If you want to practise focusing on events over method, you can use the paragraph below:

The horse panicked as soon as she was on top of it, whipping its head back and around. Its legs kicked up behind it and she was thrown forward, grabbing its mane and pulling back to try and regain some control. She held on for perhaps a minute until, suddenly, it lurched forward, bowing low, and she was thrown free, tumbling spur over hat into the dirt.

#6 – ‘Very’, ‘Really’ and ‘Quite’

‘Very’, ‘really’ and ‘quite’ are all examples of false intensifiers. That is, they’re words that are meant to make something seem more extreme, but often have the opposite effect. A man who’s described as ‘very tall’ isn’t imagined any more clearly, or any differently, to a man who’s just ‘tall’. No ‘clever’ character has their reputation enhanced by being called ‘really clever’. Similarly, though on the flipside of the coin, no-one has ever been in a position where they’ll do something that’s described as ‘quite dangerous’ but would draw the line at just plain ‘dangerous’ behavior.

[bctt tweet=”‘Very’, ‘really’ and ‘quite’ are all examples of false intensifiers.”]

These words are ineffective because they have no quantitative meaning – the reader can never know the difference between something which is ‘very _____’ and something that’s just ‘_____’. Worse, the presence of the word draws attention to this fact, and actually weakens the term as the reader reflects on this: oddly, a ‘satisfying’ drink will actually strike the reader as more satisfying than a drink which is described as ‘very satisfying’. One is an absolute statement, the other is an absolute statement with a meaningless term attached.

So what’s the answer? First of all, decide if you need them in the first place. Most of the time it turns out these terms don’t add anything, and they can be cut with no further changes. If you find that they were intended to create a specific meaning, then the best solution is again to give their job to a verb. This is the advice so famously delivered by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society .

Avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not ‘very tired’, he is ‘exhausted’. Don’t use ‘very sad’, use ‘morose’. – Tom Schulman, Dead Poets Society

Using false modifiers is often a way for authors to subconsciously hedge their bets, but cutting them out of your story will work wonders. Statements that lack committal will suddenly become completely convincing. If it’s something you’d like to practise, then feel free to use the paragraph below:

It was really hard saying goodbye to Ben, but at the same time I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do. We hugged and he said some pretty sweet things that I hoped he meant, then I got on the bus. It was quite rainy on the way home, and I was very wet by the time I opened the front door.

#5 – ‘Completely’, ‘Totally’ and ‘Absolutely’

These terms are very close cousins of ‘really’, ‘very’ and ‘quite’, but they’re even more imprecise. They do actually suggest a quantitative value – they make it clear that a state is absolute – but they’re generally paired with words which already communicate an absolute state, e.g. ‘broken’, ‘erased’, ‘gone’ and ‘ruined’.

These words therefore only have real utility when the reader needs to know that a state that could be partial is, in fact, total. There may be a difference in perception between something that is someone’s fault (they are to blame for it) and something that is totally someone’s fault (they are solely to blame for it and blame shouldn’t fall on anyone else). A toy might be broken (it is not working right now) or completely broken (it is not working, and cannot be repaired). Even here, however, it’s just that the original terms are being misused – if the toy isn’t working but could be repaired, it could more accurately be called ‘damaged’.

Because of this, words like ‘completely’ are best confined solely to dialogue, where characters can misuse them to their heart’s content. In narrative, however, authors should strive to use more precise language. If this is something you’d like to practise, test your skills out on the paragraph below:

When he arrived, the circus was completely gone. The stalls had been totally packed away, the tent fully taken down, and all of it driven away – there was absolutely no remnant of the amazing place that had been here just the night before. He found the marker quickly and dug down, utterly exhausted by the time he was finished. He brushed the last of the dirt from the chest and forced it open. It was completely empty. Not only had the coins been taken, but his note was totally gone and the felt lining had been ripped away completely. He flipped open his phone. “Eddie,” he whispered, “we’re screwed! We’re completely screwed, Eddie!”

#4 – ‘As if’ and ‘As though’

‘As if’ and ‘as though’ are modifying phrases that many authors use to describe the motivations or intentions of a character. They’re some of the worst offenders on the list because rather than just weakening a phrase or being superfluous, they often change the meaning of a sentence.

The important thing to understand is that when someone does something ‘as if’ they intend a specific consequence, the suggestion is that the speaker believes they don’t want that thing to happen. The below are some examples of these phrases used correctly:

He raised his arm as if to throw the ball and Rex set off running. Eventually the poor animal turned around to see his owner was still holding the ball. It was a terrible security system, his data protected by a single easily guessed password. It was as though he wanted me to see it.

These uses are fine (if a little uninspired) because the narrator is comparing actual behavior to an apparent, but inaccurate, intent. Using ‘as if’ in this way is often a great way of creating dramatic irony, or foreshadowing a twist, which is where the problems start. The second quote, for example, could easily be used to hint to the reader that the system’s owner does secretly want the speaker to see his data. What’s important to remember, though, is that the phrase is only appropriate if the speaker doesn’t realize this.

Encountering this kind of dramatic irony, where the reader knows the intention is true but the speaker doesn’t, makes it easy to get mixed up. ‘As if’ and ‘as though’ become problems when they’re used to indicate the speaker’s appreciation of genuine intentions. For example:

The bouncer scowled at us, pausing as though he was trying to figure out whether we were a minor nuisance or a real problem. She looked down as if ashamed, then began to cry.

Here the terms are wrongly used to describe the characters’ actual intentions. Not only is this inaccurate, but it suggests that the given intention is not what the character is thinking. Like the dog owner not throwing the ball, the bouncer only pauses ‘as though’ trying to figure something out – the accidental implication is that he is actually thinking of something else.

The distinction can be quite subtle, but it can help to remember that it’s based on the speaker’s understanding. For this reason, ‘as if’ and ‘as though’ should almost never be used by an omniscient third-person narrator – they know the actual intention either way.

The best advice is to only use ‘as if’ and ‘as though’ when you’re specifically trying to say that a situation looks like something it isn’t. An example would be:

We kissed and the sky cleared, bathing us in warm sunlight as if the sky itself approved.

Here the sky doesn’t actively approve – the speaker knows that isn’t case – and so ‘as if’ is justified. If you’d like to hone your skills with this device, you can use the sentences below:

1. He shook his head, breathing heavily as if exhausted by the whole affair. “I’m done,” he said. 2. She shivered as if caught in a fell wind. 3. I was completely content. My worries were a million miles away, as if all the troubles of the last few months had never happened. 4. “So you’re a student?” She looked at me as though I’d used some outrageous slur, but nodded. 5. “Are you okay?” He looked pained, as if the question didn’t begin to cover it. He looked at the clouds for a moment before squeezing my hand. It was a long time before he answered.

#3 – ‘Then’

The word ‘then’ is like the cute, replicating Tribble from Star Trek. It’s a harmless word that, on its own, has a lot of benefits. The problem is that if you don’t keep an eye on it, it’ll reproduce, and suddenly there are way more ‘then’s than you can handle, clogging up your story and making it impossible to get anything done.

[bctt tweet=”The word ‘then’ is like the cute, replicating Tribble from Star Trek.”]

‘Then’ is a constant temptation to authors because it’s a highly functional term that allows you to move on with a minimum of fuss. It means you don’t have to worry about moving from one concept to another – using ‘then’ is the only segue you need. This can be seen in the example below:

She opened the fridge, checking carefully to see if they needed milk. Then she checked the fruit and bread, throwing out a rotten artichoke.

While not well-written, this sentence is fine. Unfortunately, there’s more to write:

She opened the fridge, checking carefully to see if they needed milk. Then she checked the fruit and bread, throwing out a rotten artichoke. She noted that they needed to use the carrots by the end of the week. Then she looked through the tins, checking expiration dates.

The second ‘then’, while not itself incorrect, has now created a pattern that will distract the reader. More than that, it’s created distance – it’s the easiest, most functional way to move onto the next thing, but it does nothing for the reader. It’s the equivalent of just writing ‘next’, and shows that you as the author simply wish to move on. It’s not a good message to send – why should the reader invest in the moment if you haven’t?

This problem can extend over pages to include a dozen ‘then’s’ without the author noticing. It’s so functional, so obvious, that many writers miss the pattern as it develops. It’s most common in action scenes or technical descriptions – moments where the author wants the reader to have a clear understanding of what is happening physically, and therefore gets too exact and clinical.

Here it’s not a case of never using ‘then’, but of ensuring that it’s not used in close proximity to another ‘then’. You can avoid this by using similar terms, or adjusting sentences to flow better:

She opened the fridge and checked carefully to see if they needed milk. Next, she checked the fruit and bread, throwing out a rotten artichoke and noting that the carrots needed to be used by the end of the week. After this, she moved onto the tins, checking expiration dates.

You can practise ‘then’ management with the paragraph below:

He hauled up the anchor then looked out to sea, marvelling at the spectacle of it all. Then he laughed, waved at the tourists on the shoreline, and set off. It would be a long sail, but he could already taste the meal that was waiting for him. He’d eat until he was bursting, and then try for dessert anyway. Then he’d have a bath, ensuring he was squeaky clean. Bed would be next, for a good night’s sleep. Then it would be time to eat again, and he’d walk downstairs to a brimming table.

#2 – ‘Thought’

‘Thought’ is treated a little unfairly here, as it really stands in for directly telling your reader what a character is thinking. Whether it deserves to carry the full blame or not, watching out for ‘thought’ is a good way to tell when you’ve gone from showing to telling .

[bctt tweet=”Watching out for ‘thought’ is a good way to tell when you’ve gone from showing to telling.”]

1. I wonder if she likes me , he thought. 2. Their search intensified, and Davy wondered if he could be seen from the hilltop.

In the first of the above examples, the reader is seemingly given an insight into the character’s thoughts. In fact, though, this is more likely to create distance. This is true for several reasons, but the most important one is that the reader is given information rather than discovering or deducing it for themselves. It’s also important to note that humans simply don’t think in the same way they speak – direct, written thoughts like this just remind the reader that they’re reading fiction rather than looking into a real world.

The second example is similarly flawed, as the reader isn’t allowed to have their own connection with the character. Instead the narrator is objectively describing how they feel. In both cases, the reader will actually feel closer to the reader if given the chance to intuit their thoughts:

1. He smiled at her and she smiled back. “Do you…” he began. “What?” she asked. “No, nothing.” 2. Their search intensified. Davy pressed himself against the ground, trying to wriggle further into the cover of the reed bed.

In the rewritten examples, the characters are thinking the same things, but it’s up to the reader to interpret their actions and words. This is easy of course – context tells us everything we need to know – but the act of doing so makes the information more engaging.

If you want to practise rewriting or replacing direct thoughts, you can use the following paragraph:

Oh god, please wake up , he thought. The machines kept up their disjointed song and a medicinal stench wound up into his nostrils. He wondered what life would be like without her, and a fresh wave of panic fell over him. I don’t want you to go , he thought, I didn’t realise it until now, but I need you . Although she couldn’t say it, she was thinking the same thing.

#1 – ‘Swimming’ and the progressive form

The progressive form is a verb tense that suggests an act is still taking place – for example, ‘I am swimming’, ‘I was baking’, ‘I’m still flying’. There’s nothing wrong with using this kind of verb if you’re describing other events as occurring during this act, however as a choice to suggest that something did or will happen it weakens a sentiment.

1. Dan was running through the burning hospital. 2. Tomorrow we will be duelling to the death. 3. Once our vow has been honored, I’ll be swimming back to Atlantis.

In the examples above, the progressive form isn’t necessary, and makes each sentiment weaker. In the improved versions below, the phrasing is more immediate and gripping.

1. Dan ran through the burning hospital. 2. Tomorrow we will duel to the death. 3. Once our vow has been honored, I will swim back to Atlantis.

It’s easy to slip into the progressive form, but this isn’t just an issue for dramatic moments. In the examples below, everyday phrases can be made stronger by abandoning the progressive form.

It closes next year. → It will close next year. He’s arriving soon. → He’ll arrive soon. I’m leaving tomorrow. → I’ll leave tomorrow.

While the difference is slight, the latter options are more definite. The character who says ‘He’s arriving soon’ seems a lot less sure than the one who says ‘He’ll arrive soon’. This is because the progressive form puts the reader in the middle of an action with no reference to when it began or when it will end. Being outside of that action, even when no start or end points are given, still suggests it as a finite, and therefore more definite, occurrence.

It can be difficult to avoid the progressive form, but getting the best version of your story may depend on you deliberately seeking it out. You can start to get in the right mindset by practising with the paragraph below:

Dan was running through the burning hospital. Flames were licking up the walls, and outside the window a crow – set ablaze by an errant ember – was tumbling past in a panic. Dan was tiring, his mind flashing back to Elizabeth’s last words to him. “I’ll be waiting for you,” she had said. He was praying to God she had meant it.

