Even if you can speak English pretty well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the writing skills to match. I always think of my English exams back in the day. Even if I managed to get an A, the red pen underlining certain spelling or sentence structure errors screamed “Jasmin, you need to improve your English writing!”
You see, writing and speaking are very separate language skills that require you to use the English language in slightly different ways. As such, the quality of both depends on your fluency level. You might be writing an important essay, a career-defining e-mail or posting something online but it really doesn't matter.
In each instance, you need to know how to write. There is no one-size-fits-all writing technique in English, even if you're the bestest of speakers. The reason is simple:
How you speak isn't necessarily the same as how you write.
This means that no matter how well you can speak English, there is a very different set of criteria when it comes to writing. To give you an example, pronunciation hiccoughs are common in spoken English but nobody's going to judge you for them, unless they're really bad. On the other hand, even the tiniest spelling errors in writing can doom you, as they're that much more noticeable.
Nevertheless, both spoken and written English affect and demonstrate language fluency, which is why it is crucial that you constantly improve your English writing skills. Let us take a look at some neat techniques that can help you do so.
Who knows? They may even light that spark inside of you toward becoming a best-selling author. Let's dive in and see, shall we?
1. Read a lot
As much as some of you hate it, the "ancient technique called reading" is an inevitable part of learning. Now, you don't need to read one book per week or follow every single major news outlet out there to improve your English writing skills - you just need to keep reading. The more, the better. Here's why:
Vocabulary. Reading allows you to constantly immerse yourself in new vocabulary, which you can practice and (hopefully) use in your own writing.
Structure. Pay attention to how good writers write. Their sentences are usually not mile-long. Paragraphs are short and organized (except in stories). The overall text layout is pleasing to the eye and not all over the place (or even worse - with mile-long paragraphs).
Tone. How you talk to your reader matters. You'd never want to unintentionally come off as sarcastic or witty to the person you're writing. This goes 10x when you're writing something formal.
In sum, how well you read and how hard you aim to find value in what you read will have a direct impact on your writing, which brings me to my next point.
2. Focus on style
Writing well is so much more than just using words in a skillful way. It's the surrounding of those words (that you create) that matters, as well. Be clear on the type of style you need. If you're writing for business purposes, write more formally. On the other hand, if you're taking the SAT exam, try to find resources online that clearly demonstrate the writing style, structure, and tone you need to use.
Your writing style is almost as important as your words.
Needless to say, focusing on style while using messaging apps with your friends is pointless. Everyone writes in their own style (and language) anyway! I heard the Emoji language is almost a thing now...
3. Use apps
I've always been one to upvote using technology to boost language fluency, especially when it comes to improving English writing (or typing). Nowadays, with apps like Grammarly, you can ensure your writing is error-free every step of the way, whether it's in a Word document, anywhere on social media or on your phone. Just download it as an add-on on your current device and type away. Oh, and it's also free!
P.S. This is also my secret weapon for error-free writing. What I like to do, however, is pay close attention to the errors I'm making and try to spend some time analyzing them so I won't repeat them that often. This is how you build great writing habits, most of which will positively impact your spoken English, as well, which is always a good thing.
4. "Own" your vocabulary
In the past, I've spoken at length about the importance of keeping track of new vocabulary. It is so useful to jot down each new big word you learn in a notebook of some sort so you can occasionally refresh your memory, reflect back on how far you've come, and simply know that you know more.
As to how you can expand your vocabulary even more simply through writing, there's this great technique I like to share with my students that always challenges even the best-performing individuals and gets their English fluency to new heights.
In short, you should ban certain words from your writing.
What I mean by this is that you should practice writing English without words such as "very", "really", "quite" etc. Instead, use adjectives, adverbs or other words with the same meaning. For example, instead of saying "very fast", you can say "swift" or "rapid". This technique actually makes you think about every word you write, forces you to learn and use more vocabulary, and makes your writing read far better.
Plus, most of those words you'd be eliminating are pretty useless anyway and your writing will still keep the same exact meaning without them.
5. Write often
Let's get one thing straight before we wrap this up. Even though not all of us aspire to be world-famous authors, there is just no other way around that hurdle that allows you to improve English writing skills - you have to write. However, if you want to write better, you simply need to write more. In other words, by staying clear of improving this particular language skill, you're not doing your overall English fluency justice.
A small but very useful technique I started using years ago is writing freely on a daily basis.
I devote maybe 5-10 minutes of my day to write about anything that comes to mind. However, in doing so, I aim to apply every single thing I know about quality writing:
- setting the right tone,
- having a good paragraph structure,
- writing short(er) sentences,
- eliminating or replacing weak vocabulary,
- proofreading, etc.
The interesting thing about this technique is: once I'm done, I just go over it once or twice, check it for errors, and delete it. I find that thinking about how and what I had previously written prevents me from moving forward and improving my English writing skills with each new try. Think of it as the grown-up version of a diary (which you won't keep).
Now, even though I don't keep track of what I write, I'm not saying you shouldn't. Maybe you'll love what you write. I'm just not so sure that the current me would be proud of my language skills from a decade ago.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." - Stephen King
The lesson to be learned here is this: you must never stop writing, and you never should. Whether it's texting friends via social media, writing homework or sending out business e-mails, it is extremely important that you constantly learn and improve your English writing skills. Remember:
The quality of your English writing skills is a direct reflection of your fluency in English.
As such, you can transcend merely text on a paper and show everyone around you the eloquent, fluent, and confident English speaker that you are, even if they’ve never even heard you speak!
Until next time, happy learning and stay writing!