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How to Sharpen Your Writing Skills
There’s no way around it: writing is an integral skill required in high school and beyond. Many students initially think of writing as an insular skill used primarily in English classes, but in reality, writing is a cross-curricular skill applied in nearly every field. No matter the career you intend to pursue, it’s inevitable that in some way you will be required to communicate in writing. Even STEM-focused professions involve some kind of written work. Being able to express yourself on paper or through email and internet is a necessary skill to develop.
In addition, writing is a healthy outlet for many students. Sometimes, it is easier to put your thoughts and feelings down on paper than it is to speak about them with others. Some students find that writing provides an opportunity for self-expression that can’t be found elsewhere.
Finally, writing is absolutely paramount on college applications. When you submit your college application, you do so in written format. Everything that you communicate about yourself, who you are as an applicant, who you are as a student, and who you are as a member of a community has to be communicated in clear, articulate writing. While your test scores and GPA will of course do some of the work for you, often the only way that admissions committees can get a real sense of who you are and what you’re all about is through your essays.
For these reasons, developing strong writing skills in high school is absolutely a high priority. Even if you intend to pursue a career with little emphasis on written communications, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to escape them completely, and at the very least you’ll need to write well enough that a college admissions committee will consider you a strong applicant.
In this post, we’ll outline how to recognize if you need to improve you writing skills, and our top seven tips for sharpening your skills so that you are able to put your best self on paper, whether it’s for a class assignment, a work email, or a college application. Read on to learn more.
How Can I Tell If I Need to Improve My Writing Skills?
It might be hard to recognize if your writing skills are in need of improvement. Many students are able to do just fine on general school assignments with basic writing skills, so taking them to the next level may not be an immediate priority.
In reality, though, almost everyone has room to improve their writing. Regardless of how well you perform in school, writing is a skill, so it is something that can be fine-tuned, polished, and practiced over time, no matter how good you are already.
Sometimes, though, it’s clear that your writing really does need a boost. If your performance on written tasks across subjects tends to be graded lower than your performance on other tasks in school, this may be a sign that your writing could use some help. Similarly, if you find that your written work gets returned with many repeated grammatical errors or edits, or if you find that your written communications are commonly misunderstood, you should consider making the effort to sharpen your writing skills.
How Can I Improve My Writing?
Luckily, there are many ways to improve your writing. Some of them are time-consuming and will involve a serious commitment, while others are small changes that you can make daily to positively impact your written work. Keep in mind that the effort and time you put in to improving your writing will be reflected in the rewards you reap.
Here are seven ways to get started.
1. Read More
Your ability to write well depends on your ability to think like a writer, and by reading more, you will expose yourself to the thoughts of other writers, as put down on paper.
Try to expose yourself to many different genres. Read newspapers, magazines, blogs, textbooks, novels, newsletters, and poetry. Be an active reader, underlining pieces of the text that resonate with you. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, and tone.
As you read, also keep in mind the intended audience and purpose of what you’re reading. For example, newspapers and magazines are generally written to inform and engage their audience. Their style will be different from a textbook or scientific paper, which is written strictly to inform an audience on a specific topic or field, or from a novel or short story, which are written to entertain an audience. Keeping in mind the intended goal of the written piece will help you to internalize these tones for your own use.
2. Write More
Like any art, writing needs to be practiced regularly. You can write consistently on your own, or join a group if you need help staying motivated.
You can practice by writing summaries of things you read, by keeping a journal, or by getting a pen pal (even if it’s just your best friend via email). The more you write, the more you will develop a sense of voice and tone.
If you are feeling really ambitious, join your school’s literary magazine, creative writing club, or school newspaper. All of these opportunities will increase your exposure to both reading and writing and will allow you the chance to practice your own written skills. Even if you feel like you have nothing to contribute at the beginning, with some time and experience, you will inevitably improve.
3. Use the Writing Process
Most people know that there’s a formal scientific method for conducting research experiments, but few know that there’s a similar process for writing. By following these five steps, you can ensure that the writing you produce is both well-planned and well-executed.
