Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How to improve your writing in 10 steps

There are some really good resources on Literature review HQ, heres a sample on improving your writing. Not all of which are doable if you are short on time, but gives some good ideas...

 1. Write – regularly

Try to find time to write every day. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Doing this will help you to be more comfortable in the act of writing. Once you are comfortable, you will be much more effective in developing the style that you want.

2. Read – regularly

Read articles every day. Make time specifically or try to fit reading into time when you would normally be waiting to do something. The mere act of reading will expose you to many different writing styles and you will improve automatically. However, you can try to speed up the process by finding a piece of writing that you like and trying to dissect how they uses language and sentence structure to create an effect – then you copy it!

3. Proofread everything you write

Everything! This has two benefits. The obvious one is that you remove mistakes from your writing. However, by noticing your mistakes, you can stop yourself making them again, especially if you write them down. Although it is not always practical, printing out work can also make it much easier to proof read. I always find mistakes on printed work that I couldn’t spot on the screen.

4. Use a dictionary and thesaurus

Computer dictionaries are great but paper dictionaries are better. By leafing through the pages of a dictionary, you can discover new words that can help build your vocabulary and improve your writing. Also using a thesaurus can really boost your vocabulary but be warned; using too many fancy words can really, REALLY detract from your writing.

5. Get critical feedback

Get critical feedback from everyone! Supervisors, friends, peers, even strangers! The more criticism you get the more information you have to improve. The more the better. However, this point goes hand in hand with point 6…

6. Prepare to act on critical feedback

You have to act. Unfortunately this doesn’t go without saying. Feedback is useless unless you process it and act on it. Most people (including myself) are offended by criticism. I still feel like that sometimes. However, I deal with it by telling myself that in the future, I will make less mistakes because of constructive criticism I am getting now. HOWEVER, be careful when acting. Notice that I’m telling you to get critical feedback and then act on it. If you get a lot of critical feedback, some of it may be unfounded. Some of the criticisms may be valid on their own, but not in light of changes that you make. By acting of criticism, you need to act on it as a whole which may mean disregarding some of it, or modifying the criticism slightly.

7. Learn how to read critically

Reading critically is one of the most difficult things to learn. In my experience it is best do this in groups like a journal club. Try to learn how your peers and supervisors find mistakes and learn to spot them in articles that you read.

8. Iterate, iterate, iterate

Rework what you have written as many times as you need to. This is where the magic happens. Don’t be afraid to completely re-write something.

9. Spend most of your time editing

This is linked to the previous point. Editing is where you turn your ideas on the page into a high quality piece of writing. I always find the longer I spend editing a piece of work the better it is. Try and get into the mindset that writing the first draft is really only the beginning, and that it probably will bear no resemblance to the finished product.

10. Be organised

Organisation is the key to all of this. You need to try and find or create time to fit your reading, writing and editing around your day. Try to be creative with your time to fit everything in. Remember that the amount of time you spend doing something is not as important as the frequency with which you do it.

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