Guide to Writing Skills and How to Improve Them (With Tips)
Writing is an important ability, with many different applications, styles, and types. A powerful command of the written word is an essential communication skill that can help you thrive in a professional setting. Understanding writing skills and how to improve them can help you in everything from building a resume to creating a memo at the office. In this article, we define writing abilities and their importance, explain the key steps to improving your skills, and explore tips on how to use your newly advanced communication talents to help further your career.
Understanding writing skills and how to improve them is the first step in developing a personalized approach to learning. It’s helpful to consider the different situations where you use the written word. As a bilingual country, you may wish to improve writing skills in either French or English. For instance, if you relocate from Quebec to Alberta, strengthening your English can help. Conversely, if you move from British Columbia to Ottawa, a largely bilingual city, fortifying your French and English skills can add significant professional value.
Some careers rely more on speaking than writing, but from timesheets to resumes, writing is present everywhere. Depending on your level of expertise, and the industry in which you work, you may want to improve different aspects of your writing. For example, a manager may plan to improve syntax and tone to ensure that emails are friendly yet professional. In another example, a newly graduated, entry-level job-seeker may want to refresh persuasive writing techniques. An essential step in improving any skill is setting clear goals, so ensure that you have a clear objective when you begin.
How to Improve Your French Writing Skills [Do at Home]
Writing is one of the hardest components of language learning. One of the reasons it can be so difficult is because you never really know if what you’re writing is correct. There are plenty of people, websites, companies out there that will tell you that in order to improve your French writing abilities you need to go out there and practice writing short stories, poems or even essays.
I really don’t like this approach because it gets you in the habit of making all sorts of mistakes. When you continuously make the same mistake over and over you internalize it and then it makes it difficult to correct because it no longer sounds wrong to you.
What I’m getting at here is that I firmly believe that you should never have to write anything that’s considered incorrect (whether that be grammatically incorrect or just considered incorrect by native speakers).
Now, never making a mistake is probably an impossible task, however, it definitely is possible to minimize them and correct them within seconds or minutes. How can you do this? Let’s talk about two easy-to-perform techniques that anybody can use at home.
If you were to start learning a musical instrument how would you go about it? Would you pick up whatever instrument you were learning and start right away with composing your own songs? Chances are you wouldn’t. If you’re like most people you’d start by learning songs that were written by others.
Once you felt comfortable with those you would move onto ones that were a little harder, and continue this pattern. At some point in time, after having practiced using songs that other people have written, you would start to feel confident enough to be able to compose your own songs.
I f you are currently learning French and struggling to write anything without the confidence that what you are writing is correct, then understand that it’s completely normal. You’re no different than the musician who doesn’t feel comfortable composing their own music.
Here’s one technique that you can do practice to improve your French writing without internalizing any mistakes. This is one of the methods that is described in the article “ How to Improve Your French [The Complete Guide] ” so if you’ve checked out that article you should be pretty familiar with it. If not, keep reading as I’ll describe it right here.
- The first step to this technique is to locate some written content that has both an English version and a French version. It should really be something that was professionally made such as a bilingual book. If you have French-learning materials that have English to French translations then start with those as they should be easier to work with. It doesn’t really matter how long your chosen content is, but the longer it is the more you’ll have to practice with.
- Take a few sentences at a time (or even just one sentence if you’d like to start slow) and study both the English and the French version until you feel quite familiar with both. Don’t worry about doing this quickly, take as much time as you need.
- Begin by taking the English version of your content and translating it into the French content. You absolutely must translate it verbatim so that you are 100% sure your translation is correct. Don’t rely too much on your own French knowledge or translation skills and just worry on relying on the French translation because you already know that it’s grammatically correct.
- Take a look at your finished translation and if you weren’t 100% correct start over from the beginning and retranslate everything. Don’t just fix each individual mistake. Go through and rewrite everything. If you just correct each mistake without doing it all over you risk internalizing some of those mistakes and that’s the last thing that you want here.
- Move through your text translating each sentence from English to French until you have completed everything. Once you feel confident translating the English version to the French version start over and translate in the opposite direction. If you would prefer, instead of translating the entire text from English to French and vice versa you can simply focus on one sentence at a time and translate back and forth. At the end of the day it really is up to you.
