How to improve my writing abilities

redgreenpaper
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How to improve my writing abilities

Postby redgreenpaper » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:04 pm

Hi forum people. I was wondering if anyone could recommend a book or article or anything that can improve my essay/paper writing or just writing in general. Right now I'm somewhat of a noob at essay's (cannot surpass a mark higher than 82) and I'm looking for improvement. Any suggestions?

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The Gentleman
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby The Gentleman » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:07 pm

I'm a lowly 0L, but George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" did wonders for my writing.

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3|ink
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby 3|ink » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:07 pm

The best way to learn to write is to read.

Wrong forum btw.

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mrmangs
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby mrmangs » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:09 pm

Best way to improve your writing is to write a lot and have people mercilessly criticize it. Reading helps too.

fosterp
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby fosterp » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:10 pm

Read lots of scholarly text. If your problem is grammar or sentence structure take an english class.

redgreenpaper
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby redgreenpaper » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:12 pm

i dont get how reading would help me. a lot of people tell me this but when i read i dont really try to adopt the author's style of writing. is this what i should be doing?

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mrmangs
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby mrmangs » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:15 pm

Well, depends what type of writing you want to improve. Gotta read the sort of stuff you want to write. For academic writing, or really anything persuasive that employs arguments, reading technical philosophical literature is really good. I would assume law review articles and whatnot too if that's what you're gunning for.

The biggest problem I encounter with people writing poorly is that they don't write logically. They tend to: (1) assume readers know everything they know and don't explicitly show the logical connections between different components of their essays and/or (2) not have a clear idea of what the hell they are writing about.
Last edited by mrmangs on Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

ren2011
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby ren2011 » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:16 pm

No, you don't need to adopt a writer's style. It just gives you a feel for conventions,word usage, etc. It's like studying a professional's technique, and then adopting aspects of that to improve your style.

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labeauche
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby labeauche » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:17 pm

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

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icouldbuyu
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby icouldbuyu » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:21 pm

For grammar and structural guidance, The Bedford Handbook

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mrmangs
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby mrmangs » Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:23 pm

labeauche wrote:The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White


Funnily enough, this book is sitting right next to me on my desk. A lot of people really hate it though. Strunk definitely will help you develop a workable style on the sentence-level, but most of his conventions are arbitrary.

In any case, a book like that will only help you polish your writing style. Like I mentioned before, the big problems most people have are at a higher level (i.e., taking their ideas and developing them into a functional framework for an essay, then logically and persuasively structuring the content of the essay at the level of chapters/sections and paragraphs). Good writing needs to flow well at the sentence-level too though.

SageD
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby SageD » Mon Dec 13, 2010 9:53 pm

I've worked (and continue to do so, on a freelance basis) professionally as a writer, and it would be my career choice if it wasn't for that whole, you know, print-industry-being-in-shambles thing. There's no trick to writing well, it just takes practice and whole lot of being critical of yourself.

Read a lot and write a lot, yes. But do so actively. Considering you're posting on an internet forum, you probably already read and write a lot. Just start treating every mundane thing you write as a writing exercise. Edit yourself. Look up every word you don't know exactly how to spell (don't rely on spell check). Correct typos. If you can't articulate precisely what a word means, look it up and find a different word if the meaning doesn't quite fit what you were going for. Try to correct yourself when you make errors while speaking. Notice the errors of others (but don't correct them on it.) When it comes to this sort of stuff, doubting yourself is a virtue. I make errors and typos all of the time, and a lot of them I don't catch. So don't take this as me saying you have to be perfect or anything; I'm just saying you improve by being critical of yourself.

Get a grammar or style guide for reference, by all means. Use m-w.com to look up words. But any guide is just a reference that you use to supplement your writing--reading it will not teach you how to write. When you read, look up words you don't understand, or that are used in ways you haven't seen before. If you see a grammatical construction or a use of punctuation that you haven't seen before, consult your style/grammar guide. If you notice someone using semicolons and you don't know what purpose they serve, look it up. Read challenging (either intellectually or artistically) material. Spend time parsing sentences. Try to figure out what the main themes and ideas are behind everything you read. Try to figure how the writer goes about presenting those themes and ideas. Talk about it with people, and write about it. Reread your own work and evaluate how well you're expressing your own themes and ideas. Get other people to read your work and don't listen to them when they say, "it's good." Get them to talk about what you wrote, and see if they actually took from your writing what you intended to convey.

Write about everything. Review movies you watch and albums you listen to, write a blog of amusing anecdotes about your dog that no one reads, correspond with friends and family members over email, write some in depth research paper that you were considering writing back in undergrad, write letters to the editor, hell, even tweet (brevity is a great thing), or whatever else.

