Monday, September 26, 2011

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing in 5 Minutes

Everyone wants an easy way to fix all of our writing woes, but it takes practice and hard work. Here are a few tricks of the trade that can improve everyone’s writing in just a few short minutes.

1) Use sentence opening variety

Why you should use it: Sentence opening variety is using better, unique words to start an opening sentence in order to draw your audience in. It’s better to say, “Throughout the film The Social Network, the foundation of social media is discussed” than “The Social Network discusses the start of social media.” You may not see much of a difference at first, but you will with time, and so will your English teachers! Here’s a list to start with:

Therefore As a result of On the other hand

Throughout Another In order to

Since Whether Upon

Through While However

According to In addition Consequently
Furthermore Moreover Nevertheless
Similarly On the contrary Whereas

Where you should use it: The good news is you don’t have to use sentence opening variety in every sentence. It’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with ‘the’ or ‘a’ when it’s buried in the paragraph or as a sentence starter a couple of times (but not too many). Start by trying to write your topic sentences with one of the words above and see how it feels. You may need to move some words around, but I bet your sentence will sound better.

2) Spell Out Numbers

Why you should do it: It is much easier to hit the 8 button than type out eight, I know. However, some professors, especially those in English, get picky about typing out numbers. In general, it makes you look more professional so for most college papers you’ll want to spell them out. If you’re writing an informal paper it’s okay to stick with the number keys, but be careful!

Where you should do it: Everyone has a different preference of which numbers should be spelled out. Spelling out 0-10 is most common, but it’s best to check with your teacher. You definitely DO NOT have to write out 26,439!

3) Don’t Use Conjunctions

Why you shouldn’t use them: You’re probably saying, but you just used a conjunction! I did, BUT this is an informal piece of writing so it’s okay. Basically if you’re writing a paper in college you’re probably going to want to spell contractions out.

It sounds more professional to say, “I cannot believe her argument is not in support of the government.” versus “I can’t believe her argument isn’t in support of the government.” It may not seem like a big difference, but it will be to your English teacher and it’s an easy fix!

Where you should/shouldn’t use it: You have to know if your paper is formal or informal. Usually if you’re talking about yourself or your life, it’s informal and you can use contractions. However, if you’re writing about another subject and can’t use ‘I’ or ‘we’ then it’s probably formal and contractions are a no-no.

4) Eliminate that

Why you shouldn’t use it: Often ‘that’ is just a filler word. There are times when you have to use it like, “that ride was really fun,” but there are also A LOT of times when it isn’t needed. For example “when I blew out the candles I wished that I would get good presents” still makes sense if you just say “when I blew out the candles I wished I would get good presents.” You still understood what I meant and I didn’t say ‘that’! Woah, it’s mind blowing, I know!

Where you should use it: EVERYWHERE! This may not be something teachers focus on, but you never know. Cutting out ‘that’ can make your writing more concise. If that’s (this one’s okay!) something your teacher says you’re lacking then I suggest looking at an old paper and circling all of the ‘that’s, it could be the problem.

5) Don’t start with because

Why you shouldn’t use it: We’ve all heard since Kindergarten not to start a sentence with ‘because’, but sometimes it may seem unavoidable. The next time you start a sentence with ‘because’, see if replacing it with ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ would work.

Where you shouldn’t use it: I can’t think of a place where ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ couldn’t take the place of ‘because’. For example, saying, “Because I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class” sounds better if you say, “Since I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class.” Same with “Because of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology,” which can become: “As a result of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology.”

Give these 5 quick types a try and see how it goes. Your teacher may not notice a few of them, but they will make you a better writer and help you in the future, I promise!

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