There’s a bit of a misconception in the world of language learning that learning through translation is a bad thing. Believe it or not translation can be an incredibly powerful tool to help you learn French when done correctly.
What you don’t want to do is translate on your own without having any clue whether or not your translation is correct OR translate vocabulary out of context. There are so many flashcard systems out there designed to teach you vocabulary that only give you one or two word translations for each foreign word.
Learn how to identify bad writing.
Nowadays, when most writing applications offer Autocorrect and Grammar Check features, you might expect ‘bad writing’ to have gone extinct. Yet plenty of bad writing still exists, because there are a lot of ways to write badly—even if your spelling and punctuation are perfectly correct. For example:
The northern United States and Canada are places where herons live and breed. Spending the winter here has its advantages. Great Blue Herons live and breed in most of the United States. It’s an advantage for herons to avoid the dangers of migration. Herons head south when the cold weather arrives. The earliest herons to arrive on the breeding grounds have an advantage. The winters are relatively mild in Cape Cod.
Harvard professor Steven Pinker offers this example of bad writing in his book The Sense of Style. Can you identify the problems in it? The grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all correct, so what’s wrong? (Read it again and try to identify the problems, then see Professor Pinker’s explanation.)
So many things can go wrong in a passage of prose. The writing can be bloated, self-conscious, academic. The passage can be cryptic, abstruse, arcane. The syntax can be defective, convoluted, ambiguous. Even if every sentence in a text is crisp, lucid, and well formed, a succession of them can feel choppy, disjointed, unfocused—in a word, incoherent. We don’t know why one clause follows another.
To better understand all of the writing problems he mentions above, I highly recommend reading Pinker’s book. In 300 pages, he carefully explains each way that writers (even highly educated ones) can make mistakes. I’ve read his book three times, and I notice improvements in my writing after each time I do. It’s like an entire Harvard writing course, packed into a book.
However, if you can’t afford to buy the book, you can still practice this simple exercise: When you come to something that is confusing to read, stop and try to identify what the problem is. Ask yourself these questions about each sentence:
Questions to Ask of Confusing Writing
You can do this exercise with any text you read, but you should also do it with your own writing. Put yourself in the shoes of your target Readers, and try to read your text from their perspective.
Your ability to identify bad writing also makes you a more valuable writing partner. If your feedback isn’t more helpful than a Grammar Checker program, your text-based language exchange won’t much benefit your partner.
Analyze writing that you enjoy reading.
While reading, you should look for useful words and phrases (and collect them for your writing). You should also be attentive to bad writing (and try to identify what the problems are). But you should also pay attention to really good writing, the sort of writing you wish you could write.
Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ — the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.
This paragraph comes from an essay by Rebecca Solnit, which I’ve written about in another blogpost about techniques you can’t learn from writing courses, techniques you can only learn by reading slowly and carefully.
Let’s analyze this paragraph–but instead of looking for problems that create confusion, I’ll try to figure out why I liked reading this paragraph, what made these four sentences so interesting to me.
- The writing in this paragraph is a lot clearer than the paragraph about Great Blue Herons, even though the sentences in this paragraph are longer and have more complex grammar.
- The basic message of the first sentence (the unknown is what must be found) is abstract and academic, and while the extra words in the sentence don’t add specificity, they create a poetic rhythm that urges you to keep reading.
- By contrast, the last sentence in the paragraph offers a vivid picture in your mind. Instead of vague words like idea and form, we have fishermen and a dark sea.
- Unlike the text about herons, this writer avoids using different words to describe the same thing. She repeats the words artists and the unknown several times, and this repetition helps the reader to follow her thoughts, despite all the abstract words and pronouns in the paragraph.
These are just a few ideas, after a few minutes of analysis, that I can try to use in my own writing. These are not Universal Rules, but little tricks and techniques that can make my writing more interesting and unique from writers who read all the same books.
Professor Pinker’s Explanation:
“The individual sentences are clear enough, and they obviously pertain to a single topic. But the passage is incomprehensible. By the second sentence we’re wondering about where here is. The third has us puzzling over whether great blue herons differ from herons in general, and if they do, whether these herons live only in the northern United States, unlike the other herons, who live in Canada as well. The fourth sentence seems to come out of the blue, and the fifth seems to contradict the fourth. The paragraph is then rounded out with two non sequiturs.” Return to example.
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