This will improve your writing

Apply these suggested cuts to your next edit and you’ll see an immediate improvement in your writing. As I said before, don’t be stressed out by how many of the words and phrases on this list appear in your writing. Once you’ve caught them they won’t grow back, so build up your editing repertoire, learn what to look for, and consider every false intensifier and progressive form verb one more sign that you know what you’re looking for.

For more advice on drafting, check out Writing Your First Draft Is Not As Scary As It Seems . Or if you’re after more advice on being your own editor, try Four Secrets That Will Turn You Into An Objective Editor . If you want some help, check out our editing services .

Do you have any words to add to our list, or would you like to share your own personal improvements on the practice paragraphs above? Get in touch using the comments below and add your thoughts to our community of writers.

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Thinking About A Plot Outline? Try This

17 thoughts on “how to improve your writing by cutting eight words”.

improve writing by

Great article, Robert! Thanks for writing and thanks to Houston Writers Guild for posting!

improve writing by

My pleasure – thanks to you for reading.

improve writing by

Was it Hemingway who said, “I never write, I only rewrite,” ?

The closest I can find is Michael Crichton’s ‘Books are not written – they’re rewritten.’ but it’s an important observation either way.

I just did a search for “ly” in my MS and I found LOADS of those pesky adverbs. The backspace key sure got a workout today 🙂 I’m bookmarking this article for future reference. Thank you!

My pleasure, glad it was useful.

Hello! I’m not a native english speaker but I do enjoy learning how to write stories in English so i’m really loving this website!

By the way, i tried to change the adverbs in the paragraph. Could you tell me your opinion on it? And if you can’t, no worries! Thanks for having this website up!

“I want to join the circus” , i said exhausted. Mother sucked her teeth in disdain.

“And do what?” She asked, rolling her eyes. It was a question i had been ready for, and i felt my back straighten.

“Tame lions” – i said.

“There’s no money in it” – she said

“Well, I might require a small loan to get started,” I said smiling a bit nervous. Mother flickered his eyes to me , smirking.

“Ah, now we come to it,” she said .

Hi Mariano,

Glad you’re enjoying the site, and thanks for commenting! Your adverb removal has worked wonders – the next step would be to adopt the adverbs’ meaning into the verbs. For example:

“There’s no money in it,” she barked.

“There’s no money in it,” she parried.

That way you’ve improved readability without sacrificing meaning.

Rob ~ I Very Quickly looked Forward and Backward in your article and Then I Absolutely Thought As Though it is Swimmingly on target. So, I am now reviewing my work and finding scads of adverbs and gerunds and other mind-numbing expressions. Many thanks. Add to this list “No problem” which replaces “You’re welcome” at least in America, and “Thanks” replaces “Thank you”. And a pox on “went viral” and “Have a nice day.” ~Jim DuLaney

Haha, thanks for the feedback. There’s a playwright whose name I can’t remember at the moment who insists that, on the stage at least, if your characters need to say ‘Hello’, you’ve come into the scene too early. Another candidate, perhaps.

This is an old article, I realize, and as such I probably won’t get a reply, but here’s what I’m doing in my work: In general I try to avoid repeating words or phrases too often, so I probably won’t have a “then” problem. I simply feel that if you repeat a word, especially one that has a lot of synonyms, it’ll start to bore out reader that will subsequently be less observant, skipping large portions of text, forgoing the meaning. Ditto for short phrases or sayings when there exist different ones with similar or same meaning or when you can easily make a different one that will mean the same. Obviously this doesn’t affect common language “glue” such as “and,” “if,” “or,” articles, and so on since it’s hard to use a different word, but it’s best to avoid repeating yourself too much.

The other advice is very sound though and I will use it when editing my book.

Hi Darkhog,

Thanks for commenting – we try to reply to as many comments as we can, new or old, so here I am. A great tip, thanks – when editing, I’m definitely looking for re-used words and terms that can be amalgamated or removed for a better reading experience.

A lot to learn from once again. I have my work sorted. Thank you so much for this information.

My pleasure, Annamarie. Thanks for commenting.

Hi Robert, thank you for your article. But just FYI you used “completely convincing” in your own article (it was an excelelent proof of concept though). Jojo

Good eye, Jojo – ‘proof of concept’ sounds good to me.

improve writing by

Great article. An addition for your list: the word “that”. It can often be removed with no other change required.

e.g. “ It’s often said that editing is a process of subtraction. ” —-> It’s often said editing is a process of subtraction. —-> Editing is often a process of subtraction.

E.g. “… You’ll likely find that you lose your train of thought and creative energy…” ——> You’ll likely find you lose your train of thought and creative energy…”

I’ve read the word “that” is often overused, and when required the work “which” can be more appropriate.

I’m glad I’ve discovered your posts. This is the second article I’ve read, and both provided value.

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Writing Forward

21 Ways to Improve Your Writing

by Melissa Donovan | Aug 1, 2019 | Better Writing | 8 comments

how to improve your writing

Are you ready to improve your writing?

It’s not possible to improve your writing overnight, unless you hire an expert to do it for you.

People study the craft for years, decades even, and still they strive to make each piece of writing better than the last.

Sure, there might be some quick tricks and shortcuts you can pick up and apply immediately, but these only improve your writing in small increments.

If you want to become a good writer (let alone a great writer), be prepared to make a long-term commitment to the craft.

Improve Your Writing

  • Be professional. If you want to be a professional writer, then act like one. Whether you’re sending a submission to an editor or leaving a comment on a blog, always check your work.
  • Practice makes perfect. It goes without saying that if you don’t ever bother writing, your writing will never get any better. Set aside fifteen to twenty minutes a day and make your writing practice a priority.
  • Use literary devices. Nuances differentiate good writing from great writing . When you understand literary devices and how they strengthen a piece of writing, you can use them to improve your writing.
  • Read. I feel like a broken record every time I explain that to write well, one must read. However, it’s a simple truth that bears repeating. There are no exceptions to this one. A writer does two things above all else: reads and writes.
  • Invest in your writing. Buy some books on style and grammar. Get a special notebook or a fancy pen. Pick up some writing software (I recommend Scrivener and Microsoft Word). Start building a library of tools and resources.
  • Participate in your industry. True professionals know their industries. As a writer, you should understand the difference between legacy publishing and self-publishing, know what role an agent plays, and what publishing houses do (and don’t do) for their authors.
  • Get your tools and resources in order. How would a carpenter build without a hammer? Writers don’t need a lot of tools, but they definitely need something to write with, whether it’s a fancy computer or a cheap pad of paper and a disposable pen. Make sure you have any necessary resources on hand too, like style guides, dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias (most of these resources are available for free online).
  • Get inspired. Sometimes inspiration strikes when you least expect it. Other times, you’re begging for it but nothing happens. With practice, you can learn how to foster creativity and generate ideas that will keep you busy writing even when your muse is on vacation.
  • Claim your space. Some writers swear by their writing spaces. You don’t need a cabin in the woods or even a whole room. A small desk tucked into a corner is more than enough space to get started.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you’re always getting hung up on every little mistake and stopping your flow of ideas to repair typos and awkward sentences, you’ll wear yourself out (and lose a lot of great ideas in the process). The content of your writing is just as important as the mechanics. Write freely and edit later to improve your writing.
  • But later, make sure you do edit. There’s no excuse for putting messy writing out there into the world. A rough draft is meant for your eyes only (and sometimes, a couple of select alpha readers). Polish your stuff before you show it around. Nothing will improve your writing more immediately than the simple act of polishing it.
  • Pay attention to detail. You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the details . Give your readers enough details that they can visualize what you’re communicating but not so many details that they’re bored with too much description.
  • Look it up. Not sure which punctuation mark to use? Curious about whether your sentence is properly constructed? Instead of rewriting to escape the tedious task of researching the rule, take five minutes and look it up.
  • Be consistent. If you use the serial comma, make sure you always use it (not just when you feel like it). Don’t switch from plural to singular in the middle of a paragraph. Don’t change tense in the middle of a story. Want help with consistency? Pick up a style guide.
  • Be clear and concise. If your message or idea is getting lost in superfluous, fancy words and language, you won’t be able to communicate with people — at best, you’ll only be able to communicate with the elite few who are fluent in fancy talk. Clear, concise language wins every time.
  • Check your facts. There’s plenty of room for creativity in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, but there are also times when you have to get your facts right or risk being laughed into the discount bin.
  • Stay on topic. We’ve all read pieces of writing that strayed off on some tangent. The writer probably intended to connect that tangent to the main idea, but somehow the connection was never made. Cut that stuff out and the writing will improve drastically. Make sure your final draft sticks with the topic or the main plot.
  • Take breaks. Whether you’re writing a 1000-word blog post or a 100,000-word novel, you have to take breaks sometimes. During a long writing session, take a break to stretch. During a long writing project, take breaks to clear your head, gain perspective, and get your bearings.
  • Work with a mentor. At some point in your journey toward becoming a writer, you should make it a point to study under a mentor who is more knowledgeable than you. You’ll find mentors teaching classes and workshops. You can also join a writing group, find a writing partner, or hire a writing coach .
  • Expand your vocabulary. We writers love to gush over notebooks and pens, but the real tools of our trade are words. Learn as many as you can. Use them wisely.
  • Know yourself and be yourself. As you gain experience with writing, you’ll find some strategies that work for you and others that don’t. Find which writing process is best for you and then stick with it. And above all, write from your heart. Disinterest will show, so write what moves you, what feels honest and right.

Do you try to improve your writing on a regular basis? Got any tips to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Great tips and points to keep in mind! I checked out your link to Scrivener. I would need to buy the Windows version. Which do you have and do you think I would be at a disadvantage with the Windows version? The software looks incredible!!

Melissa Donovan

I can’t speak for the Windows version. I have Scrivener for Mac, and I absolutely love it. I’m not big on buying tons of software (and frankly, I don’t have the hard drive space for it). I put off buying Scrivener for over a year because I have Word and it seemed senseless to invest in another writing or word processing program. But then I got frustrated with Word because it really isn’t well designed for novel writing. Scrivener, on the other hand, is awesome. When I got it, I used the free one-month trial. They probably have that for Windows too.

June Hubatsek

Just getting ready to submit a memoir. Received your email this morning and it was very helpful in reminding me of how important a last once over is. One of the other subjects you advise is reading and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks. June Hubatsek

Hi June. I wish you the best of luck with your memoir!

Paul Atreides

“2. Practice makes perfect.” Makes a lot of sense, but I’m extremely cautious about this in the sense that it connects to “8. Getting inspired.” I may know where a scene is headed, but there are times it is still a struggle to get it down on the paper. Critique groups have commented, “When you’re on, you’re really on, but this feels forced, uneven; there’s no flow.” Writing for the sake of writing won’t get sold or published and I’ve found, for me anyway, it’s twice as hard to fix it. My solution for this is to attempt to write something everyday – but if the words are coming in fits and starts, I put it away. I’ll reply to emails, or work on a blog entry. If that fails, I move to “4. Read.” 🙂

In my experience, a difficult scene is difficult regardless of how inspired I am. I’ve put off writing a scene (or some other writing project) to wait for inspiration only to find the problem isn’t me being uninspired. I absolutely agree there are times when you’re just off and on days like that, it might be better to take a break and read instead. Problem is, if we’re having a lot days like that, we’ll never get any writing done. I usually try to push through my daily writing session no matter what. If I’m really struggling, I work on something else, like outlining or character sketching (still writing, but not writing the narrative).

Marcy McKay

Wonderful, Melissa! I love all of these. The only addition I might made is 19b: MAKE WRITER FRIENDS.

I’m in a weekly critique group. To me, they’re different than a mentor because we’re all peers, but they still help me improve my writing, offer wisdom and support; plus, accountability. After 10+ years, they are some of my best friends.

I’ve also made some great writing friends online through blogs. Writer friends rock!

Oh yes, being involved in the writing community and building friendships with other writers are definitely important and immensely helpful. Thanks for mentioning it, Marcy!


  • Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-08-2019 | The Author Chronicles - […] Donovan gives writers 21 ways to improve your writing, while Rachelle Gardner concentrates on that all-important first […]

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Should I Use ChatGPT to Write My Essays?

Everything high school and college students need to know about using — and not using — ChatGPT for writing essays.

Jessica A. Kent

ChatGPT is one of the most buzzworthy technologies today.

In addition to other generative artificial intelligence (AI) models, it is expected to change the world. In academia, students and professors are preparing for the ways that ChatGPT will shape education, and especially how it will impact a fundamental element of any course: the academic essay.

