No matter what your field of study is, the ability to write well is vital for college students.
Whether it’s a research paper, essay test or just an email to your instructor, writing clearly and accurately makes you appear capable, intelligent and thoughtful. Plus, writing well is a skill that transfers to nearly every industry.
But it’s not easy. It takes practice and patience and a few guidelines to help you along the way. Here, we’ve compiled a list of eight tips you can use to improve your writing while you’re in college.
1. Catch your own typos
This is a tough one. You’ve finished a piece and proofread it three times.
Then you’re friend comes along and tells you there’s a comma missing in the second paragraph. Why didn’t you didn’t spot it?
Basically, it’s because you read what you expect to read—it is related to the brain functions you use while writing, according to an article on Wired. You know what you wanted to say, right?
“We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” Tom Stafford, who studies typos at the University of Sheffield in the UK, told Wired. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”
Stafford offered a key tip for catching those typos: make your work unfamiliar. You can do that by:
- Changing the font
- Changing the background color
- Printing it out and editing by hand
And don’t be afraid of using the spelling and grammar check.
2. Grammar counts
We won’t delve into common grammar mistakes, lists of which are strewn across the internet.
But having a good handle on the “it’s, its” and “their, there, they’re” stuff will go a long way toward making your copy clean and professional.
Look out for hyphenation (compound modifiers), as well. It’s the difference between a guy who owns a small business (a small-business owner) and a short guy who owns a business (a small business owner).
Note also that adverbs, words that have the “-ly” suffix, do not require hyphenation.
Grammar counts, and as you adhere to the rules, they will become second nature.
3. Read it backward
Sometimes, it’s simply the natural flow of reading that prompts you to skip over mistakes.
A good way to prevent this is to read your writing backward—start with the final paragraph and move up from there.
Doing this allows you to find errors and improve your transitions from one paragraph to the next. You’ll find yourself rereading certain portions of the copy, going back and forth, and it will lead to a more cohesive piece and fewer typos.
4. Write to be understood, not to impress
This is a splendiferous post… Well, maybe.
While it’s nice to sprinkle in some fancy words once in a while, your primary goal should be clarity, not proving you can use a thesaurus.
You should think about how you would tell the information to a friend. Don’t use slang or off-color terms, but be concise, use plain language and get to the point.
Doing this will also help you get into a rhythm as you write, instead of wasting time searching for the perfect word. You can do that in your second or third draft.
5. Start with an outline
It’s easy to start writing and find yourself getting off track.
A good way to avoid going down the wrong path is to create an outline before you begin. It will help you organize your thoughts and build on the point you want to make.
Your outline doesn’t have to be overly detailed—a few bullet points or notes can sometimes do the trick. As you write, refer back to your outline and make revisions as needed.
Writing is a process. Make it a thoughtful process.
6. Emphasis on “draft”
“The first draft of anything is (poor).”
Well, Ernest Hemmingway used a stronger word than poor, but he has a point.
Just because you put pen to paper, or more likely keystrokes into a digital document, doesn’t mean it’s done (or good, for that matter). Let your first draft be just that—a draft.
Revision is a major component of strong writing. Don’t be afraid to put together so-so copy the first time around. Trust yourself to get your ideas down, then go back and refine the text.
7. Don’t take edits personally
You asked for help. Don’t get upset when someone suggests a change.
Some writers get overly attached to what they’ve produced. Yet there’s always room for improvement.
You want your copy to be clearer and more interesting, and a second set of eyeballs can help you spot errors, potentially reorder the information or make you think about the copy in a different way.
8. Write what you know
The final and most basic of tips, writing what you know should guide the process from start to finish.
If you don’t know something, do some research, talk to an expert or reach out via social media. Trying to write off the top of your head can be difficult and counterproductive.
By writing what you know, you won’t stumble as much during the process and you’ll feel more confident with what you produced.
We hope these tips help you as you progress in your career as a college student. If you have any suggestions or tips that work for you, leave them in the comment section below.