Develop your own natural voice (don't try to write in a way that you 'think' will impress people or that uses overly flowery or academic language that you're not comfortable with), but also pay attention to audience. Be clear and concise. Read James Joyce, but never try to be James Joyce. Use slang to achieve a desired effect, but not because you're too lazy to do otherwise.

When you're trying to polish up, pick up something like Garner's Modern American Usage for reference. Be a nerd about it: listen to the Grammar Girl podcast or the "Way With Words" podcast. Do whatever. There's no clear path, and certainly no single book you can read that will make you a better writer. You just have to work on it in whatever way you can, and be mindful of your writing all the time.

MOST OF ALL: Do not listen to anyone who spouts grammatical folk lore like "never split infinitives," or "never end a sentence with a preposition." They are silly.

(Edited to make better.)
Last edited by SageD on Tue Dec 14, 2010 3:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

fosterp
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby fosterp » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:11 pm

And don't listen to those people who say never use I in writing either.

I've noticed after all of the reading comp practice that I have done I have started to adopt some of the conventions of the authors of the passages.

We say read to improve writing because that is how you learn. Communication is a two way street and you can spend years writing dribble on paper but if you have no reflection on how other people perceive it your writing could very well just be incomprehensible crap no matter how much you practice it. Sure you will develop your own style, but in order to write well you need to write in a manner than other people can understand, and learning the conventions of language requires knowing how other people use it (hence reading a lot).

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TJISMYHERO
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby TJISMYHERO » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:31 pm

I'm an English major, and the previous posters are spot on. In order to improve as a writer you must immerse yourself in not only your own writing projects, but in your reading as well. If you're in undergrad, take a passion to your reading where your goal isn't simply to get through it, but to completely understand it. When you read ALWAYS have a pen or pencil in hand making conscious notes of important facts or transitions you think are done well.

No paper deserves a grade of 100, and the day you die you will be able to improve your writing. Improving one's writing ability is a lifelong process, and the best way to do so is to immerse yourself in your own work and that of others.

BTW, even though your probably going to law school, I wouldn't read law journals or court opinions, in order to improve your writing, unless you find that kind of writing a page turner. I suggest picking up classic and modern works of literature. Pick up some Fitzgerald, Orwell, or Mary Shelly for the classics, and pick up some of Don Delillo's or Claire Messud's work for some modern writing styles. Basically, read whatever interests you as long as it isn't overly simple in structure or style.

Edited for typo. Still improving.

WayBryson
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby WayBryson » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:36 pm

SageD wrote:I've worked (and continue to do so, on a freelance basis) professionally as a writer, and it would be my career choice if it wasn't for that whole, you know, print-industry-being-in-shambles thing. There's no trick to writing well, it just takes practice and whole lot of being critical of yourself.

Read a lot and write a lot, yes. But do so actively. Considering you're posting on an internet forum, you probably already read and write a lot. Just start treating every mundane thing you write as a writing exercise. Edit yourself. Look up every work you don't know exactly how to spell (don't rely on spell check). Correct typos. If you can't articulate precisely what a word means, look it up and find a different word if the meaning doesn't quite fit what you were going for. Try to correct yourself when you make errors while speaking. Notice the errors of others (but don't correct them on it.) When it comes to this sort of stuff, doubting yourself is a virtue. I make errors and typos all of the time, and a lot of them I don't catch. So don't take this as me saying you have to be perfect or anything; I'm just saying you improve by being critical of yourself.

Get a grammar or style guide for reference, by all means. Use m-w.com to look up words. But any guide is just a reference that you use to supplement your writing--reading it will not teach you how to write. When you read, look up words you don't understand, or that are used in ways you haven't seen before. If you see a grammatical construction or a use of punctuation that you haven't seen before, consult your style/grammar guide. If you notice someone using semicolons and you don't know what purpose they serve, look it up. Read challenging (either intellectually or artistically) material. Spend time parsing sentences. Try to figure out what the main themes and ideas are behind everything you read. Try to figure how the writer goes about presenting those themes and ideas. Talk about it with people, and write about it. Reread your own work and evaluate how well you're expressing your own themes and ideas. Get other people to read your work and don't listen to them when they say, "it's good." Get them to talk about what you wrote, and see if they actually took from your writing what you intended to convey.

Write about everything. Review movies you watch and albums you listen to, write a blog of amusing anecdotes about your dog that no one reads, correspond with friends and family members over email, write some in depth research paper that you were considering writing back in undergrad, write letters to the editor, hell, even tweet (brevity is a great thing), or whatever else.