Students can use ChatGPT to generate full essays based on a few simple prompts. But can AI actually produce high quality work, or is the technology just not there yet to deliver on its promise? Students may also be asking themselves if they should use AI to write their essays for them and what they might be losing out on if they did.

AI is here to stay, and it can either be a help or a hindrance depending on how you use it. Read on to become better informed about what ChatGPT can and can’t do, how to use it responsibly to support your academic assignments, and the benefits of writing your own essays.

What is Generative AI?

Artificial intelligence isn’t a twenty-first century invention. Beginning in the 1950s, data scientists started programming computers to solve problems and understand spoken language. AI’s capabilities grew as computer speeds increased and today we use AI for data analysis, finding patterns, and providing insights on the data it collects.

But why the sudden popularity in recent applications like ChatGPT? This new generation of AI goes further than just data analysis. Instead, generative AI creates new content. It does this by analyzing large amounts of data — GPT-3 was trained on 45 terabytes of data, or a quarter of the Library of Congress — and then generating new content based on the patterns it sees in the original data.

It’s like the predictive text feature on your phone; as you start typing a new message, predictive text makes suggestions of what should come next based on data from past conversations. Similarly, ChatGPT creates new text based on past data. With the right prompts, ChatGPT can write marketing content, code, business forecasts, and even entire academic essays on any subject within seconds.

But is generative AI as revolutionary as people think it is, or is it lacking in real intelligence?

The Drawbacks of Generative AI

It seems simple. You’ve been assigned an essay to write for class. You go to ChatGPT and ask it to write a five-paragraph academic essay on the topic you’ve been assigned. You wait a few seconds and it generates the essay for you!

But ChatGPT is still in its early stages of development, and that essay is likely not as accurate or well-written as you’d expect it to be. Be aware of the drawbacks of having ChatGPT complete your assignments.

It’s not intelligence, it’s statistics

One of the misconceptions about AI is that it has a degree of human intelligence. However, its intelligence is actually statistical analysis, as it can only generate “original” content based on the patterns it sees in already existing data and work.

It “hallucinates”

Generative AI models often provide false information — so much so that there’s a term for it: “AI hallucination.” OpenAI even has a warning on its home screen , saying that “ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” This may be due to gaps in its data, or because it lacks the ability to verify what it’s generating. 

It doesn’t do research  

If you ask ChatGPT to find and cite sources for you, it will do so, but they could be inaccurate or even made up.

This is because AI doesn’t know how to look for relevant research that can be applied to your thesis. Instead, it generates content based on past content, so if a number of papers cite certain sources, it will generate new content that sounds like it’s a credible source — except it likely may not be.

There are data privacy concerns

When you input your data into a public generative AI model like ChatGPT, where does that data go and who has access to it? 

Prompting ChatGPT with original research should be a cause for concern — especially if you’re inputting study participants’ personal information into the third-party, public application. 

JPMorgan has restricted use of ChatGPT due to privacy concerns, Italy temporarily blocked ChatGPT in March 2023 after a data breach, and Security Intelligence advises that “if [a user’s] notes include sensitive data … it enters the chatbot library. The user no longer has control over the information.”

It is important to be aware of these issues and take steps to ensure that you’re using the technology responsibly and ethically. 

It skirts the plagiarism issue

AI creates content by drawing on a large library of information that’s already been created, but is it plagiarizing? Could there be instances where ChatGPT “borrows” from previous work and places it into your work without citing it? Schools and universities today are wrestling with this question of what’s plagiarism and what’s not when it comes to AI-generated work.

To demonstrate this, one Elon University professor gave his class an assignment: Ask ChatGPT to write an essay for you, and then grade it yourself. 

“Many students expressed shock and dismay upon learning the AI could fabricate bogus information,” he writes, adding that he expected some essays to contain errors, but all of them did. 

His students were disappointed that “major tech companies had pushed out AI technology without ensuring that the general population understands its drawbacks” and were concerned about how many embraced such a flawed tool.

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How to Use AI as a Tool to Support Your Work

As more students are discovering, generative AI models like ChatGPT just aren’t as advanced or intelligent as they may believe. While AI may be a poor option for writing your essay, it can be a great tool to support your work.

Generate ideas for essays

Have ChatGPT help you come up with ideas for essays. For example, input specific prompts, such as, “Please give me five ideas for essays I can write on topics related to WWII,” or “Please give me five ideas for essays I can write comparing characters in twentieth century novels.” Then, use what it provides as a starting point for your original research.

Generate outlines

You can also use ChatGPT to help you create an outline for an essay. Ask it, “Can you create an outline for a five paragraph essay based on the following topic” and it will create an outline with an introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion, and a suggested thesis statement. Then, you can expand upon the outline with your own research and original thought.

Generate titles for your essays

Titles should draw a reader into your essay, yet they’re often hard to get right. Have ChatGPT help you by prompting it with, “Can you suggest five titles that would be good for a college essay about [topic]?”

The Benefits of Writing Your Essays Yourself

Asking a robot to write your essays for you may seem like an easy way to get ahead in your studies or save some time on assignments. But, outsourcing your work to ChatGPT can negatively impact not just your grades, but your ability to communicate and think critically as well. It’s always the best approach to write your essays yourself.

Create your own ideas

Writing an essay yourself means that you’re developing your own thoughts, opinions, and questions about the subject matter, then testing, proving, and defending those thoughts. 

When you complete school and start your career, projects aren’t simply about getting a good grade or checking a box, but can instead affect the company you’re working for — or even impact society. Being able to think for yourself is necessary to create change and not just cross work off your to-do list.

Building a foundation of original thinking and ideas now will help you carve your unique career path in the future.

Develop your critical thinking and analysis skills

In order to test or examine your opinions or questions about a subject matter, you need to analyze a problem or text, and then use your critical thinking skills to determine the argument you want to make to support your thesis. Critical thinking and analysis skills aren’t just necessary in school — they’re skills you’ll apply throughout your career and your life.

Improve your research skills

Writing your own essays will train you in how to conduct research, including where to find sources, how to determine if they’re credible, and their relevance in supporting or refuting your argument. Knowing how to do research is another key skill required throughout a wide variety of professional fields.

Learn to be a great communicator

Writing an essay involves communicating an idea clearly to your audience, structuring an argument that a reader can follow, and making a conclusion that challenges them to think differently about a subject. Effective and clear communication is necessary in every industry.

Be impacted by what you’re learning about : 

Engaging with the topic, conducting your own research, and developing original arguments allows you to really learn about a subject you may not have encountered before. Maybe a simple essay assignment around a work of literature, historical time period, or scientific study will spark a passion that can lead you to a new major or career.

Resources to Improve Your Essay Writing Skills

While there are many rewards to writing your essays yourself, the act of writing an essay can still be challenging, and the process may come easier for some students than others. But essay writing is a skill that you can hone, and students at Harvard Summer School have access to a number of on-campus and online resources to assist them.

Students can start with the Harvard Summer School Writing Center , where writing tutors can offer you help and guidance on any writing assignment in one-on-one meetings. Tutors can help you strengthen your argument, clarify your ideas, improve the essay’s structure, and lead you through revisions. 

The Harvard libraries are a great place to conduct your research, and its librarians can help you define your essay topic, plan and execute a research strategy, and locate sources. 

Finally, review the “ The Harvard Guide to Using Sources ,” which can guide you on what to cite in your essay and how to do it. Be sure to review the “Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism” on the “ Resources to Support Academic Integrity ” webpage as well to help ensure your success.

Sign up to our mailing list to learn more about Harvard Summer School

The Future of AI in the Classroom

ChatGPT and other generative AI models are here to stay, so it’s worthwhile to learn how you can leverage the technology responsibly and wisely so that it can be a tool to support your academic pursuits. However, nothing can replace the experience and achievement gained from communicating your own ideas and research in your own academic essays.

About the Author

Jessica A. Kent is a freelance writer based in Boston, Mass. and a Harvard Extension School alum. Her digital marketing content has been featured on Fast Company, Forbes, Nasdaq, and other industry websites; her essays and short stories have been featured in North American Review, Emerson Review, Writer’s Bone, and others.

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  • Questions about Expos?
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Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore needs your careful analysis of the evidence to understand how you arrived at this claim. You arrive at your thesis by examining and analyzing the evidence available to you, which might be text or other types of source material.

A thesis will generally respond to an analytical question or pose a solution to a problem that you have framed for your readers (and for yourself). When you frame that question or problem for your readers, you are telling them what is at stake in your argument—why your question matters and why they should care about the answer . If you can explain to your readers why a question or problem is worth addressing, then they will understand why it’s worth reading an essay that develops your thesis—and you will understand why it’s worth writing that essay.

A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive , and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves. If your thesis is too narrow, you won’t be able to explore your topic in enough depth to say something interesting about it. If your thesis is too broad, you may not be able to support it with evidence from the available sources.

When you are writing an essay for a course assignment, you should make sure you understand what type of claim you are being asked to make. Many of your assignments will be asking you to make analytical claims , which are based on interpretation of facts, data, or sources.

Some of your assignments may ask you to make normative claims. Normative claims are claims of value or evaluation rather than fact—claims about how things should be rather than how they are. A normative claim makes the case for the importance of something, the action that should be taken, or the way the world should be. When you are asked to write a policy memo, a proposal, or an essay based on your own opinion, you will be making normative claims.

Here are some examples of possible thesis statements for a student's analysis of the article “The Case Against Perfection” by Professor Michael Sandel.  

Descriptive thesis (not arguable)  

While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence)  

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim  

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim  

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis  

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt
  • Asking Analytical Questions
  • Introductions
  • What Do Introductions Across the Disciplines Have in Common?
  • Anatomy of a Body Paragraph
  • Transitions
  • Tips for Organizing Your Essay
  • Counterargument
  • Conclusions
  • Strategies for Essay Writing: Downloadable PDFs
  • Brief Guides to Writing in the Disciplines

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Enchanting Marketing

Writing advice for small business

29 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills and Escape Content Mediocrity

by Henneke | 156 enchanting opinions, add yours? :)

29 ways to improve your writing skills

Perhaps you’ve read a couple of books to improve your writing skills. And you’ve subscribed to the most popular blogs on writing.

But still …

It’s hard to know where to start, right?

You’re not alone. One of the most often asked questions in my inbox is: How do I improve my writing skills?

Let me answer that question and give you a clear action plan.

Are you up for it?

Step I. Understand the principles of deliberate practice

Learning to write better can feel like an overwhelming task.

But just like a chef learns how to fry an egg and how to fillet a fish—and just like a violinist practices a difficult passage over and over again—writers can practice specific writing techniques to improve their skills.

These principles of deliberate practice help accelerate your learning:

  • Establish your main writing weaknesses . What exactly do you want to improve? For instance, you may want to focus on choosing the right words or writing simpler sentences.
  • Read the work of other writers to understand how they apply writing techniques. If you’d like to write with more simplicity, study Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea . Or if you’d like to improve word choice, see how Ray Bradbury uses strong verbs in Zen in the Art of Writing ; gather all your favorite examples in a swipe file —a collection of writing examples to learn from.
  • Practice a specific writing technique , and compare your writing to the examples in your swipe file, so you can see how to improve further.
  • Get out of your comfort zone—don’t use the examples to put yourself down; instead, challenge yourself to get better and enjoy the learning experience— nurture a growth mindset .

As Anders Ericsson, author of Peak: How All of Us Can Achieve Extraordinary Things , suggests:

In pretty much any area of human endeavor, people have a tremendous capacity to improve their performance, as long as they train in the right way.

Part 2. Think before you write

Before you cook a meal, you need a plan of action.

Who’s coming for dinner? What do they like to eat? You create a meal plan, get your groceries, and decide in what order to cook the dishes, so each dish will be ready in time.

Just like a good dinner party needs some planning, good writing starts with thinking, too:

  • Who are you writing for? Good writers have a pathological interest in their readers and understand their dreams, fears, and secret wishes.
  • Which reader problem will your article help solve? Or which aim will you help achieve? Good content has one clear purpose—to inspire a reader to implement your advice.
  • What’s the roadmap to help your readers solve their problems or achieve their aims? The roadmap is the basis for a clear and logical article.

As a good writer, you’re a mentor to your reader. You tell her you understand her problems, explain how to solve them, and encourage her to implement your advice.

