How to write well

You may not be consumed (yet) by the burning ambition to write the next great South African novel. Still, you need decent writing skills in order to:

 

  • Put together an email message that’s easy to understand;
  • Compose a social media post that deserves to be liked;
  • Write an effective letter of complaint to ________ (fill in the name of your current peeve);
  • And so on.

Now that we’re clear on the why, let’s concentrate on the how.

 

Anyone who puts some effort into it can learn to write well. Here are the best tips from experts:

 

  1. Read as much and as widely as possible, from magazines and comic books to novels and books on subjects you are interested in, for example history and politics. Observe the sentence construction, the use of punctuation and the style. Reading is the best way to learn how to write well. It expands vocabulary, teaches grammar and shows you what can be done with a language.books
  2. Note the mistakes others make. Social media is full of crimes against language. See how many you can spot. Even better, jot them down with your own corrections and the rationale for those corrections. (NB: You may want to think twice before firing off a comment in which you point out errors in your friend’s social media post.)
  3. Check and recheck your words. The English language has many words that look similar but have different meanings. Also, make it a habit to reach for a thesaurus in your search for the best word. It goes without saying that your spelling must be error-free.
  4. Reshuffle your text. Once you have written something – an email message, a blog post, a report, a story – try rearranging the paragraphs and the sentences. This is a great way to spot repetitions and redundancies and to ensure that your writing flows well.
  5. Read aloud what you wrote. When that is not possible, let the voice in your head do some slow and deliberate internal reading. Do words and sentences roll off the tongue easily? If not, weed out clunky constructions, repetitive words, unnecessary modifiers (adverbs, adjectives) and other offenders.
  6. Invite critique. Find someone who is willing to read what you’ve written and listen to their comments.

Good writing does not come by accident. However, if you persist, you will soon see improvements in your written communications. And who knows… perhaps, one day, that next great South African novel will come from under your pen!

 

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