Develop your own natural voice (don't try to write in a way that you 'think' will impress people or that uses overly flowery or academic language that you're not comfortable with), but also pay attention to audience. Be clear and concise. Read James Joyce, but never try to be James Joyce. Use slang to achieve a desired effect, but not because you're too lazy to do otherwise.

When you're trying to polish up, pick up something like Garner's Modern American Usage for reference. Be a nerd about it: listen to the Grammar Girl podcast or the "Way With Words" podcast. Do whatever. There's no clear path, and certainly no single book you can read that will make you a better writer. You just have to work on it in whatever way you can, and be mindful of your writing all the time.

MOST OF ALL: Do not listen to anyone who spouts grammatical folk lore like "never split infinitives," or "never end a sentence with a preposition." They are silly.

(Edited to make better.)


This.

Also, there is a book called, “Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies,” which I recommend for getting a feel for the general rules of construction. Much like the Yale admissions blog, it is both entertaining and informative.

Brock2010
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby Brock2010 » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:45 pm

Read!

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northwood
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby northwood » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:52 pm

stop texting, and im'ing. its very easy to develop bad habits

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rinkrat19
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby rinkrat19 » Tue Dec 14, 2010 3:19 am

Read, read, read, and read some more. Ideally, go back in time and become a voracious reader from the age of four or five. :wink:

By reading (and no, it doesn't have to be all scholarly material), you internalize the rules and conventions and different authors' styles. As you read more and more, you'll see the same basic sentence expressed a hundred different ways, and your brain will store up the different sentence structures, different uses of the same word, and different phrasings of the same thought. I learned grammar informally, from reading. I was never taught how to diagram a sentence and pick out the different parts of speech.

Personally, I like British fiction. It's fiction, so it's readable and entertaining (unlike dry, scholarly non-fiction), but the language is just a bit more elegant and complex than the typical American writer's prose.

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Adjudicator
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby Adjudicator » Tue Dec 14, 2010 3:47 am

rinkrat19 wrote:Read, read, read, and read some more. Ideally, go back in time and become a voracious reader from the age of four or five. :wink:


This is what I was going to say. That is to say, it worked for me!

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northwood
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby northwood » Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:57 am

hooked on phonics worked for me!!!!!!!1

ksimon2007
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby ksimon2007 » Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:02 am

northwood wrote:stop texting, and im'ing. its very easy to develop bad habits


How dare you...

afLSAT
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby afLSAT » Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:04 pm

Lots of good advice so far.

I'm an occasionally published writer and a writing-mfa candidate at a top program. Cosigning the above recommendations for
"Politics and the English Language" by Orwell
"Elements of Style" by Strunk and White

Also read a book called "How to Read a Book." It's not about writing per se. Instead it'll help fix those higher-level problems mentioned above: understanding the connection between micro- and macro-level components of a written argument. Word Choice --> Sentence Structure --> Paragraph-level Structure --> Chapter --> Book. All of these things interlock.

Whoever recommend that you read "scholarly texts" is sending you down the wrong path. Most "scholarly" writing is confused, verbose, and jargon-laden. Sometimes that's because the subjects require a certain technical vocabulary, but I suspect that more often the writers simply deploy an academic argot they barely understand themselves, in the hopes of covering up the ridiculous or poorly-understood assumptions underlying their ideas.

These three texts are all you need to get started. They're not gospel (for there is no gospel): sometimes you'll find outdated rules (like the split-infinitive BS), but they'll get you thinking in the right terms.

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kwais
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby kwais » Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:11 pm

my two cents.
In my opinion, many people write in a way they wouldn't speak. You ask them to tell you what point they were trying to get across, and what comes out of their mouths is far superior. Sometimes good writing is stripping away the idea that its supposed to be flowery and complicated and warming up to the idea that its about conveying information.

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TJISMYHERO
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby TJISMYHERO » Tue Dec 14, 2010 1:52 pm

kwais wrote:my two cents.
In my opinion, many people write in a way they wouldn't speak. You ask them to tell you what point they were trying to get across, and what comes out of their mouths is far superior. Sometimes good writing is stripping away the idea that its supposed to be flowery and complicated and warming up to the idea that its about conveying information.


Try: In my opinion, many people write in a way which they wouldn't speak. If you ask people to tell you what point they are trying to get across, what often comes out of their mouth is far superior. Sometimes, good writing is accomplished through stripping away the idea that it's supposed to be flowery and complicated and through warming up to the idea that it's about conveying information.

redgreenpaper
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Re: How to improve my writing abilities

Postby redgreenpaper » Mon Dec 20, 2010 7:17 pm

is there a certain amount of time that i should put aside for reading? like maybe 1 hour min?




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