Part 3. How to structure your writing

Imagine you’re planning a 4-course dinner to entertain your guests:

  • A starter to whet their appetite—how about a spicy chicken galangal soup?
  • The main courses—pineapple stirfried rice, ginger-flavored steamed fish, and stirfried morning glory—to nourish your guests
  • A dessert of mango with sticky rice to satisfy their sweet tooth
  • Coffee, tea or cognac with perhaps a chocolate to enjoy the conversation a little longer

Good writers plan their content as a 4-course dinner, too. And each part has a clear purpose to keep readers captivated from the first to the last word:

  • A powerful headline uses power words or numbers to attract attention in busy social media streams, and it mentions a specific benefit to entice followers to click to read more.
  • A captivating opening promises readers you’ll help solve a problem so they feel encouraged to read on.
  • A valuable main body shows, step by step, how to solve a problem or achieve an aim.
  • An inspirational closing jumpstarts readers into action—you only become a true authority when readers experience the difference your advice makes to them.

Your first task as writer is to write with a specific reader and purpose in mind, and to structure your content to achieve that purpose.

Next, learn how to communicate with clarity and power …

Part 4. The 7 basic writing skills everyone must master

A chef needs to learn chopping, sautéing, roasting, boiling, and grilling.

But what are the basic writing techniques you should practice?

  • Use the 4-course meal plan to create a logical flow without distractions, so readers stay on track.
  • Learn how to use vivid language to make abstract ideas concrete so readers easily grasp and remember your message.
  • Learn how to write bite-sized, simple, and meaningful sentences— a good sentence is the basic ingredient of good writing.
  • Compose smooth transitions so readers glide effortlessly from sentence to sentence, and from paragraph to paragraph.
  • Practice how to write clearly and concisely so your message becomes strong.
  • Discover how to avoid weak words , gobbledygook , and cliches ; and spice up your writing with power words including sensory phrases.
  • Understand the basics of keyword research and on-page optimization to increase organic search traffic.

Remember, to become a good content writer, you don’t need to turn yourself into a Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, or Margaret Atwood.

Instead, aim to communicate your ideas with power, and make tiny ripples to change the world.

Part 5. The 5 advanced skills to write with personality and pizzazz

Once you’ve learned how to communicate with power and clarity, it’s time to create your signature style:

  • Learn how to use the zoom-in-zoom-out technique to weave miniature stories into your content.
  • Discover how to pace your stories and hook readers with tiny cliffhangers.
  • Cook up fresh metaphors to add flavor to rehashed and boring topics.
  • Write long sentences without running out of breath, and discover how to use rhythm to put music into your writing .
  • Experiment with word choice and try a more conversational tone so readers start recognizing your voice .

Don’t overthink these writing techniques. Instead, write from the heart , and readers will sense the enthusiasm in your writing. That’s how you engage and spark action.

Part 6. Develop sticky writing habits

How did you learn how to cook? By watching TV and reading recipe books? Or by practicing in the kitchen?

To learn how to write, nurture a regular writing habit . Here’s how …

  • Make writing a choice, and book time in your calendar for writing—if you don’t plan time to write, then it won’t get done.
  • Set a tiny goal —like writing one paragraph or writing for 10 minutes a day, so it’s almost impossible not to write.
  • Create a productive relationship with your inner critic , so you can become a more joyful and prolific writer.
  • Start writing, even if you don’t feel motivated —your muse will reward your hard work and your words will start to flow.
  • Eliminate distractions and practice how to focus —focus is your productivity super-power.
  • Chop up the writing process into steps —outline, first draft, revision, final edit—and spread the work over several days so you can take advantage of percolation; review your writing with fresh eyes so you can make it even better.

Lofty goals don’t help you create a writing habit. Instead, put in the work, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph.

Over time, you’ll build your stamina and boost your confidence.

And your body of work will grow piece by piece.

How to start improving your writing

Feeling a tad overwhelmed?

Here’s your 3-point plan of action to become a better writer :

  • Define the purpose of your writing first, and know whom you’re writing for.
  • Get the content and the flow right—that’s the most important part of good writing.
  • Pick one basic writing skill to practice this week; after you’ve mastered the basic skills, try the advanced writing techniques, one by one.

Rather than strive for greatness, aim to be consistently good enough because that’s how you’ll improve faster.

Your readers are hungry

Your readers crave your ideas.

They want to hear from you. They want to be comforted and inspired by you.

So, what are you waiting for?

29 ways to improve your writing skills infographic

Grab the embed code below to display the image on your website:

29 ways to improve your writing skills infographic

29 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills and Escape Content Mediocrity , courtesy of Henneke at Enchanting Marketing

PS This post is an expanded and updated version of an article originally published on March 24th, 2015. The infographic is new.

Want to improve your writing skills further?

Join the 16-Part Snackable Writing Course (it’s free!):

  • Discover the Power of the Subtle Nod and other persuasive tricks
  • Learn how to cure sentence bloat and avoid irritating your readers
  • Receive 16 simple tips to write more seductive content and win more business

Recommended reading to improve your writing skills:

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Reader Interactions

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improve writing by

November 14, 2022 at 9:34 am

Love this too much! Thank you!

improve writing by

November 14, 2022 at 11:01 am

Thank you 🙂

improve writing by

August 24, 2022 at 2:41 pm

Excellent article, definitely gave me some pointers on practicing writing to improve.

August 24, 2022 at 5:25 pm

Thank you, Ronald. Happy writing!

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March 22, 2021 at 2:40 pm

It’s hard to actually put the words in my head down in writing as vivid as they appear. I don’t know if you understand. What can I do?

March 22, 2021 at 6:57 pm

That’s how writing often works. The ideas in our mind seem a lot brighter than what we get on paper. We just have to accept that our first draft is a rough draft and the writing can be bad. We can make the writing more vivid when we edit. This may be a useful starting point to consider your writing process:

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January 12, 2021 at 3:01 pm

How do I know which is my weakness? As for me, all my writing is a weakness!

January 12, 2021 at 4:23 pm

You start at the highest level so you ensure your content structure is right before you worry about things word choice. I’ve providing advice on how to establish (and prioritize) writing weaknesses here:

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December 22, 2020 at 5:46 am

This is brand new out of the oven. I really love your communication skills. Your combination of ideas and words drives me towards excellence. I do the work and you plant the ideas. I just can’t stress enough how joyful I am to write content. Thank you a bunch, Henneke.

December 23, 2020 at 6:40 pm

Thank you, Danny. Happy writing!

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November 15, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Dear Henneke, Thank you for your super training in writing better through various methods. I have gained a lot, very grateful to you. Thank you.

November 16, 2020 at 3:06 pm

I’m glad you found it useful, Tom. Happy writing!

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October 27, 2020 at 7:40 am

Splendid Infographic. Not a “post!” This is an asset! In excess of a reference recorded under — Bookmarks Read Later. This is a guide. One, I recognize, at whatever point considered and followed every day, will unimaginably improve making.

Your infographic is stunning. Not a word squandered. Not a sensible, to join text style decision and setup plan that didn’t serve to improve the getting experience. The exertion related to this post surprise the creative mind. Stunning!

October 27, 2020 at 4:50 pm

Hi Aria, thank you so much for your compliment on my infographic. Your enthusiasm shines through your words. Happy writing!

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October 6, 2020 at 6:12 am

Thank you so much for creating this piece. It has some awesome tips and advice. I only wish there was a like button on here so I could show it more love!

October 6, 2020 at 11:40 am

A comment counts as a like, too. 🙂

Thank you for stopping by, Knalid.

improve writing by

July 18, 2020 at 1:32 pm

Hi Henneke! i was stuck in the problem of writing a quality content. i searched a lot to finding help. and finally your site was so informative and real answer to my questions. your teaching style is so smooth and with illustrations it becomes super-easy. thanks you so much for your humble words.

July 19, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Thank you so much for your compliment, Leah. Happy writing!

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June 20, 2020 at 3:40 am

hi, thank you for your advices! just wanna to ask how can i improve my writing skills pertaining to essay. i’m a senior high student yet it’s still a struggle to me to write essays. whenever my teachers ask to write one I always find myself looking at my blank paper for minutes. Any advices?

June 20, 2020 at 5:55 pm

I don’t really know what your teachers are looking for so I can’t really advise on how to write an essay for school. However, it’s normal to have to think for a while before starting to write. It’s actually recommended to think first before writing. .

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June 8, 2020 at 12:29 pm

Hi Henneke,

Wow! this is very elaborate

Thank you for sharing your writing with us.

This is a classroom for me. I learn something in every blog post

June 8, 2020 at 2:48 pm

Thank you so much for your compliment, Paul, and for stopping by. I appreciate it 🙂

Happy writing!

improve writing by

May 22, 2020 at 8:42 am

Hi, can I ask how much time did you invest to produce this inspiring and super-practical post? Thanks Dimitri

May 22, 2020 at 9:50 am

Hi Dimitri — I do not know how much time I invested in it. An original version was published in March 2015. I updated the post in May 2019. The original version was shorter with only one image. As a rough estimate, it takes me between half an hour and one hour to create an image but I had created almost all of the drawings in this infographic for other blog posts that I wrote between 2015 and 2019. That doesn’t count the time of putting it all together in one infographic. The text was relatively quickly to update (a few hours) but I could only do that after having invested in writing all the more detailed posts over the years.

improve writing by

April 28, 2020 at 10:04 am

Every time you need to edit an article. I come back here Open your tutorial, and follow. Result ? Customers recognize me in millions of other readings on the internet. You are generous with advice.

Always keep your writing perfect.

April 28, 2020 at 12:43 pm

I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog. Happy writing, Trung!

April 27, 2020 at 7:21 am

I searched every corner of the internet for people to teach me how to write. I stopped here and didn’t go anywhere. thank you.

April 27, 2020 at 9:58 am

I’m glad you found my website, Trung. Happy writing!

improve writing by

February 17, 2020 at 5:17 am

Thank you for the amazing post. Can you recommend some books for writing? Because books are really helpful for developing new ideas and learning something new.

February 17, 2020 at 12:09 pm

You can find a list of recommended books on writing here:

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December 28, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Thank you for the wonderful informative blog post. Motivating and precise.

December 29, 2019 at 7:45 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it, Cally, Happy writing!

improve writing by

September 14, 2019 at 9:00 am

Hi! Henneke. Awesome post. More informative and fun. Images makes it more interesting.

September 15, 2019 at 12:42 pm

I’m glad you like the drawings in this post. Happy writing, Kalpana!

improve writing by

August 29, 2019 at 9:27 am

Really appreciate your writing, keep writing good stuff Henneke

August 29, 2019 at 9:32 am

Thanks! Happy writing, Kevin 🙂

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August 27, 2019 at 7:51 am

Wow! Looks really juicy and beautiful!

August 27, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Thank you, Helen. Happy writing!

improve writing by

August 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm

Wow!!! I love this article. I’ve seen a lot of linking to useful posts and I’m going to take my time to read all of them. Thanks for this great resource.

August 9, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Yes, this is an overview of my most useful articles on improving your writing skills. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them. Happy writing, Eriq!

improve writing by

August 3, 2019 at 6:25 pm

Henneke, I love this article, especially the graphics. I’m bookmarking it for continued reference.

August 5, 2019 at 10:10 am

Thank you, Patricia. This is like a summary of my whole blog 🙂

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August 2, 2019 at 5:20 am

Henneke, I heard you on ‘Experts on the Wire” and adored loads of what you said. I just skimmed some of your creations and instantly became a fan. I am eagerly anticipating reading your newsletter and learning more from your individual perspective.

P.S. On EOTW, you said the word “really” like really, really a lot. But English is not your first language so I will ignore your overwhelming usage of this “weak” word 😉

August 2, 2019 at 11:47 am

Welcome, Robert, and thank you for becoming a fan. Rest assured, you’ll rarely come across “really” in my writing 😉

I really (!) appreciate your comment on “really.” I’ll try cutting down on the usage next time.

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July 11, 2019 at 1:21 pm

so powerful, so helpful, so meaningful …. so glad to read that so happy to find your website thanks so so so much

July 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Thank you, Kasia. Happy writing!

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July 8, 2019 at 5:32 am

Hi! Im going to 10th grade and I want to improve my writing skills as much as I can over summer. THANK YOU for posting this. I’m in the progress of learning English.

July 8, 2019 at 4:28 pm

Thank you, Thu. Happy writing!

improve writing by

July 2, 2019 at 8:35 am

Great tips here and love the infographic! I love the idea of cliff hangers and hooks for readers. I like doing this and often use the “more on this later” hook or use a story which is unfinished and then return to it later.

July 2, 2019 at 9:11 pm

Yes, “more on this later” is a good hook, too! Thank you for stopping by, Tim.

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September 10, 2019 at 2:46 am

I love the analogy of comparing writing with preparing a meal. Really thinking about what the readers may want to consume.

September 11, 2019 at 8:23 am

Thank you, Shantell. I love referring to cooking and food on my blog 🙂

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June 25, 2019 at 11:56 am

Well I still believe in this statement “practice make perfection” when you develop an habit of writing regularly,you start writitng like a pro-just with little time,so write regularly.

