30 October 2011

Writing Skills

Recently, a student asked me for advice concerning how to improve his writing skill. In hopes of getting some discussion on the topic (and some further help for my student), I will reproduce my answer below.
There are several features of good writing at a university level.
The most important of these is careful thinking about the subject of the writing. Most students spend little time actually thinking clearly, carefully, and deeply about the things they write as they complete assignments.
The second aspect of good writing is to make yourself very clear to your readers. Instead of trying to be subtle, good writers try first to be easily accessible to readers who are distracted, unskilled, or otherwise hampered from the sophistication that many university students attempt.
A third aspect of solid writing is proper organization. Many students have no idea how to write a paragraph topic sentence and then support it with a few other sentences that cohere properly in the remainder of the paragraph. Inexperienced students often think that the mere topic of each sentence should be enough for readers to follow their line of thinking as they write. This is not the case.
The final area that needs attention as students better their writing skills concerns the actual mechanics of writing, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and such factors. Not only do many students spend little time reflecting upon issues before they write, they also spend too little time in editing their work. One of the great benefits of written communication is the lack of time pressure to get things right. Writing allows communicators to pause over phrasing, vocabulary choice, and many other issues as they make their messages as clear, as succinct (as Voltaire wrote, "If I had had more time, I could have written a shorter letter), and as careful as they possibly can.
There are many other ways in which people can hone their writing skills. But these four serve as a start. Ultimately, great writers start out being much less great, and their greatness comes to fruit only with much (much!) practice.

I would like to ask my readers to add suggestions or interact with what I have written, so that my students may become better writers.


  1. I like the idea of making one's writing easily understood by all skill levels. Because of my own poor english skills, I try to keep my writing simple.

  2. I think the most important quality to have when improving your writing skills would be time. Take your time in writing, don't cram it all in at once; maybe later on a thought will come across your mind and you have no way of including it if you compete the writing in one day.
    Another good writing skill would to make a web or diagram with a topic, heading, sub-headings, followed by point form notes. Don't over-do it, it's only a rough draft!