Category Archives: Writing Tips

Better Your Writing: Step 3 Map out the Topic – Outline

So, for the past couple weeks you have been writing to your heart’s content and at the same time exponentially increasing your terminology for everything in your environment.  Awesome!  I am sure you have strung together sentences with words you never imagined you can join. And I hope you continue to let that writing fire burn.

However, now it is time to switch gears from using the creative right side of your brain to the more logical left side of your brain– but don’t worry, your creative self will still need to make an appearance every now and again.

The first action you want to take is to look through your journal and decide which entry inspires you the most, or fills you with passion, rage, bewilderment, etc.  The more emotion you feel, the more likely you will have something to say.  Now try to peer at your page with more “logical” eyes and answer the following question.  What is this entry about?  What do I want to say about this topic?  Did I already give examples for my point in my journal?  Are there more examples I want to add? Who will care about this? What is the purpose of this writing? (Do you want to give your opinion, educate or persuade the audience?)

After answering these questions, you should have enough information to quickly plan the basic information that will be included in your introduction paragraph, and body paragraphs (one body paragraph for each example provided).  To quickly plan your your basic information, create a graphic organizer:

On the top of one page draw a large rectangle and label it, “Introduction”.   Inside the rectangle, write what your topic is and why it is important or what your call to action, argument or opinion is.

In the middle of your paper, draw a second large rectangle and label it, “Body Paragraphs”.   Number each piece of evidence you have as you list it in the body paragraphs box.  Each piece of evidence will be the focus of that body paragraph.

The purpose of this is to simply serve as a road map while you are writing your paper. You may still need to do more research to find the answers you need to make your argument compelling.  Once all of this information is collected you can begin fully drafting.  In the meantime, you can use your graphic organizer as a guide for what research needs to be done.

Good Luck!!

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Better Your Writing: Step 2 Build Your Vocabulary

What makes for effective writing is the combination of a well thought out point with an attention-grabbing delivery.  Sentence variety plays a major role in that and one of the many ways to create a variety of sentences is to include a broad sampling of vocabulary.  The best way to obtain the knowledge of a broad sampling of vocabulary is to make a conscience effort to learn and incorporate new words into your daily speech.  There are several strategies to go about accomplishing this:

  1. Start with what you know.   Find synonyms to replace words you already use on a daily basis.  To do this for free, simply go to thesaurus.com and search for words you use regularly. For example, I looked up the word “argue” and found this list: http://thesaurus.com/browse/argue   Now instead of saying, “Kids, don’t argue with each other.” I am going to say , “Kids don’t contend with each other.”   I feel smarter already.  For those with a little to “invest” in vocabulary expansion, there is software available and rated on toptenreviews.com: http://vocabulary-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ultimate-vocabulary-review.html
  2. Be proactive when you don’t understand. When you are reading or listening to something new and you see or hear a word you don’t understand, be sure to make a note of it in your journal or reading log.  Before looking up the word, try to figure out what the word is referring to in the way it is used in the sentence.  Once you have meditated on the possible meaning, look it up and compare how close or far off you were from figuring it out.
  3. Compare word meanings. Sometimes the same word can be used to mean different things.  Familiarize yourself with all of the definitions of a particular word and be sure to use them in speech or writing.

All of this may seem very time consuming, but the truth of the matter is activities like this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes a day and should be incorporated into any time you set aside for yourself to read and write.

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Better Your Writing: Step 1 Journal Writing

In my last post, I left off with challenging my readers to purposefully work on building their writing skills.  But then it dawned on me that perhaps I should clue you in on the steps you can take to become a better writer.  The first tip I would like to share, in all honesty, has been repeated by English teachers and writing coaches a like for many years.  And even though I would classify this as a cliche, if it were possible to classify actions as cliches the way one would an over-used phrase, I still think this activity is the number one way to get your writing juices flowing and therefore build on your writing skills. This number one activity is: keeping a journal.

This is not the “Dear Diary” of your younger years where you reveal your crush or some other deep secret that would be horrifying to make known to anyone else but your diary -though it could be used for that purpose if you wish.  You want to use this journal to explore all things that inspire you to think.  Did you just read something in the local newspaper that irritates you? Write about it.  Did you just watch your child play with other children and it reminded you of a time when you were younger?  Explore the memory in your journal.  Did you just read something in a novel that reminded you of something that happens in your life?  Investigate the connection in your journal.  Don’t have any thoughts fighting their way out of your mind? Simply take some time to free write and let your stream of consciousness take over.  What does that mean?  It means to simply write down what is coming to your mind, whether it makes sense or not.  For example:

The road we took to get here was so bumpy.  It kind of reminded me of the way you bump through El Torro at Great Adventure.  I wonder what kind of safety measures they take to make it safe.  They have a lot of rides, that is a lot of safety measures!  How many people would they need to inspect all the rides?  Is there some sort of national council on ride safety measures?  Do all ride safety measure workers have to be certified?  Do they pay for the certification or does their company pay for it?   How would you even break into a field like this. Some fields aren’t easy to break into.  My uncle waited for 3 years to get called into the electrical union, IBEW.  Electrician is a high demand.  I wonder what other jobs are in high demand?

As you can see, my main concern when I was writing the preceding paragraph was that I was getting out the ideas in my head.  I have punctuation, pronoun and subject-verb agreement errors through out the paragraph.  But, in stream of consciousness and journal writing, the adherence to grammar rules in not the main concern.  Just focus on letting your thoughts out.