June 25, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Sure, practice is essential to improving any skill. And you can accelerate your progress when you know exactly what to practice, how to practice, and what standard you’re aiming for.

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June 11, 2019 at 1:23 pm

In summary, 1. Keep it simple but accurate and don’t over-complicate things. 2. Get some keywords and key phrases prepared. 3. Don’t use contractions like don’t for do not instead use the direct word. 4. Don’t use dead weight words like “very”, “a lot”, “so” instead use a high quality word that compensates the use of such filler adjectives. Also, avoid phrases as “there is” and “there are” 5. Prioritize accuracy over fluency. 6. Recheck your writings once done and identify mistakes with trying to correct them to the most extent. 7. Refer right document and material relevant to your preparation and the pattern of exam. Read examples for each type of questions that could be asked. 8. Get your work corrected with a qualified, interested and relevant teacher. Pay them if possible as that may guarantee a proper review.

June 11, 2019 at 2:11 pm

What’s wrong with contractions? I use them all the time. They make writing more conversational.

And a natural flow of writing is as important as accuracy.

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June 11, 2019 at 11:47 am

I have love to write even before I know what writing is. I just want to start writing not for the pay but to pen down my thoughts and probably to have a listening ear.

Is that normal? Am I normal? Can I be regarded as a writer too?

P.S. Thank you for this post, it will go a long way for me

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June 7, 2019 at 8:10 am

Thank you for providing such invaluable information for free. I had many light bulb moments while reading this post. I have also registered for your 16 part course and the first snack made me laugh! I must be the most wanted criminal of all! ? I am trying not to use exclamation but can’t help it! Help! Hahaha

June 7, 2019 at 5:08 pm

I’m glad you found this post useful. Happy snacking!?

And thank you for stopping by.

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May 31, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Great read!

May 31, 2019 at 8:08 pm

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May 30, 2019 at 5:00 am

Tremendous, Henneke. Thanks for resending this – hate to have missed it. It’s a goldmine, better still, the Kimberly diamond mine of outstanding tips and know-how. Cheers and best to you.

May 30, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Thank you so much, Paul. I’m glad you found this little goldmine 🙂

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May 30, 2019 at 2:39 am

Hi Henneke, This is yet another wonderful post from you. I love the headline the part of escape content mediocrity.

BTW I think you should remove the date showing in the comment section, since the post is not dated.

Anyway thanks for this wonderful read.

May 30, 2019 at 7:29 pm

Thank you. I’m glad you liked it!

And I’ve changed the order of the comments so the most recent one comes at the top 🙂

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May 29, 2019 at 4:44 pm

“Establish your main writing weaknesses. What exactly do you want to improve?”

This is a serious issue for me. I can’t pinpoint what exactly is wrong with my writing. I just know that when I compare it to writings like yours, it looks bad.

What’s your advice for a newbie writer like me?

May 29, 2019 at 8:35 pm

The big points are usually what I mention at the start: Writing for one reader, helping him solve his problems, staying on point (no irrelevant information), and making abstract ideas concrete.

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May 29, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Great teaching article Henneke, thanks! Vimal Thapa

May 29, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Thank you, Vimal. Happy writing!

May 29, 2019 at 4:27 pm

You are welcome

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May 29, 2019 at 10:07 am

I enjoyed this post in 2015 and the expanded version is so welcome.

As I read through it, what struck me most (apart from the wealth of learning on offer) was what an incredible body of work you have built up… quietly helping us solve our writing problems week after week.

It’s inspiring, generous … and always implementable.

May 29, 2019 at 11:42 am

You know what I was surprised about? That I could include existing images for all of these tips. Who knew I’d build up a body of writing, but of drawings, too?

Thank you so much for cheering me on all these years. ?

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May 29, 2019 at 3:57 am

This is not a “post!” This is resource! More than a reference filed under —Bookmarks Read Later. This is a guide. One, I believe, if studied and followed daily, will vastly improve writing. ( Read ….my writing.)

Your infographic is amazing. Not a word wasted. Not a graphic, to include font choice and layout design that didn’t serve to enhance the reading experience. The effort involved in this post staggers the imagination. Amazing!

May 29, 2019 at 7:52 am

Thank you for your generous compliment, Curtis.

Maybe I could have sold this as a writing course instead of publishing it for free. But I had a great time putting the infographic together and I’m happy to share with everyone 🙂

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May 29, 2019 at 12:34 am

By part 3 I was looking for the recipe links. Hungry! Ha ha. A great summary of writing tips. You are so generous, Henneke.

May 29, 2019 at 7:50 am

Ha, yes! Maybe it’s time to change my business and focus on food instead 😉

Thank you, Brooke!

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May 28, 2019 at 10:00 pm

Knocked it out of the park with this one, my friend! ♥️

What I love is how this process shows up again and again. It breaks down for anything, whether it’s writing, dog training, building sport skills, and so on.

And the infographic … ?

Thank you so much, Kathy! It’s so true: once you know how to get better in one skill, you can apply it to so many other skills, too. It also applies to learning how to draw!

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May 28, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Thank you so much. Am a fan of art. So reading this makes learning fun and exciting thank you so much. Especially magnifying the writing content and making small daily goals. This am willing to try. Thank you Henneke.

May 28, 2019 at 5:23 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed the drawings. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

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May 28, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration. I’ve learnt so much from your articles, even by scanning the articles themselves. I’m sure there is more for me when I sit down and read it deeply not to talk when I start applying the principles you espouse in each one. Thanks so much.

May 28, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Thank you, Chenden. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog 🙂

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May 28, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Just wonderful Henneke! The build up to the advanced techniques was the icing on the cake.

May 28, 2019 at 3:19 pm

The icing on the cake … that’s the perfect metaphor 🙂

Thank you, Paul!

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May 28, 2019 at 4:04 pm

The graphic adds to the content in a measurable way drawing you into the article. Great job. The watercolors give it a subtle intrusion that is not distracting but captivating.

May 28, 2019 at 4:39 pm

I’m glad you like the drawings and find them adding value rather than distracting. I color the drawings with colored pencils 🙂

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May 28, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Superb article lady! Descriptive yet impressive .. 🙂

May 28, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Thank you so much, Vatsala. It was a big job to put this all together 🙂

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May 18, 2017 at 7:04 am

Really thank you, Henneke. I have seen many blogs and posts about how to do content writing well, and I got lots of information from those posts, but your post not only inspired me but also raised my confidence. I never usually comment on posts, because I am not confident enough. But now here I am commenting!! Thank you once again

May 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

I appreciate your comment, Vineeth. Happy writing!

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September 1, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Practicing empathy really seems like a smart idea when writing. That way, you can engage your readers and play to their emotions. Even if what you are writing is something they don’t agree with! You can still sympathize with them, and that may even help them to sympathize with you and your ideas.

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June 26, 2016 at 7:52 am

This helps a lot it makes me want to write more and more without stop Thank you

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February 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm

I love this article. I think it might help make my budding freelance writing career become lucrative.

February 18, 2016 at 11:03 am

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November 19, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I loved that you used a cooking metaphor to highlight each point. Even for the person who doesn’t cook it works. They know how to eat, or in this case, read and know what good content looks like. What is so often needed is just what you gave, good examples.

November 19, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Thank you, Joyce. I love using cooking metaphors (and examples!) in my writing. Thank you for stopping by!

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October 21, 2015 at 3:16 am

The more I read about your rationale about writing, the more enchanted I get. Your teaming up with Julia is fascinating. I am doing the same with Mr Coco Suarez, I call him my companion and helper. But no, I do not know how to draw, I just take photographs with my cell. Someone might think I am crazy. Well I am, but not that much. Ha! I am not a blogger yet, but I am working on it. I have already a domain name. The topic nutrition and health. So you talking so much in your comparisons about cooking, restaurant and so forth… I identify so much with your menus. Thank you for your energies using it helping us. Great help! You say you’re blogging or 3 years… wao… and are so season it already. God bless!

October 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

Good luck with starting your blog, Aida. Sounds like you’ve picked a good topic!

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April 30, 2015 at 6:28 am

Hi Henneke, These are awesome tips that will not only make the writing genius but also delicious “rotis”. Umm they are delicious. Thanks for the tips and I am waiting t using them in my freelance writing business.

April 30, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Happy cooking 🙂

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March 26, 2015 at 2:41 pm

All good advice. That’s what I love about writing. You can always learn. There’s no end zone here. I doubt even Tolstoy said, “I’m done. I have nothing left to learn.”

March 26, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Yes, writing is a lifelong journey. Fortunately, it’s a fun journey 🙂

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March 26, 2015 at 2:02 am

A great checklist Henneke! What I love about this post is that you have made it really simple to quickly read through. I keep learning from you every time I read one of your posts.

March 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

I edit and format quite rigorously to improve readability 🙂

Glad you enjoyed it, Peter!

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March 25, 2015 at 1:03 pm

I’m in awe of you! You are truly brilliant. I don’t post often here, but know that I read just about everything you write (I try. Being a SAHM to twin toddlers and a freelance writer give me very little time).

I’m going to bookmark this site so I can come back to it when I can spare a couple of minutes.

Thanks for sharing your insightful list.

March 25, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Twin toddlers? That sounds like far more than a full time job already.

I’m amazed you’re still finding time for freelance clients (and to stop by here now and then!).

March 25, 2015 at 3:14 pm

I’m surprised I have time to cook and clean! My husband works from home as well and I have great in-laws to help relieve me when needed (like every day!).

I recently acquired 4 clients in a row, so I’m working hard at being as productive and efficient as possible.

Thanks for these tips again!

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March 25, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Great list, oh boy do I need some more “flavored words”. If I saw “awesome” one more time in an email or social media post I might just shoot myself lol.

Thanks Henneke!

March 25, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Please, please, don’t shoot yourself Sarah. Just delete the email (and unsubscribe if it’s an e-newsletter!) 🙂

Thank you for stopping by!

March 25, 2015 at 1:24 pm

lol I was talking about emails and social media posts that I WRITE. See how bad my writing is? 🙂

I guess I could delete them but my poor subscribers…I feel for them!

Seriously, your content is always really helpful to me as I strive to improve.

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March 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Great post.

Creating fresh metaphors and mini-stories are things I still struggle with. The mini-stories especially because I don’t know what to write about. So, what I started doing was jotting down notes of interesting things that has happened in my life, or that I see (or hear) every day that I can then refer back to. And even weave it into my posts. Is that a good strategy? I think I need to read your mini-stories post again.

Anyway, loved the post and the practical tips, Henneke. And of course the illustrations as well. Keep up the excellent work.

– Andrew

March 25, 2015 at 1:12 pm

I usually start with the idea I want to communicate and then think about a story or metaphor I can use to illustrate it.

You might want to check out the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, or The Tall Lady With the Iceberg by Anne Miller. The former is about story telling and using metaphors, the latter about using metaphors in sales situations, but most of the book applies to using metaphors in blog posts, too.

Glad you enjoyed the post!

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March 25, 2015 at 4:50 am

This advice and tips are so practical and simple to learn. Good reading too.

Thanks Henneke 🙂

March 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Thank you, Busyra 🙂

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March 25, 2015 at 1:45 am

I love the way you write your posts and have started to emulate your style. Thanks for this latest post – using sensory words while having “structured” writing can be difficult. You make it look easy. I can’t wait for your next post. Have a nice vacation.

I think the key is to do the writing in several steps. First structure your posts, then edit sentence by sentence to see where you can add a dash of creativity and personality.

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March 25, 2015 at 12:39 am

Well on your way to a book for sure. Title is there. Outline is clear. Content is well in hand. Scribble in the connective tissue and bingo! Well, maybe that last Bingo part might take a little more than pixy dust. But, the Henneke magic will bring it off. 🙂

In the Bluebird world the female builds the nest. But, the male as suitor demonstrates his good provider role by being the first on scene with nesting material. To us, it looks like Leonardo, if he hasn’t yet won her heart, is making sure she doesn’t miss his efforts in that direction.

March 25, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Haha! If it only was so easy, Curtis. Scribbling in the connective tissue seems much harder than it sounds 😀

But eventually I’ll get there!

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March 24, 2015 at 11:26 pm

Hi Henneke, I have been reading a lot of blogs in the past year and your’s is just outstanding, for it’s ease on readability. Of course also on value of information. Love you Annamarie

Thank you for your loyal readership, Annamarie! 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 8:57 pm

Hey Henneke

I’m am truly inspired by the way you take a big topic like how to improve your writing and break it down into bite size pieces.

Plus your tips have given me a ton of areas that I can focus on one at a time to improve my writing.

