If you spend time writing in English or if you would like your writing to be a bit more professional, I want to talk to you about some very useful tips that are going to help you immensely improve your writing. Really, it’s going to help you greatly improve your academic writing and develop those skills. I know that when I say “academic writing,” you may think of university, which is where a lot of academic writing is done, but this is also very important in a more professional setting, a business setting. So, these tips will help. My name is Wes, the site is Interactive English, and it’s all about trying to help you improve your skills so that you can reach your fluency goals. If that’s what you would like to do, please subscribe and turn on notifications so that you will learn about future lessons.
So let’s begin with the first tip that I have for you, and I think this is very important, which is why I’ve put it at the very beginning, and that is to be concise. What it means to be concise is that you are stating the information clearly, and you are using as few words as possible. So really, you just avoid wasting words, and I think this applies to so many different things. Let me give you an example with these article lessons. Before, a long time ago when I first started doing these lessons, I thought that, well, the longer I could make them, then that would just make it better, and more people would be watching them. But what I realized after once I started doing this is that I shouldn’t be trying to make the lessons longer. I should try to give you the information, try to teach you the lesson, and then whenever it’s finished, well, that’s how long the lesson is. And that’s the same with your writing. You should be concise, state the information, and try to use as few words as possible because why say something in ten words when you could say it in five?
One way that you can do that, which is going to help you be concise, is to use action verbs. So let me give you some sentences so that you know what I mean. A simple way that you can avoid using too many words is to stay away from the “-tion” words. And I’m not saying that you should never use these, but really just keep this in mind because it will help you cut down on unnecessary words. So if I were to say, “The report provided an explanation for these unusual results,” you see that “-tion” word, “explanation.” Well, I can just make that an action verb and say, “The report explained these unusual results.” I’ve said the same thing; it’s more concise, I’ve used fewer words, and you’re still saying the information clearly.
Another reason why it’s very important to be concise is that it’s going to help whoever it is that’s reading your writing. It’s going to help them more easily understand what you’re trying to say. The final thing that I’ll say about this is that you should try to use the vocabulary that you already know. I think quite often people will try to look up words that are more difficult, that sound more academic, intelligent, and they put that into their paper even if it’s a word that maybe you don’t even know. Try to avoid doing that. Use the vocabulary that you already know. It’s going to help you say things clearly and be concise.
The next tip I have for you is to organize your paper. This is going to help you carefully structure your writing, and all you need to do is create an outline. It’s as simple as that. I cannot emphasize this enough because often I think many people will just skip this part of the writing process. I used to teach IELTS, and IELTS is a proficiency exam. Part of the exam, you have to write, and it is timed. And I would work with students to help them try to achieve a high mark. What I would always tell them is that at the very beginning, just take five minutes, organize your paper, and write down, create a quick little outline about what you want to say before you start writing. And so often, they would tell me, “Well, I just don’t have time. There’s no time for this. I just need to start writing.” And when I would read their writing, I could see the lack of organization. Some of the ideas would overlap, and some points were not even connected to their main thesis. So I think without organizing your paper and saying, “Okay, this is what I’m going to talk about first, second, and third,” it’s very easy to lose track of where you want to go. And when you start to lose focus of your main idea, you kind of go off track and you start writing about things that may not even be relevant. So please, take a little bit of time, create an outline, organize your paper, and think about how your writing should be structured.
The next tip I want to talk about is that you should avoid contractions, idioms, and other colloquial expressions. Simply because they’re very informal, and writing in general, academic writing is definitely more formal. So let’s have a look at some informal language like contractions. Instead of writing “it’s,” write “it is.” Instead of writing “could’ve,” write “could have.” Or instead of writing “theirs,” write “there has.” I’ll also include phrasal verbs in this because they can also be a bit informal. And in that case, instead of if you were to say “put up with,” use a more specific verb like “endure” or “tolerate.” Instead of saying “check out,” you could use a verb like “view” or “consult.” So not only are you using more formal language, but you’re also being more concise; you’re using fewer words. And as far as idioms go, just please avoid them.
Look at these two sentences right here. “Collecting data was easy and efficient.” Or, “Collecting data was a piece of cake.” It just… Just reading it is a bit awkward. And the same goes for colloquial expressions. If I were to write something like, “The scientist had trouble finishing the experiment, but no biggie. If they didn’t finish, they could just go back to the drawing board.” And I use the colloquial expressions like saying something is, “Well, no biggie,” it’s no big deal. Or I use that idiom, “go back to the drawing board.” Not only does this informal language sound unprofessional, but it’s probably going to seem strange to the person who’s reading it. So please avoid contractions, idioms, and these other colloquial phrases.
The next tip I have for you is that you should vary your sentence structures, and this is going to help you avoid choppiness. And if you’re unsure what that means, I’m going to tell you a little story, and I think it will make more sense. But let’s get into some more details about sentence structure. So there are four basic sentence structures. You have simple sentences. This is one independent clause. So if I’m going to tell you a story about my day, I could say, “I woke up late this morning.” It’s a simple sentence. We also have compound sentences, which is when you have two or more independent clauses. Continuing the story, I could say, “I immediately went to the kitchen, and I made myself a cup of coffee.”