Prewrite: Before you begin writing, you need to plan what you’re going to write. This includes choosing a topic, gathering information, and organizing your content. It could also include a rough outline, a list of brainstorming, or a storyboard. Whatever your prewriting process is, it should ensure that you go into your drafting stage with a concrete idea of what you’re going to write and how you’re going to go about it.
Draft: This is the first, rough draft of what you’re writing. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s important to get your ideas and words out of your head and onto paper. During the course of any writing project, you will probably write several drafts, repeating this step until you’re happy with the product.
Revise: This step guides your decision to create multiple drafts. During the revision stage, you and/or your editors will identify broad areas to improve, reorganize, or get rid of completely. You will consider the overall structure and organization of the draft, along with broad weaknesses and strengths. It’s important to remember here that editing has yet to take place. Don’t focus your revisions on grammatical or spelling errors. Those come later.
Edit: The editing process focuses on smaller corrections than the revision process. Editing includes things like grammar, punctuation, and spelling. This phase is often referred to as proofreading.
Publish: This is the final polishing phase towards creating your completed piece of work. During the publishing phase, you put the finishing touches on your writing and format it into the appropriate completed form.
4. Take Advantage of Peer Editing
Some schools have established peer-editing programs specifically so that you can learn from your classmates and take advantage of their expertise. If this is the case at your school, try to attend a peer editing session with some of your written work.
If this isn’t the case at your school, ask a classmate who you know is a strong writer. He or she may be more than willing to help you out.
Before bringing any work to a peer editor, make sure that you have thoroughly self-edited first. Next, have your peer edit the piece for you. Then, review the edits on your own before reviewing them with your peer. Make sure that you understand why each edit was made. This will help you to learn from your mistakes and self-correct them in the future. Finally, create a second or final draft of your piece based on the comments and suggestions made by your peer.
5. Eliminate Distractions
Writing is very much an art, and many writers feel they need to be “in the zone” to create their best work. If this is the case for you, try to eliminate any possible distractions during your writing time.
It sometimes helps to set aside a certain time each day, when you know the house will be quiet or you’ll be able to have some time to yourself. Create a peaceful place for your writing—it doesn’t need to be super involved, but it should be someplace relatively quiet and free of distractions.
Turn your phone off and try to stop yourself from taking any breaks to use the Internet. Your goal should be to write for a certain amount of time, or a certain amount of writing, before you allow any other distractions. Really devote yourself to nothing but writing for that period of time and see what happens. Sometimes it’s helpful just to get the words down on paper, even if they need a lot of sprucing up later on.
6. Leave It and Come Back
You’ve probably heard of writer’s block. Maybe you’ve even experienced it yourself. Because writing can sometimes require getting the creative juices flowing, it’s not uncommon to feel stuck at some point in the writing process.
One common solution is to get as much as possible down on paper, and then walk away for a while. Sometimes, even if you feel like you’re producing complete drivel, when you come back to it after a good night’s sleep and some time to refresh, you’ll discover that you’ve gotten some really valuable ideas out.
This renewed perspective might even offer inspiration to get writing again. If you’re feeling stuck, just try to get your ideas into words as best you can and then step away for a while. You may be surprised what you find when you come back to it.
7. Get a Writing Mentor
Find someone whose writing you admire. It may be a peer, a teacher, or even a local author. Tell this person that you really respect their writing skills and ask if they’d be open to helping you improve your writing.
If you don’t already know someone whose writing you really admire, try enrolling in a writing class where the teacher can mentor you. Some schools have elective writing courses. You might also check at the local library or recreation center. Even if the class is not specifically geared towards high school students, you’re still bound to learn from the other writers in the class and find others who are willing to help you along your own writing journey.
The importance of developing strong writing skills shouldn’t just be a priority for students who plan to pursue a career in the humanities. Many other fields require strong written abilities, including law, scientific research, and even mathematics. By developing your writing skills while you’re still in high school, you’ll impress college admissions committees and enter college ready to hit the ground running in your college-level coursework.
If you’re a high school student who’s feeling less than confident about your writing, or you simply want to explore more options for bringing your writing skills to the next level, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.
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