Friday, April 1, 2011

10 Tips on How to Write Badly

Just kidding, all. It's April Fools Day! I was browsing the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website today and found an older article (dated from last fall) that I thought would be handy to pass along. “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly: Do Your Job Better” is written by Duke University’s Michael C. Munger, who outlines 10 key points for more successful writing. The title is a bit curt, but the information is valuable for anyone looking for ways to improve both the writing process and product.

Below are the first five tips, and you can find the original article—with all 10 tips—here.

1. Writing is an exercise. The fact that this tip is listed first is an indication of its extreme importance. If we want to write better, we have to write, write, write. The old cliché “practice makes perfect” didn’t become a cliché for nothing. If we want to become good at anything, particularly something as complicated as writing, we have to practice. It is also helpful to practice reading—books, magazines, the newspaper—to absorb different types of writing that can also influence how we write.

2. Set goals based on output, not input. This piece of advice speaks to one of our earlier blog posts. We should set writing goals based on how much writing will be done, not based on how much time we will spend writing. If you set a one-hour goal versus a one-page goal, the one-page goal will ultimately be easier to reach; technically, you can accomplish nothing more than Facebook-stalking in an hour. Once you finish that one page, though, you can take a productive break and feel good about having written something.

3. Find a voice; don’t just “get published.” This tip is intended for writers who are trying to publish, but it is also applicable for students who are interested in getting a good grade. It is always important to express our ideas in ways that are genuine and true to our own voices; we can write in “Engfish” all day long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re making any good academic points. Writing that is clear and natural is much more likely to make an impact on readers—if nothing else, they will understand what you’re saying!

4. Give yourself time. This piece of advice is something that we have also covered in detail on this blog. We never write our best work at the very last minute or on the first go. We have to have time to think about ideas, to work through multiple drafts, and to take the time to say exactly what we want to say.

5. Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. There are always people who want to talk about how their recent project is going to be brilliant. The problem? They haven’t written it yet. However, they’re still super confident that it will be the most awesome writing the world will encounter. This particular tip is interesting because Munger stresses the importance of not stressing. He warns that the people who flaunt their writing as “brilliant” probably aren’t working hard enough. It is important to recognize that writing is an often-frustrating, time-consuming process; however, working through those frustrations and producing a quality product is very rewarding—maybe even brilliant.

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