A complex sentence is when you have one independent clause plus one or more dependent clauses. “After I finish my coffee, I got ready for work.” Then we have compound-complex sentences, which is when you have two or more independent clauses plus one or more dependent clauses. And let’s continue. “When I looked at my watch, I realized I was running late, so I ran out the door and jumped in my car.” So let’s review our story using all of those different sentence structures.
“I woke up late this morning. I immediately went to the kitchen, and I made myself a cup of coffee. After I finished my coffee, I got ready for work. When I looked at my watch, I realized I was running late, so I ran out the door and jumped in my car.” If we were to change this and just use simple sentences, the story is going to sound, well, it’s going to sound very choppy. If I say, “I woke up late this morning. I immediately went to the kitchen. I made myself a cup of coffee. I finished my coffee. I got ready for work. I looked at my watch. I realized I was running late. I ran out the door. I jumped in my car.” All right, it’s… It sounds more like a children’s book, and it’s definitely not academic writing. So when you vary your sentence structure, it’s going to help your writing have a nice rhythm and flow.
To be perfectly honest, when you’re writing, you may not analyze each sentence and really look at the sentence structure. This is more likely something that you will notice, and you’ll be able to get a feel for it as you reread your writing. So when you reread, you’ll be able to get a better sense if there is some choppiness and you need to adjust some of your sentence structures.
My next tip is to use the active voice. The active voice gives more clarity. Now, I’m not saying that you should never use the passive voice. It really depends on what you’re writing. If you’re writing some scientific paper, then yes, it’s likely you may have some passive sentences. But in general, most of your sentences should be active. So let’s compare the active and passive.
If I were to say, “Archaeologists conducted a study of the newly unearthed artifacts,” this is an active sentence. It has nine words. And if we compare it to the passive, “A study was conducted of the newly unearthed artifacts.” You see that the issue is that, well, in the passive, we don’t know who conducted the study. Now we could add that to the end of the sentence, and I could say, “By archaeologists.” But now, I have 11 words. Why say something in 11 words when I could say it in nine? So again, it’s about being more concise. So just keep in mind that most of your sentences are going to be in the active voice.
The next tip is to avoid repetition. Try to use a variety of words because it’s going to make your writing more captivating. Use precise language if possible, and try to avoid words like “very” because words like that are often overused. Now, in writing, one way to avoid repetition is when it comes to transition words. These transition words are when you can add information, perhaps you’re moving from one idea to the next. But when you’re writing transition words, it’s easy to repeat them. Let’s take the word “also.” This is a word that’s commonly used to add more information. But you do not always need to use this word because there are other words that have the same meaning. So instead of saying, “The crisis caused severe economic damage. Companies were forced to downsize, and many people lost their job. Also, banks were forced to tighten lending practices, which meant small businesses had a difficult time accessing money. Also, the local government proved ineffective in offering relief.”
We can just remove “also” and replace it with some other words like “in addition” and “furthermore,” and it’s going to sound much better. So we have “also,” “in addition,” “furthermore,” “moreover,” “besides.” There are a variety of words that you can use when you’re talking about these transition words. The good news is that repetition is pretty easy to spot. When you reread your writing, you should be able to identify if you continuously use the same word again and again and again. Really, unless you’re writing a poem, there is no good reason to continuously repeat words over and over. Just remember this famous saying: when you avoid repetition, your writing won’t suck. Actually, it’s not a famous saying; I just made it up right now. But the message, the lesson, is still relevant. Avoid repetition.
The next tip, and I really want to emphasize this, is to proofread. And the reason why I say I want to emphasize this is because it’s another step in the writing process that some people tend to skip. And the reason why it’s so important to proofread is that you’re able to do some of the things that I’ve already talked about. You’re able to get a feel for the sentence structure that you use. You’re able to spot some of the words that you may have repeated. Most of you are probably proofreading because you want to correct mistakes. So in that case, I have a bonus tip for you, and that is: read backward. Go to the very last sentence, read that one, try to look for mistakes. Go to the next to the last sentence, read that one, look for mistakes, and just continue reading backward until you get to the beginning.
The reason for that is because you’re really isolating the sentence, and you’re able to look for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, punctuation. And in short, when you read backward, you’re focusing more on the text and not the ideas. So proofread forward from beginning to end if you want to get a feel for the rhythm and flow of your writing, make sure that your ideas are logically ordered, as well as check for repetition. Proofread backward if you want to really focus on the text and check for grammatical errors. And most importantly, just make sure that you proofread and do not skip this step.
So I hope that you found these tips and suggestions useful because I definitely think this will help you immensely improve your academic writing. Please, I would love it if you would practice your writing right now and write to me in the comments. I always love hearing from you.