#16 really hit home reason being because it works for me when a writer shows empathy in their content it helps me connect with them which in turn make them pop into my head every now and again to check if they have new content

Anyway great post thanks for sharing.

March 24, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Yes, #16 is my favorite tip, too.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing something just because we know it and not because we’re helping our readers. Empathy requires discipline.

I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Mark. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 8:52 pm

This is an awesome article and exactly what I needed to hear. I have been blogging for several years but I feel like I am just now beginning to understand how to make my blog posts more engaging. I really enjoy your style of writing and look forward to reading your articles. Thanks for your inspiration!

March 24, 2015 at 9:07 pm

Thank you, Sheri 🙂

Glad you enjoyed it!

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March 24, 2015 at 8:07 pm

What a wonderfully breezy style you have, Henneke! Yet always so full of practical, powerful suggestions! Love the illustrations, too. your sweet, whimsical personality really shines through them 🙂 Keep up the great work!

March 24, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Thank you so much, Juliet.

You put a smile on my face 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Hey Henneke,

This was a great post and it shows that I’m on the right track. I like to add more descriptive emotional words when it comes to my headlines and content. But I will take your advice on studying more sales copy and direct mail. But this post definitely helps because you show the whole entire picture of great writing!

Thanks for the share! Have a great rest of the week!

March 24, 2015 at 8:58 pm

I’ve learned a ton from studying sales copy!

Glad you feel on the right track.

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March 24, 2015 at 4:51 pm

And now all I want to do is write. . . and cook. 🙂

Thank you for the enchanting post, Henneke!

March 24, 2015 at 8:56 pm

Me, too. I want to cook! 🙂

Thank you for stopping by, Anna

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March 24, 2015 at 4:03 pm

I love how you broke down the process into 4 distinct steps, Henneke. It makes it feel more doable and not so overwhelming when you can approach it in this step-by-step way.

My favourite tip was definitely this one: “Practice empathy—understanding how you can help your reader is the basic ingredient of nourishing content.” I couldn’t agree more.

March 24, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Yes, that’s my favorite tip, too 🙂

I was afraid that 27 ways would feel overwhelming, but I wanted to write an overview post. I’m glad you mention it feels doable!

March 24, 2015 at 9:27 pm

I hear ya, Henneke. 27 tips is a lot. But the way that you wrote it definitely made it feel achievable 🙂

March 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Great! That was my intention.

And it IS doable. 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Henneke, Love this article. Particularly apt as I am trying to improve both my writing and culinary skills. The cooking suffers because often I am trying to meet a deadline and get distracted by the keyboard. Your article is saved to pocket and pinned on the memory board. I will endeavour to master the mini skills in both areas of my life. Thank you and have a lovely Easter break. PS. I love the illustrations.

March 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm

I think my cooking has been suffering a bit since I’ve started to draw. It’s time to get creative in the kitchen again! 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 2:25 pm

What yummy tips. Thanks for your tasty offerings.

March 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Bon appétit 🙂

Thank you, Susan.

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March 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Perfect timing, Henneke! Looking at all the writing I should be doing this week left me feeling rather drained this morning. But now, I’m inspired again and ready to go. Though, I do have to make sure I don’t end up spending most of my time reading all your practical tips and actually do the writing. Thanks!

March 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Yes, don’t hang around here for too long, Noreen 😉

Glad to hear you’re feeling inspired again. Good luck with your writing!

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March 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Great article Henneke! Somehow, while reading this article, I had in mind how to write in social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. I think some of your tips can be applied to those too- so thanks for the double advice!

Happy holidays 🙂

March 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Yep, totally true. Writing for social media is writing, too, and a good way to practice! Twitter, for instance, is good for learning how to write soundbites 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Thank you for this invaluable post filled with so many helpful tips and suggestions. I’ll refer to this post many times when I am writing.

March 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Glad you enjoyed it, Marie 🙂

What happened to your avatar? You used to have a photo, didn’t you?

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March 24, 2015 at 12:56 pm

“Read a lot, write a lot, and have a good mentor to guide you in the right direction.” Thanks for the practical, doable step by step guidance Henneke.

March 24, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Ha yes! The mentor is a good addition 🙂

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February 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Dear Henneke…. Your tips are so inspirational and helpful for writing. you are our mentor here.

February 3, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Thank you. I do my best to help 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 11:59 am

Your tips make me want to write more and more. This is such an inspiring piece. Thanks for the good read.

March 24, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Write more and cook more? I see you’re into cooking, too! 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 11:58 am

Hi Henneke.

Thanks as always for all your helpful posts that wing their way to my inbox. I have implemented your advice to my blog posts and i feel my writing is getting so much better.

This is like playing my guitar, i know how to play musical scales but the notes are bland and boring if i don’t learn how to construct engaging music. Or like a painter who has a palette of colours but is not sure how to make an inspiring picture on his canvas.

The same with words. I’m learning to sort the wheat from the chaff and become a better writer.

I look forward to more of your posts after your Easter break and also look forward to escaping content mediocrity.

Thanks again, and all the best.

March 24, 2015 at 12:53 pm

I’m so glad to hear my blog posts are helping you improve your writing. That’s the cherry on the cake for me 🙂

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March 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

Great post Henneke!

It truly helps to see the whole meal, not just one dish.

Is this picture an intro for an infographic? 🙂

March 24, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Yeah, perhaps I can do more with the picture.

I made the mistake to use watercolors as a background, so it’s hard to re-use (and in hindsight, I don’t like it so much you lose the subtle color variations after scanning). But I can always draw it again! 🙂

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March 25, 2015 at 1:02 am

I think the graphic, and the way it communicates the structure of the content. The graphic creates a inquest image/brand which is unique to you. Fascinating, useful post.

March 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Thank you for your compliment, Roger. That’s what I’m trying to do – create images that aren’t simply decoration but that also add meaning to the post, while building a unique brand. The style is still evolving, but that’s only natural, I guess.

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Follow proven templates for specific writing tasks, practice your skills, and get professional feedback so you become a confident business writer. Take on any writing project with gusto. Learn more about books and courses

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About Henneke

I never saw myself as a writer, but in my early forties, I learned how to write and discovered the joy of writing. Now, I’d like to empower you to find your voice, share your ideas and inspire your audience. Learn how I can help you

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How to Improve Writing Skills in Students

Amanda martin.

  • June 8, 2021

High school students sitting at a table and writing on paper.

Why is Writing Important for Students?

Writing skills are such an important part of a student’s education. Writing is a way for students to express and explain themselves adequately, and it encompasses a wide array of skills from grammar and punctuation to clarity and creativity. The perks of writing truly go on and on.

Furthermore, writing skills play an integral role in a student’s future. Potential employers may seek employees who are well versed and competent, but even more so, a written resume may be the first impression given in landing a new job. Imagine submitting an unorganized resume filled with grammatical errors, misspelled words, and half thoughts? Chances are that resume would be “thrown out” pretty quickly. Enhancing writing skills while in middle and high school can set students up for a more successful future, open the door for better opportunities, and make a great impression on those around them.

Grammar and Punctuation

Grammar and punctuation skills are important in both writing and as students progress into adulthood. As mentioned previously, using proper grammar and punctuation presents an excellent first impression for future employers and shows competency. Teachers can help students improve these skills by first providing practice in identifying grammatical errors and correcting them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use grammar worksheets. Although the use of worksheets is frowned upon at times, they give students the opportunity to practice with grammar skills in a fast and efficient manner. Students may also wish to invest in a grammar dictionary to reference when in doubt.

Another skill that is crucial for students to master for success later in life is spelling ! Students must be able to spell words correctly. As with most skills, spelling can be improved with practice. Teachers may ask students to complete the “ancient” practice of the spelling test! Students must study new words (or words and vocabulary specific to new content) in order to spell them correctly on the test. Teachers may even encourage students to create flashcards to help them study. Additionally, one of the easiest ways to spell correctly in writing is to simply reference the dictionary to find a word’s proper spelling.

In writing, vocabulary is highly important. Students need a large enough vocabulary to properly and adequately describe and explain their thoughts. Teachers can help improve vocabulary skills by introducing new words each week. These words can also be used to help student spelling skills as mentioned before. As each week progresses, students should keep a list of all of their vocabulary words in a notebook or journal so that they can be quickly referenced when writing. As with spelling skills, students may want to reference the dictionary to discover new words and their meanings.

Have you ever read something and didn’t quite catch its intended meaning or what it was trying to get across? That may be because the writing lacked clarity. Writing should be logical, consistent, and coherent. In order to have clarity in writing, thoughts should be fully formed and completed with plenty of detail to aid the reader’s understanding and interpretation of the text. Teachers can help improve student clarity in writing by asking them to proofread their work.

Plagiarism is definitely something students need to avoid! When researching a topic or idea, it is easy to get swept away in the language or thoughts of another; however, students must learn that those ideas should be used as an aid in writing instead of using it as a foundation for their writing. Teachers should encourage creativity in writing and challenge students to think “outside the box.” Each student presents unique thoughts and ideas, and those qualities should be utilized in writing.

Strategies for Improving Student Writing Skills

Grammar race.

This activity requires teachers to create 4-5 stations for students to visit. At each station, there will be examples of various grammatical errors. Each student will need a clipboard or notebook that travels with them. Students will visit each station at their own pace to find one grammatical error, notate it, and move on; however, the name of the activity is “Grammar Race” so students should be challenged to work quickly. Allow students to move from station to station for 20-30 minutes.

Class Spelling Bee

Teachers can help students improve their spelling skills by hosting a class spelling bee once a week. Teachers should provide students with a list of words on Monday. Students will be given the rest of the week to study the words and prepare for the spelling bee. On Friday, students will complete the spelling bee. The spelling bee is completed like a normal spelling bee; however, words may need to be repeated if there are more students than words. Allow the spelling bee to continue for roughly 30 minutes. When time is up, the students remaining are the winners.

Read It Aloud

In this activity, students will proofread the work of classmates in order to provide constructive feedback. The teacher should place students into small groups of 3-4 students or allow students to work with a partner. Students should trade papers so that they no longer have their own. Then, they will read each student’s writing aloud. Reading aloud helps to identify any mistakes (specifically mistakes in clarity or organization of the text) that may not otherwise be caught. Students should check for mistakes (in both grammar and spelling) and to search for any lack of clarity in writing.

Get Organized

Teachers should aid students in the writing process by teaching them to organize their thoughts on paper first. Students can complete an outline or a writing map on paper first to help them identify the main points they would like to address and so on. Planning the steps in the writing process in this manner is extremely beneficial in staying on task in writing. It also helps students write with clarity as it helps them bring their thoughts full circle.

One of my favorite ways of implementing and teaching creative thinking is by writing one word on the board and asking students to respond. For instance, the teacher may write the word “tiger” or “beautiful” on the board. Student responses can be anything from short personal narratives to expository texts involving the provided word. Regardless of the response, students are encouraged to think creatively and respond freely. This activity teaches students how easy it is to create their own ideas and think uniquely.

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– 14 min read

How to write better: a quick-start guide for anyone and everyone

Anne Ichikawa

Anne Ichikawa

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Just about everyone knows how to write — but writing well is something different. Great writers are formed through hard work and a passion for learning. But just like you, they all started from the beginning.

Problem is, a lot of “start writing well’ articles focus on the result. But good writing begins before you tippity-tap on that keyboard. Studying everyday practices, learning how to organize your thoughts, and then turning those ideas into effective writing should be your priority.

Whether you’re a blogger , an SEO writer, a marketer, or want to be the next Stephen King, these universal writing tips give you lots of ways to write better.

15 writing tips to help you write better

1. think before you start writing.

One of the best writing tips for beginners is organizing your thoughts in a logical, explainable manner before putting pen on paper. The biggest hurdle is often not knowing how to begin or what to say—everything is a jumble of ideas that probably look like a bunch of paint thrown against a wall (and not in an artistic way). It can be very frustrating.

Note: THIS IS NORMAL. Don’t get discouraged. There’s a reason the phrase “writer’s block” exists. Let yourself think about it for a day or two, especially if you’re doing creative writing. You’ll be surprised at how that paint blob slowly transforms into a recognizable shape.

2. Embrace the writing “brain dump”

In business writing , the “brain dump” signals the beginning of every new project or assignment. It’s the opportunity to get whatever is in your head out on digital paper in a stream of consciousness.

Avoid correcting misspellings, typos, sentence structure, or grammar—just type, type, type until your brain excavates all musings. You can use this creative writing skill for all kinds of work, from personal blogging and copywriting to essays and work emails.

Remember that at this phase of writing: bad ideas don’t exist. Your best creative ideas will come when you’re not held back by perfectionism.