Rules of Journal Writing:

  1. Spend at least 10 minutes a day 2-3 times a week.  Obviously the more practice you have the better you will get, but you don’t want writing to become a chore for you at the same time.  Do what is comfortable for you, but this basic amount of writing will get you on the right track.
  2. Just like when you are writing with your stream of consciousness, don’t worry about grammar.
  3. The purpose of journal writing is to explore your thoughts, but if you are having trouble coming up with something to write, start off using writing prompts. (Some examples are listed below.)  Eventually, if you keep at it, you won’t need prompts.
  4. Don’t give up.  Once you start, stick with your writing schedule!
  5. Analyze.  After some time you will want to review everything you have written and take notice of your improvement.  Are your sentences getting longer? Are you entries getting longer?  Are you  producing more thoughts? Are your thoughts going deeper than scratching surface topics? Do you find yourself writing for a longer period of time than you schedule?  Have you come up with solutions to problems?  Take the time to notice where you have improved.
  6. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Through your own sheer drive and determination, you took the steps necessary to better your writing skills, by yourself.

Writing Prompts:

  • “The three best things that happened to me today?”
  • “The three things I encountered today that I didn’t like and my solutions to change them”
  • “Today I am happy because…”
  • “Today I am angry because….”
  • “Where is a ____ when you need it?”
  • “I really wanted to _____ but I changed my mind.”

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What is the Purpose of Writing?

As I was writing, “Pre-Writing: It’s for your own good”, I started to wonder about the reasoning I was using in defense of pre-writing, and that being the reader may one day be moved to write about something that he or she experienced.  But then I thought about it.  Who really does that anymore?  I know my grandmother can be relied on to a write a good letter to someone of authority if she feels mistreated.  Bloggers.  Obviously use writing as an escape or as a way to sort out their thoughts or express their views.  Even celebrities write books.  Mostly motivated by profit, but still they take the time to sort through their thoughts and offer an opinion to the world.  But does the average person?  Perhaps only when faced with adversity or an assignment from a teacher.

So I ask myself, what is the point of offering services to assist people with writing, if no one really has an appreciation for the activity?  But the thought pushes through my brain, down through my arms and out of my fingers onto the screen:  BECAUSE PEOPLE NEED TO!  In this communication-intense world, knowing how to read, think and express yourself through written language is almost as necessary as air.  Maybe not air, but is definitely equivalent to the need of a house.  In an opposite fashion perhaps, as a house protects from bad weather and predators, writing helps you to push thoughts from inside your natural casing (head) out onto the world.  In some way, your house is your shield and your words your sword. Who wouldn’t want these weapons to be as strong and sharp as possible?

In today’s day, even if you want to be “in-the-know” as a younger person, Facebook and twitter are the new hangouts.  How is information passed at these hangouts? Not through speaking to each other, but writing to and reading each other’s comments. I’ll admit, the grammatical errors, misspellings and usually thought-less banter that make up the content of these posts is less desirable than any educator would like, but the fact that technology has given new life to written language, being a necessity to participate in what is “happening”, is a start.

So where I am going with this? A challenge. I challenge anyone one reading this,  for the sake of your own ability to manipulate words into just the meaning you seek, to  work everyday on your writing skills.  It could be as simple as spending ten minutes a day on the activity, but doing so can help to expand your vocabulary, pursue your thoughts to a deeper understanding, and finally, express yourself to say what you mean through written language.  Who knows, maybe one day the way you learn to fashion words will protect you, just as a sword can.

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Pre- Writing: It’s for your own good!

Does the title of this post, for some reason unknown to you, remind you of spiderwebs or perhaps a memory of you staring at a blank piece of paper, with anxiety knotting up your chest and stomach, as your English teacher gives you a warning glare that says, “WRITE or else!”?

Well, try not to fret.  This post certainly doesn’t pose any threat of detention or extra homework.  It does, however, ask that you rethink what you think you know about pre-writing.

Pre-Writing Consists of Three Main Events

1) An outside occurrence, may it be a something that happens physically to you, or a book or article read, or movie watched, or conversation had, or comment, quote or opinion heard, that forces you to want to think more thoroughly about the occurrence. You may even be moved to produce a piece of writing to express your thoughts to other people, whether it be a letter to an individual, publication or organization, or a research report or an article, etc.

2) Use of a pre-writing tool to help sort out your ideas and help you to recognize what you know and don’t know about the topic of interest.

3) Analysis and Decision.  Do you have enough information to form an opinion or begin to draft about the topic?  Do you still have unanswered questions to which you must find answers?  What are those questions?

The answers to these questions in step three will help to either guide research for a more informed opinion/letter, etc. or it will lead to drafting.  Or maybe it won’t.

Either way, it is important to realize that the PURPOSE of pre-writing ISN’T TO PRODUCE any writing.  The purpose of PRE-WRITING is to ASSIST in THOUGHT-GATHERING and ORGANIZATION.

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What is Editing and Revising anyway?

It is important to note that revising and editing are two different activities and are done at separate times.

Revising is what you do to your first draft after you write it.  From a very basic point of view, you want to review the paper to ensure you:

1) answered the question (if you are writing an essay for a homework assignment, for example) or that your point of view is clear to the reader.

2) You want to make sure the reasons and evidence you are providing to support your point of view (or answer to your question) are also clearly stated . This is also a good time to make sure that sources are cited and credit is properly given to the source’s author.

3) Finally you want to make sure your paper is organized in a way that leaves the strongest impression on the reader.

Editing on the other hand, is done only after revising the content and organization of the paper. Again, from a very basic point of view, it is during editing that you check for consistent verb tense though out the paper, proper use of pronouns, commas and subject verb agreement, etc.  The entire purpose of ensuring correct grammar is to make it as easy for the reader as possible to understand your point.

So the next time you have a paper to edit, be sure to break revising and editing into two steps.  When revising, don’t worry about the grammar, just make sure the paper clearly says what you want it to say.  When editing, keep your focus on grammar.

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