It’s Week 2 of my advice month! I’m almost a little sad that there are only four weeks in a month, because I have so much advice I want to give! But that being said, I need to narrow it down to what I think is the most useful.
Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I am a pretty good writer. In my freshman year of high school, pretty much the only thing we did was write papers and essays. As a result, I have pretty decent grammar and word choice. This has led me to critique lots of papers, including my sister’s personal statement for residency programs. So, to help you out, I have compiled a list of the best writing advice I can offer to help you improve your writing, no matter what it may be for.
- When writing a series, either make them all the same, or make none the same- For example: she went to the store, went to the gym, and drove to the park. Two of these are the same, but the last one is not. So instead: she went to the store, gym, and park; or she went to the store, worked out at the gym, and then drove to the park. Making them the same makes a stronger point, and I usually do that in separate short sentences. For example, instead of “Some people like reading, writing, and drawing”, I would do “Some people like reading. Some people like writing. Some people like drawing, and some people like all three.”
- Remember your tense- Unless you make it purposefully clear that you are switching tenses, keep your verb tense consistent. If you are talking in past tense, make sure all your verbs line up. The same goes for present, future, or any other tense. Whatever tense you choose, keep it consistent throughout the work. I’ve read some of my own work, and it messes with my head when I find a tense inconsistency.
- Do not split infinitives- This is actually one of the things that bothers me the most. I see a lot of people who say “to not..” One example of this is probably one of the most famous taglines in all of history is “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” This is an example of a split infinitive. The adverb either goes before the infinitive or after, not in the middle.
- A thesaurus can be your best friend- When I find myself using the same repetitive words over and over again, I usually pull up thesaurus.com on my laptop to find a new word.
- Assume your audience knows next to nothing about this topic- This is actually one of the most recent tips I have learned, and it has really stuck with me. Whether you’re using an acronym or explaining a concept, pretend your audience knows no more than the average person about this topic. I’ve had emails where I don’t know what they’re talking about because they use an acronym I was unfamiliar with. Even on my sister’s personal statement that I looked over, I made multiple comments saying that this was unclear and I didn’t know what she was talking about. If it is a common topic in your writing, explain it the first time you mention it, and use it is as a reference.
- Avoid first person- this one sounds obvious, but trust me. Unless it is a work that NEEDS first person, do not use it. For my education class this semester, I have to write a short paper pretty much every week. The first part is a summary of a couple of articles, and the last part is my reflection based on my thoughts and experiences. I do not use first person until I come to the reflection. My professor has learned to recognize that once I start using first person, I am in the reflection part. You would be surprised how easy it is to not use first person. Instead of “I believe…” say “It is believed…”. Restructure your sentences just enough so you don’t need to use first person.
- NEVER USE CONTRACTIONS IN FORMAL WRITING- I cannot tell you how many times I have come across it. Unless you are using dialogue (where people talk in contractions), there should be no contractions in your work. Always say “it is”, “that is”, “cannot”, “should not”, instead of “it’s”, “that’s”, “can’t”, “shouldn’t”, and any other contractions.
- Get your reader’s attention- I learned this in high school, and this has stuck with me since. Your introduction paragraph is your chance to impress your audience. Start with a relevant fact, statistic, or even just a strong opening statement. But also in your introductory paragraph, you need to say what your point is. Writing, especially formal writing, should almost always have a point. Whether that’s following a prompt, or doing something for fun is totally up to you. If nobody else is going to read it, then it does not need to have a point.
- Be interested in your topic/do your research- I put these two together because they draw off of each other. If you do not do the research in your topic, trust me when I say it shows. Obviously, if you have to write it for a class, this question is a little irrelevant; but ask yourself, “Would I want to read this paper if someone else had written it?” Your readers can be anything if you show interest and research in it. We have this thing called a Writing Proficiency Exam where we basically write an essay based on an article and a prompt to determine that we are proficient enough to be in/graduate college. Believe me, it is EXACTLY as dumb and pointless as it sounds. However, for mine, I wrote about cults (like Scientology). It was a very basic essay (you aren’t supposed to do too well), but I was actually really proud of that paper. I put my research and interest into it. Honestly, I would have turned it into a professor for a grade because it was just that good. Was it the best thing I had ever written? Absolutely not. But what made it so strong was the fact that I made it interesting by showing my own interest in it. (I passed, by the way)
LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST: MY FAVORITE WRITING ADVICE
- If you cannot imagine dropping the mic after your conclusion, then it is not strong enough- Let me say that again: IF YOU CANNOT IMAGINE DROPPING THE MIC AFTER YOUR CONCLUSION, THEN IT IS NOT STRONG ENOUGH!!!! If you get nothing else from this post, then I hope you retain this. This is my all-time favorite piece of writing advice. Imagine you are giving a speech and your writing is your script. If you can picture walking off the stage to applause after your final sentence, then your conclusion is perfect. One of my favorite books is Fahrenheit 451. It is an excellent book, but I hated the ending. It left me wanting more, and not in a good way. I needed the book to be better resolved than it was. Don’t be like that. The ending of the book almost ruined the whole thing for me. This does not mean that everything needs to be happy or perfect, especially if you are writing a series of books and need cliffhangers. Otherwise, resolve your ending, especially in formal writing. Bring everything back together. Whereas your introduction is your chance to impress your writers, your conclusion is your chance to leave an impression on them. If this is a paper for class, your professor or teacher is probably going to have multiple to read. Yours does not have to be the best, but make it stand out.
When I give advice on things like this, I give advice based on my experience and what works. I use all of these, and for the most part, I have never gotten a grade lower than a B in college. I would not tell you things that do not work for me, so I promise you all of these are tried and tested.
I would love to know if you have any writing tips you use! Don’t hesitate to reach out and contact me!
Let me know if you have any thoughts or comments!