3. Make an outline

Now that you have all your wonderful, messy thoughts on paper, it’s time to get more granular and organized. Some tips on how to edit your brain dump: do a first pass and delete the parts that are definite “nos.” Then go through again and highlight the ideas you like best. Revisit the “maybes” later.

Now, take your favorites and as briefly or as detailed as you like, make an outline that conveys your message. Start top-level with your biggest, overarching ideas, and then get into the details. Fill in missing parts, elaborate on other parts—rinse and repeat until satisfied.

4. Know your audience

This is a straightforward writing tip for beginners, but a lot of people forget it. For example, your voice and elements of style for personal blogging will be much more informal than business writing (i.e writing a proposal for a new client). Being mindful of your audience is key to improving writing skills and creating more impactful work.

5. Keep a journal

Being a better writer means writing more! Keeping a journal should be a very low-pressure thing. It can be as simple as writing a list of things you did that day, playing around with word choice for a LinkedIn headline, or recounting a conversation you had with a friend.

If you don’t want to keep a physical journal, you can start a note on your phone or a document on your computer. The point is—there are no journaling rules. Just start writing whenever you feel like it, because the more you do it, the more naturally it will come to you.

6. Pen a letter instead of texting

Great writers write letters for fun and for practice. Pen a letter (or an email) to a friend who lives in another city. A hundred years ago, people wrote long letters detailing everything from the mundane to faraway travel. Why not now? It’s the perfect way to get your creative writing juices flowing, rather than relying on boring texts.

Remember to check spelling, comma use, sentence structure, typos, etc. Your friends deserve good writing too. Spell-check is a nice starting point, but writing well happens when you use a reputable grammar or punctuation checker tool like  Writer  to support you.

7. Read more to do better writing

One of the best, passive ways of becoming a better writer is to read a book (Stephen King’s work makes for great binge reading). Not into books? Long-form business writing, graphic novels, or short stories do the trick as well.

Reading every day puts you in the fast lane for improving your writing skills. As  Roz Morris , the author of the bestseller book,  Nail Your Novel , puts it: “Reading exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve. Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you.”

By reading more, your brain will naturally pick up on things like good word choice, different writing styles, and good sentence structures. It also improves your reading comprehension and concentration levels (which comes in handy for the procrastinators among us, including me).

8. Keep your writing simple

As the legendary American novelist, Jack Kerouac, once said, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

One big misconception about writing is that it should be full of beautiful prose and impressive words. Wrong! Sure, I can use the word 'floccinaucinihilipilification,' but most people will just think my cat walked across my keyboard. Click To Tweet

No matter who they are, you should empower readers with your words. Complex writing can leave readers feeling insecure, weary, or both. To simplify your writing:

  • Replace adverbs with more powerful verbs (e.g. she talked quietly > she whispered)
  • Get rid of unnecessary adjectives
  • Opt for simple word choice
  • Delete fluff (e.g. instead of saying “in order to”, say “to”)

Go ahead and make use of a thesaurus, but don’t try to be a Shakespeare or even an Ernest Hemingway—just keep it simple and true to yourself.

9. Tone up your tone in writing

Getting tone right is key to being a good writer. It’s the personality of your writing, influenced by the type of writing you’re doing and who you’re talking to.

Just like we said in “Know Your Audience,” business writing like an email might sound conservative, while a personal social media post can be friendly and casual. Your tone can and should change depending on your needs. An extreme example: don’t start a cover letter with: “Hey, dude! Wassup?”

10. Prioritize your key points

If you want to learn how to write good, sentence structure and word placement is everything. If you have a question to ask, don’t put it in the middle of a paragraph, because it could get skipped over. Similarly, if you have an important piece of information to share, make it into its own paragraph or strategically place it in the introduction or conclusion—the sections readers tend to pay attention to the most.

11. Break up your writing into bite-size bits

Long sentences that are full of fluff are boring to read! Like staring directly at the sun—you just have to look away. Instead of creating a heavy block of text, break down large sections of information into concise, punchy sentences. Bullet points in particular are an amazing tool. They help you:

  • Communicate information effectively and quickly
  • Emphasize important points that are more easily remembered
  • Provide easily digestible information to the reader

(See? They come in handy) AI writing software  like Writer can help you be a better writer by identifying paragraphs that are hard to read.

12. Use active voice

Once you’re comfortable with sentence structure, punctuation and comma use, and word choice, it’s time to look at elements of style. One core element is passive voice vs. active voice.

An active voice is key for effective writing. It makes for a much more engaging read, conveying a strong and clear tone. Whereas passive voice pulls you away from the action, which can create an apathetic experience.

Here’s an example:

  • Active voice: The thief stole one million dollars (subject + verb + object).
  • Passive voice: One million dollars was stolen by the thief (object + past participle + subject).

See how in the first sentence, the subject performs the action? This eliminates extra processing time by getting to the point faster, unlike the passive voice example which puts the subject at the end of the sentence.

13. Edit (then edit again)

Now that you’ve overcome writer’s block and have the first draft, it’s time to move on to the editing process. Chances are, you’re not a professional editor, but that doesn’t matter—you can do a great job on your own. First, don’t edit immediately after writing. You want fresh eyes on that baby. Revisit it the next day and it will be easier to look for:

  • unnecessary words (like adverbs and adjectives)
  • long sentences that can be shortened
  • passive voice use

At this phase, don’t worry about grammatical errors. Right now, you’re editing for clarity of your ideas and thoughts.

14. Proof your writing

Proofreading  is where you check spelling, punctuation (i.e. comma use), run-on sentences, typos … you get the picture. Spell-check is a good starting point, a reputable grammar checker tool like Writer gives you advanced support.

Whenever possible, ask a real human to read your writing. They’ll likely be able to point out any writing mistakes  and even offer suggestions. Over time, the lessons you learn from using these tools will help you become a great writer.

15. Reflect on your main point

We’ve made it to the very end. You’ve taken your idea and found many words to make into numerous sentences that communicate your intended message… or did you?

The last step is to always take an objective look at your writing. Pretend you’re a total stranger. Now ask yourself—does the narration make logical sense? Can you read it once and understand its message? Even better, can you sum it up in a few sentences? If so, you’ve written something you can feel good about.

8 exercises to improve writing skills

Here are fun activities you can do every day to become a better writer.

1. Write every day

This is the best writing tip for beginners. Write like it’s your job. Practicing every day is key to learning how to write good. It helps you stretch those writing muscles and learn from doing. Keeping a journal with you at all times also means you can write whenever inspiration strikes, like when you’re walking your fave four-legged friend.

Write every day, and you’ll turn it into a habit. That doesn’t mean you have to write ten thousand words every day, as the author of the children’s novel,  See You in the Cosmos , Jack Cheng says:

“When mastery is the goal, spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting will likely lead to burnout. We don’t go to the gym expecting to put on 20 pounds of muscle in a single, day-long workout. Instead, we do several short workouts a week, spread out over months.”

2. Turn long paragraphs into bullet points

Want to learn how to write better sentences? Sentences that are easy to read and get to the point right away? Practice the art of brevity by chopping up hard-to-read paragraphs into succinct bullets.

This is especially useful for business writing because your readers are likely short on time. They want you to get to the point fast! And they want easy to digest information.

There is a place for long sentences in your work though, especially when it comes to creative writing. Writology has a great guide on this full of ace writing tips for beginners.

3. Change passive voice into active voice

A little recap on passive and active voice: Active voice is when the sentence starts with the subject acting on the verb. Passive voice is when the subject is a recipient of the verb’s action. Active voice is more engaging because it takes less processing time from the reader, and also gives the impression that the action is happening now, not in the past.

Use an AI writing platform like Writer  to spot unengaging instances of passive voice and transform them into the active voice. This will help you draw readers in and make your writing easier to read.

4. Use grammar checker tools like Writer

Use a grammar checker like Writer helps you spot mistakes you may have missed. Mistakes such as misused commas, spelling errors, typos, incorrect use of words (we’re looking at you, thesaurus lovers), etc. Writer is also ideal for business writing. You can submit your company style guide and the app will measure your written work against it to ensure consistent and on-brand content.

5. Proof your friend’s or colleague’s writing

One effective way to improve writing skills:  Proofreading  other people’s content. You can pick up on  common grammar mistakes , different sentence structures, new words, word placement – everything that you might not learn from your own writing. It’s about getting a fresh perspective on all the different ways language is used.

Bonus: you get all the good feelings for helping someone out. And they might even return the favor one day!

6. Write fanfiction

Improve your creative writing skills by writing about stories and characters you love. Why? The more passionate you are about what you’re writing, the more fun and engaging it will be to read. Because you’ll naturally inject your love of the subject into your work. Plus, you can ensure your favorite novels or short stories live on through that amazing imagination of yours! It’s also a great place to start if your idea bank is running on empty, giving you the inspiration and direction needed to write freely.

7. Read out loud

Sometimes you can’t tell if a word or phrase doesn’t work until you read it out loud. Same with spotting mistakes. This is especially true if you’ve read your work over a hundred times (hello fellow perfectionists). Your brain will find it more and more difficult to spot mistakes – reading out loud can fix this!

When you read out loud, it requires you to slow down and focus on every single word that you’re saying, so that it can make its way from your brain to your mouth. When we proofread inwardly, we tend to rush through things and don’t actually read the text properly.

That’s because our brain already has a version of the content embedded and it wants to concentrate on the meaning rather than the words. As psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos at the University of Sheffield in the UK, says : “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”

8. Read books on how to write better

These books on how to write better are simple, easy to read, and full of valuable info.

  • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley – for business writing, marketing, and blogging
  • On Writing  by Stephen King – for writing novels and improving your creative writing skills
  • Write Tight  by William Brohaugh – for business and creative writing, with lots of writing tips for beginners
  • The Sense of Style  by Steven Pinker – for writing novels, letters and understanding the sciences of mind when it comes to language
  • You Are a Writer  by Jeff Goins – for business writers with great writing tips for beginners
  • Nail Your Novel  by Roz Morris – for budding novelists who want to polish their first draft or write a book

That’s your next vacation reading list sorted!

Now you can write better

It’s time to unleash your amazing writing skills and creativity! Got a friend who also wants to learn how to write well? Share the tips you’ve learned today. By teaching them, you’ll embed them further into your wonderful brain.

Write with clarity and confidence when using Writer.  Sign up for your free trial .

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How to Improve Creative Writing

Last Updated: February 24, 2023 References

This article was co-authored by Melessa Sargent and by wikiHow staff writer, Hannah Madden . Melessa Sargent is the President of Scriptwriters Network, a non-profit organization that brings in entertainment professionals to teach the art and business of script writing for TV, features and new media. The Network serves its members by providing educational programming, developing access and opportunity through alliances with industry professionals, and furthering the cause and quality of writing in the entertainment industry. Under Melessa's leadership, SWN has won numbers awards including the Los Angeles Award from 2014 through 2021, and the Innovation & Excellence award in 2020. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 30,433 times.

Creative writing is an outlet to express your imagination by putting it onto paper. Many people enjoy creative writing, but some struggle with it because of how unstructured it can feel. If you have been writing creatively and you’d like to improve your skills, try learning grammar rules and receiving feedback on your work to strengthen your creative writing and boost your confidence.

Creating Polished Work

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 1

  • Using correct grammar and punctuation will also make your writing seem more polished.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 2

  • For example, instead of saying, “He quickly and quietly ate his food,” try saying, “He gulped down his meal.” This sentence is more interesting, and gives the same effect to the reader.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 3

Tip: Take a break from writing and come back to your piece after a few hours or even days. Mistakes will be easier to spot after you’ve taken a break.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 4

  • Revising is similar to proofreading, except you are looking for ways to improve your piece, not just correcting mistakes.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 5

  • Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t like your piece, or has a lot of feedback to give. You can choose whether or not to implement a change that someone else suggests.

Finding Time and Ideas

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 6

Tip: If you think you might forget to write, set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 7

  • Get a library card so that you can check out books for free instead of buying them every time.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 8

  • For example, you might start with a prompt like, “Imagine what it would be like to be a plant,” or "Write about a day in the life of Barack Obama.”

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 9

  • You can also use people-watching to practice writing down descriptions of behavior and clothing.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 10

  • For instance, try writing a fairytale from another character’s perspective, or setting it in today’s era.

Image titled Improve Creative Writing Step 11

  • Deadlines that you set for yourself can seem easy to brush off, but you will be disappointed in yourself if you don’t meet them.
  • Make sure your deadlines are realistic. Don’t plan on finishing an entire book by next week if you’re only halfway through.

Expert Q&A

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How to Improve Writing Skills: 18 Tips to Become a Better Writer

Want to become a better writer from penning emails to essays to novels, read this practical guide for more on how to improve writing skills..

