Four awesome top tips to improve your written English
Published October 16, 2017
Try typing this title into Google and you’ll get 178 million results in under 0.58 seconds. Lightening fast and pretty impressive, you get a whole load of blog posts, offering some great advice on how to improve English.
.. or so you’d think.
There are some excellent articles out there – but I can’t help feeling that some are just a little too academic for their own good. While it’s possibly interesting to know (and important in some circumstances) that alliteration means ‘the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words’ or ‘when we speak of gene maps and gene mapping, we use a cartographic metaphor,’ there is a sense that writing English is just stock full of jargon.
So, in a desperate attempt to avoid all use of tech speak, here’s some real, actionable top tips:
- Just start .. or learn some openers
Did you notice the cunning introductory paragraph to this piece? The idea is to present English in more of a spoken form and, like when you’re chatting to a friend, you just start talking. The trick then is to (slightly) formalise the approach. So, imagine the first paragraph written as a real conversation:
“Just Google it – you’ll be fine. Copy what’s out there, get it done, there’s loads of info”
Then turn your conversation into something that’s easier to read.
OK, so the first tip might not be that easy. Or you get some strange looks talking to yourself, while imaging the conversation.
So, here’s a list of premade openers that’ll soon have you writing like a pro. You can use these in any style of writing and I’ve added a couple of comments. It might be useful to change the names (nouns?) around, but you’ll get the general idea:
The man swayed in the doorway, breathing deeply, he looked across at the fireplace. The flickering flames danced across the room as the howling wind slammed the heavy door behind him. He was alone.
Comment: Very useful for scene setting at the beginning of a creative piece. Change location, person, background scene to suit.
“I told you we shouldn’t have done that,’” whined the small boy, as he looked up at his sister. It was going to be hard to explain that one away.
Comment: Good to use for a piece that involves conversations and development of characters. You can imagine the scene quite easily. We’ve all been there.
It’s a commonly accepted belief that school uniform improves academic performance.
Comment: This is quite a good opener to persuasive writing – particularly useful for GCSE essays. Whether you agree or disagree, you are catching the reader’s attention.
- Write one sentence, and write three more
This is perhaps the most obvious top tip, but the most overlooked. The idea is to write a sentence: “It was blowing a gale last Thursday afternoon.” and then write three more, without changing the idea:
“The wind howled across the mountain pass. A roaring, deafening invasion to this normally peaceful and majestic tourist trap. Like a sea of tormented souls, the wind washed over the rocks, drowning everything in its path.”
In this example I haven’t changed the sense of the piece, introduced any characters or time passing. Instead I’ve spent a few minutes describing the wind in order for the reader to imagine the setting. This technique will greatly improve your writing as you’ll add much more detail and description. It isn’t just for scenes though; use the idea of ‘write one sentence, and write three more’ to add interest in all sorts of situations. Try this:
“The little black dog curled up on the mat. [and then..] He enjoyed the luxurious feel of his favourite brown rug, the one he’d had since he was a young pup. It held many memories of long walks, interesting sniffs, chasing cats, digging holes and getting muddy. The little black dog sighed contentedly, it had been a good day.”
- Write simply
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Leonardo da Vinci
And that about sums it up. The most important skill to improve your written English is to write in a way that appeals to everyone. By all means use great words such as ‘satiety,’ ‘sentient’ or ‘sanguine’ – but make sure that your ideas are not lost in the words themselves.
Writing simply can convey a whole range of thoughts and create images in the reader’s mind. The last sentence “The little black dog sighed contentedly, it had been a good day” isn’t particularly sophisticated and hasn’t any amazing vocabulary.. but it does get the picture across.
A lot of thought has been put into this last point, and I’m not sure whether you’ll agree or disagree. But I’m going to make the point anyway, to give you something to remember me by:
- Writing doesn’t always have a beginning, middle and end
Stories usually do..but mostly don’t, according to Hollywood. Rocky 27 is showing soon.
Joking aside, it’s far better to think through your writing as a piece that’s written for the here and now. Perhaps there’ll be the opportunity to take the story further, or write a little more about the subject later. There are really three parts to writing a piece of work, although it’s not as simple as beginning, middle and end. Here’s the list:
Deconstruction – Write simply, keep focussed on the important bits of getting the message across.
Selection – Of all the things you could write about, what are you going to specifically choose? Find the one or two core items, and write about those.
Sequencing – Create a logical, step by step approach to the point you want your piece to end.
Er, in the interests of not boring you too much I’ll stop there. I’ve also managed to avoid most of the long words, except in this last bit. I hope it’s been useful though and all very best for developing your writing style.