Even native English speakers know that writing in English can be extremely difficult. If you are looking to improve your English writing skills then you are in the right place. While improving your writing is really more of a journey rather than a quick jaunt, there are strategies and techniques you can use for both long term improvement or a quick refresh on your current piece.
5 Quick Ways to Improve Your English Writing
1. Write in an Active Voice, Not Passive
Active voice is when the subject of a sentence does the action to the object. For example, instead of saying, “The ball was thrown by Johnny” (Passive Voice), you would say, “Johnny threw the ball” (Active Voice). In this example, the ball is the object, Johnny is the subject, and “throwing” is the action. This simple change will make your writing more interesting to your reader.
2. Use the Correct Capitalization and Punctuation
In general, capitalize the beginning of every sentence and proper nouns. Proper nouns are specific people, places, things, and ideas. The key word here is “specific”. Proper nouns include names and titles. Using the correct punctuation is essential in helping readers navigate what you wrote. Sentences should end with a “.” unless it is a question and then it ends with a “?”. Rarely should you end a sentence with an “!” as this denotes yelling or something sudden. Use commas sparingly when there is a natural pause in a sentence or when listing out a series of things. When in doubt, look up specific grammar rules either in a grammar book or online.
3. Use a Strong Vocabulary
Interesting words make for interesting writing. If your vocabulary is bland then I suggest you improve it with the help of a thesaurus or detailed adjectives. For example, instead of saying “the red ball”, you can say “the fire engine red sphere”. Both mean the same thing although the latter is more interesting to read about.
4. Use Rich Detail to Describe
Don’t bluntly tell readers what is happening in your writing. Describe what is happening and let them draw their own conclusions. A good writer will be able to lead readers to the correct conclusion. For example, instead of saying “Sally was nervous of public speaking”, you can write, “Sweat rolled down Sally’s back at the thought of standing in front of the crowded room and delivering her speech”. Obviously Sally is afraid of speaking in both sentences but the second sentence is more descriptive.
5. Know When to Use Clichés
A cliché is a phrase that is overused and lacks original thought. Clichés should be avoided 99% of the time because all they tell readers is that you’re unimaginative. Some common ones include: “Actions speak louder than words”, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, “What does doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and “Love is blind”. Do everyone a favor and use your own words in your writing.
5 Long Term Strategies to Improve Your English Writing
1. Write Everyday
The only way to truly get better is to practice. Write in a journal or on a blog every day for at least 30 minutes. If you run out of things to write about, use writing prompts. There are 10 writing prompts at the end of this post to get you started. Be brave in your writing and allow yourself to make mistakes. Making a mistakes is just part of the learning process.
2. Get in the Habit of Editing
You don’t have to edit what you wrote the same day but get in the habit of going back over your work and correcting it. Take editing to the next level by having a native English speaker (or someone of native English fluency) edit your writing after you have edited it and explain their edits to you. If editing is not your forte, learn how to edit more effectively with this course on the power of proofreading.
3. Learn the Language Rules and Spelling
English grammar is HARD, even for a native speaker. Practice English grammar with workbooks and exercises. When in doubt, look up the correct rule. The same effort should be put forth in learning how to spell correctly. Writing on a computer may benefit you with spellcheck but take the time to learn how to spell common words correctly for when there isn’t an automatic spell checker available. Learn more about spelling correctly with this class in American spelling rules.
4. Build Your English Vocabulary Database
Your vocabulary can be divided into three sections; spoken, written, and reading with spoken being the smallest and your reading comprehension vocabulary being the largest. Take the time to grow each of your vocabulary sections by learning and actively using new words. Keep a journal of words that you like and have collected. Practice using them both when talking in English and when writing. Learn new words by reading different types of literature.
5. Invest the Time and Energy
Improving your English writing will take time and dedication. I recommend you also start collecting writing samples you like and ideas that inspire you. Practice your writing by copying a passage out of a book and then rewriting it to have the same meaning but with different words. You should also seriously consider joining a writing review group. Other writers will help you edit your work and give you suggestions for continued improvement.
If you are looking forward to writing a story, check out this class on how to structure and write a novel.
List of 10 Daily Writing Prompts to Get You Started
Write a letter to your 10 year-old self giving advice on what it’s like to grow-up. How should you deal with disappointment? Love? Sadness? Achievement? What do you wish you would have known then that you know now?
Write step by step directions for a beginner on how to do something that you are proficient at. Ideas include: How to make a paper airplane, How to bake a cake, How to draw a monkey, How to run with proper form, How to use the library, How to drive a manual car, etc.
Write and explain your favorite place to a blind person. Because you cannot rely on their sense of sight, focus on taste, smells, sounds, and touch. Make the image of your favorite place come to life in their mind.
Write about a dog’s day from the point of view of a the dog whose owner works all day. Do they understand everything that’s happening to them? What does the dog do all day? How does their day change from when their owner leaves in the morning to when the owner returns? Give the dog a personality.
Write and explain your favorite song. Why do you like it? Does it hold any special significance to you? Does it remind you of something? How do you act when you hear the song? Do you sing along? Are the lyrics or musical beat important to you? What about the artist?
Write a letter to a pen pal in a foreign country. Tell them about your family, your hometown, where you live now, school, work, your friends, and your favorite things to do.
Write a review of a recent fictional story that you read. What genre was it? Who was the story about? What was the setting? What was the plot? What were the characters’ struggles and how did they overcome them? How did the story end? Did you like the story? Would you recommend it to someone else? What type of person do you think would like this story?
Write about two people with conflicting personality traits going on a trip together. Conflicting personality traits might include: hardworker vs a lazy person, pessimist vs optimist, grateful individual vs someone who takes things for granted, or an intense person vs a carefree person. Have them get into a disagreement. How do their personalities affect how they behave? How does the conflict end?
Write and describe 5 different objects without ever saying the object’s title. For example, if you choose bookshelf then you cannot write “book” or “shelf”. You might describe it as a place for literature to rest when it is not being consumed. A sturdy home for some of your favorite classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Huck Finn”, “Harry Potter”, and “Hamlet”. Use your imagination.
Write about your favorite holiday to celebrate and the traditions surrounding it. Why is it your favorite holiday? What traditions are unique to it? How do you celebrate? What is the significance or history behind it?
What strategies do you use to improve your English writing? Do you have a favorite writing prompt to share?