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Businesses and individuals from across the globe upload about  2.5 quintillion  bytes of data in a single day. In the digital age, content is king, and websites with valuable content always have the upper hand.

Writing involves more than just churning out random words and hoping it makes sense. Good writing is well-structured, intentional, and intricate. If you’ve been struggling with your writing and want to know how to improve writing skills, you’re in the right place.

In today’s post, we’ll be highlighting some incredible tips on how to improve your writing skills. Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a better writer.

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1. Consistency Is Key

The best way to become a better writer is to practice your writing consistently. Write every day, and you’ll become a better writer in no time. It doesn’t matter how long your writing sessions are; what matters is that you’re writing regularly.

Start small with 500 words a day, and later bump up the word count to 1,000 or even 2,000. Learn from other blog posts and ask for feedback from your peers to gauge whether or not your writing is improving. Don’t be discouraged if they give you a low rating; it gets better with time.

2. Read Like Your Life Depends on It

Great writers are also avid readers. Reading every day will also go a long way towards improving your writing skills. It helps improve your grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. 

Reading other people’s work exposes you to different writing styles and techniques. You can learn how to use metaphors, similes, and other literary devices by reading the works of great writers.

Don’t just read any book or blog post; pick well-written and engaging ones.

Related Read : How to Improve Handwriting: 10 Great Tips to Up Your Handwriting Skills

3. Have the Basic Down Pat

No matter how advanced your writing skills are, you can’t go far if you don’t have the basics down pat. This includes proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You need to ensure your work is free of errors before hitting the publish button.

Also, brush up on the correct use of punctuation marks. This includes commas, semicolons, apostrophes, and quotation marks. Using these incorrectly can change the meaning of your sentences, so be careful.

4. Keep It Simple

Being a good writer doesn’t mean using big words to show how smart you are. Remember, writing is more about the reader than the writer. As such, be sure to use simple words that are easy to read and understand.

You can still sound smart without using big words. Using simple words makes you sound more confident and in control of what you’re saying. So, next time you sit down to write, keep it simple.

5. Keep It Short and Sweet

Keeping your sentences and paragraphs short makes it easier for readers to consume your work. Long sentences are hard to follow. Most readers don’t have large attention spans for long sentences and paragraphs.

The best way to keep your writing concise is by using an active voice. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. For instance, “John wrote a novel” is in the active voice, while “A novel was written by John” is passive.

Use simple words, short sentences, and an active voice, and your writing will be more concise.

Related Read : 10 Different Types Of Journaling & Which Writing Type is Right for You

6. Create an Outline for Your Work

Creating an outline for your work makes it coherent and well-structured. Before getting down to business, create a clear outline for your work.

Suppose you’re writing a  college essay . Try creating an outline with the introduction, points, and conclusion. Decide how many words you want each section to have, and you’ll be good to go.

7. Avoid Overexplaining Your Content

Of course, you want readers to understand your work, but don’t go overboard on the explanations. Remember, you’re not writing to third-graders. There’s no need to go into trivial details of whatever you’re working on.

Overexplaining will likely lead to long sentences and paragraphs. This means it does the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. It only makes your work hard to follow and understand.

8. Do Your Research

All forms of writing require extensive research to be good. Research is a must, regardless of whether you’re writing an article or a blog post.

Ensure you gather as much information as you can before you start writing. This will give your work more depth and make it more interesting to read. It’ll also help you avoid making mistakes.

9. Read Out Loud

Reading aloud helps ensure that your text sounds how you want it to. It also gives you a good idea of your work’s flow and also helps identify typos.

It will also help identify what areas of your work you need to improve.

Related Read : How to Write an Email to a Professor (5+ Tips for Starting, Ending & Body)

10. Remove Filler Words and Phrases

Filler words and phrases  are words and phrases that don’t add value to your content. They only take up unnecessary space and burden the reader. Ensure your work is free of filler words or phrases before submitting it.

So how can you tell whether you have filler words or phrases? Well, read your work sentence by sentence. After every sentence, ask yourself whether it adds value to the reader.

If it doesn’t, it’s a filler sentence. If it does, then let it be.

11. Join Forums and Writing Groups

Forums and writing groups are great ways to get feedback on your work and connect with other writers. Feedback will help you improve your writing skills by pointing out areas that need improvement.

It’s also a great way to learn from other writers and get different perspectives on how to approach writing. Visit some of the top  writing websites and forums  and sharpen your writing skills.

12. Use Contracted Word Forms

Using contracted forms like “can’t” instead of “cannot” and “won’t” instead of “will not” makes your writing sound sharp. Use contractions to make your work less stuffy and easier to read.

Unfortunately, it lowers the word count, but at least your writing sounds better. Use contractions appropriately and improve your writing immediately.

Related Read : How to Write an Essay: A Beginner’s Guide to Earning an A+ Essay Score

13. Sprinkle Some Personality Into It

Add a bit of personality to your writing to make it less drab and more exciting. Don’t be afraid to throw in a few funky phrases or even use a bit of slang. Of course, this only applies to informal writing.

Some good writers use anecdotes in their work to spice it up. This is a great way to show your personality and make your writing more fun.

14. Get an Editing Tool

Editing tools help you identify errors in your work to improve your writing. There are tons of editing tools available online, so find one that works for you and start using it.

Your writing will improve if you use an editing tool. Just make sure to choose a reputable one.  Try Grammarly  for starters, and explore other options as you grow your writing.

15. Don’t Overuse Adverbs

Adverbs are great for writing, but only if you use them appropriately. Writers have the habit of padding weak words with adverbs. In most cases, instead of adverbs, you can use words with the same meaning as your “adverbed” words.

For instance, you could use “hilarious” instead of “extremely funny.” You could also use “gorgeous” instead of “very beautiful.” The list is endless.

Related Reads : Learn how to write a resume , how to write a cover letter , and how to write a scholarship thank-you letter .

16. Look for a Writing Partner

A writing partner is someone with whom you can share your work and get feedback. They’ll help improve your writing skills by pointing out errors and suggesting improvements.

It’s also a great way to connect with other writers and learn from each other. If you don’t have a writing partner, look for one online or in forums and groups. You can read and rate each other’s works and motivate each other to become better writers.

17. Take a Writing Class

If you’re serious about improving your writing, you should consider taking a writing class.

A good writing class will help you understand the intricacies of writing and also give you valuable feedback. You can learn about the different writing styles and how to beat common writing challenges.

It’s a great way to improve your writing skills, so take a writing class if you have the opportunity. The best part is that taking the class doesn’t mean interfering with your daily activities. You can take night classes and spend the day at work or in school.

Apart from taking writing classes, you can also consider joining a writing program. This is a huge step in knowing how to become a better writer.

18. Avoid Excess Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are great for adding detail to your work, but using too many of them makes your writing sound choppy. If you can say the same thing without a prepositional phrase, do so. It’ll make your writing smoother and easier to read.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid prepositional phrases altogether. Just use them sparingly and only when they’re needed. 

Related Read : How to Improve Memory: 25 Steps to Take to Remember Things Better

Final Words on Improving Skills in Writing

Now that you know how to improve writing skills, our work here is done. Knowing how to write better is improving a lifelong skill that’ll help you move mountains. Practice every day and become the pro writer you’ve always wanted to be.

A blog post showing you how to be a better writer is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out our blog’s  self-improvement section  and learn about how you can become a better version of yourself. Oh, and bonus tip for future bestselling writers: consider contributing to the Goodwall Blog to start getting your name out there!

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Essay Writing Tips from Charles Cammack

Students working in library.

By UM Admission 09-06-2023

Here are three quick things that we all should strive for to improve our writing; check them out below:


If you had to choose between writing an essay or giving a speech, which would you choose? Or maybe you would rather play a musical piece, play a sport or even perform a dance? Whether you recognize it or not, you are communicating in some way, shape, or form through these activities.

Just because you have convinced yourself that you’re not a good writer or maybe you just don’t enjoy it, does not mean you have a lack of communication skills. The effectiveness of your essay writing might come more naturally if you first identify your best form of communication and then translate what you are communicating in that form to words on the page.

Remember when you needed to explain to the person at the store or at the random gas station that you needed directions to the bathroom? You were specific and straight to the point. The individual knew exactly what you were trying to communicate. Using more words does not always make your story stronger.

So now, imagine that the people who are reading your essay only have a limited amount of time to do so; how can you help them get to the “bathroom” sooner?

Your unique story and perspective are enough. You are enough. I know it is tempting to try to figure out what the college or university wants to hear, but the fit will come with the institution that identifies and appreciates who you are as much as you appreciate who they are. Write your essay as you and for you.

I could absolutely say more, but that wouldn’t be efficient , now would it? Feel free to write me anytime if you are looking for a little more guidance!

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Sentence length: How to improve your research paper readability

sentence length

Academic writing is vastly different from other forms of writing. It is more formal, complex, and nuanced. Unfortunately, many early career researchers lack formal training in academic writing, which often results in difficulties when it comes to writing research papers or dissertations. In an attempt to convey complex concepts, early career researchers often find themselves using lengthy, complicated sentences as starting sentences for research papers. Longwinded sentences lack clarity, are prone to ambiguity, and reduces readability. That is why experts recommend limiting the sentence length to approximately 12-15 words to ensure better clarity.

This article presents some expert tips to help you optimize sentence length and starting sentences for research papers and ensure that your research is both readable and easily understood.

Tips to optimize sentence length for better clarity and impact

Break down complex ideas: The best way to avoid lengthy sentences is to simplify complex ideas. Experts’ advice breaking difficult to communicate concepts into smaller sections and using shorter simpler sentences when writing. By doing so, each sentence can address a specific aspect of the concept, making it easier for readers to understand gradually. While it may be important to present in-depth explanations for complex ideas, there is no need to do so using long-winded sentences.

Use a mix of short and long sentences: Using only short sentences can affect the flow of the narrative and make it seem more abrupt. That is why it is important to ensure a balance between short and long sentences. While short sentences can convey clear and concise points, longer sentences can be used to communicate complex concepts in greater detail. Experts suggest using a combination of sentence lengths to make the paper more readable and keep readers engaged.

Choose to use active voice: Experts suggest using active voice when writing academic or scientific papers. While passive voice is sometimes necessary, the use of active voice gives your writing a certain sense of authority and also results in shorter and more direct sentences.

Eliminate unnecessary words: It is common to find writers inadvertently using connecting words, phrases, and unnecessary qualifiers in an effort to convey their thoughts and ideas lucidly. This leads to longwinded sentences which readers often find difficult to follow. Eliminating unnecessary, redundant words not only reduces sentence length but also enhances clarity.

Employ appropriate punctuation: Instead of stringing together phrases into one long sentence, use appropriate punctuation where relevant. For example, use semicolons to connect related but independent clauses, or dashes to emphasize specific points within a sentence. This allows readers to take a pause and follow your line of thought in an easier way.

Ensure coherence: This is critical when writing an academic or scientific paper. Ensure that your writing flows in a coherent and structured manner. Use conjunctions judiciously to provide necessary connections between ideas. This will help you avoid unwieldy sentences and ensure that your paper is more readable and engaging.

Address your audiences: It is important to know who you will be addressing through your paper. Ensure that the language that is used is appropriate for the kind of audience you are seeking to communicate with. Experts in a particular discipline, for example will not find it difficult or tedious to read and comprehend technical language but general audiences may be unable to understand jargon or technical terms and may need simpler language to be able to understand your thoughts and ideas.

Read out aloud: Experts suggest reading your paper out loud. This will help you identify possible errors and will also immediately highlight sentences that are too long and convoluted. If a sentence sounds too complicated when spoken, it may need to be revised and edited.

Invite feedback from mentors: Often authors are too close to their work to be able to see errors or identify writing that might need improvement. Requesting feedback on your paper from peers and supervisors will help ensure that you eliminate inadvertent errors.

Academic writing while tough, need not always be challenging. Following a structured approach, ensuring a coherent narrative, and being aware of sentence length will go a long way in making your paper or article easier to understand and consequently more impactful.

Paperpal is an AI writing assistant that help academics write better, faster with real-time suggestions for in-depth language and grammar correction. Trained on millions of research manuscripts enhanced by professional academic editors, Paperpal delivers human precision at machine speed.  

Try it for free or upgrade to  Paperpal Prime , which unlocks unlimited access to premium features like academic translation, paraphrasing, contextual synonyms, consistency checks and more. It’s like always having a professional academic editor by your side! Go beyond limitations and experience the future of academic writing.  Get Paperpal Prime now at just US$12 a month!  

Related Reads:

  • Using metaphors in academic writing
  • What is the difference between advice and advise? 
  • Abbreviations in research: Common errors in academic writing 
  • Principle vs. principal: How are they different? 

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