If we've heard it once, we've heard it a million times: writing a paper is hard. Students dread it, and understandably so. How do you come up with your topic, and how do you find ways to support your argument? There’s no easy answer.
So, feeling like you have an impossible task, you procrastinate until the last minute, when you desperately try to whip something up that makes marginal sense. We’ve all been there.
At Quillbot, our goal is to give you the tools you need to become an effective writer. As we develop these products, we want to give you some tips that can help you write better today.
Here are 8 writing strategies to help you write more effectively.
Tip #1: Don't Write Continuously for Hours on End
It’s easy to say you’re going to dedicate the next four to five hours just to writing your paper. Believe it or not, this is counterproductive and might cause you to spend more time than you wanted writing.
Writing and generating ideas continuously taxes your cognitive capacity. Your brain needs rest to think effectively. It’s no different than your brain needing sleep.
Moreover, if you’re working against a tight deadline, stress may kick in and you’ll get stuck with writer's block.
The best way to prevent this is to take regular breaks. As an example, for every 50 minutes you work, take a 10 minute break. We recommend doing something simple and fun, like playing a game of solitaire or talking a quick walk.
You want to consistently refresh your mind so you can get back to writing fluidly again.
Tip #2: Read, Read, Read!
One writing strategy people tend to overlook is reading. How do you expect to write well if you haven't been exposed to great writing?
Once you start reading frequently, you'll begin to pick up on certain patterns and habits of different authors. We're talking word choice, sentence structure, and new ideas.
After being exposed to different styles and rules, these habits and patterns will become second nature to you as a writer. You'll be able to implement grammar and spelling rules without thinking, and will quickly develop a personal writing style without having to stress over it.
It's also a good idea to re read your own work. If you're too tired or burnt out, pop it into a grammar checker to be sure everything looks perfect.
Tip #3: Identify Your Target Audience
If you know exactly who your audience will be comprised of, you'll be able to focus your writing much quicker and easier.
It's important to identify a target audience for each thing you right. You may have a general audience for your writing as a whole (ex: children, parents, students), but each piece you write will probably have a more specific audience (ex: children under 10, single parents, STEM students). This specific audience may change from piece to piece, depending on what your topic range is.
Once you know who your audience will be, it'll be easy to decide on an appropriate tone and method of communication.
When papers/essays/blog posts are written without a target audience in mind, they tend to ramble, touching on things that may not be entirely relevant for the reader.
In order to write effectively, it's imperative that you understand who you're writing for.
Tip #4: Try Rapid Outlining
Many people skip writing an outline for their paper. They think that as they write, ideas will flow and the paper will come together. Oftentimes, this process instead ends in disjointed thoughts and arguments, and a low grade on your paper.
Outlining works! It forces you to think about your topic and how you will support it. Moreover, it helps lead to a structured paper with logical and coherent points that support your thesis.
To get over the outlining hump, we suggest trying rapid outlining. Take a piece of paper (even a napkin works!) and try to outline your paper in 15 minutes. It sounds unconventional, but it forces you to think about how you want to structure your paper. Now you’ll have a foundation to either develop a better outline and write a better paper.
This method allows you to come up with a tentative plan without editing yourself or overthinking, which can lead to mistakes and/or procrastination. At least with a rapid outline, you have a solid starting point that you can always tweak as you work through it.
Tip #5: Ask 5 "Whys"to Come Up with a Topic
Coming up with a topic can be the hardest part of your paper. What should you write about?
We suggest asking five “why” questions to explore potential ideas.
For example, if your topic is about Michael Jordan, you can ask why he’s considered the best basketball player of all time. If it was his skillset, why was he so skilful? If his talent comes from his work regimine, why was it so effective?
Asking questions helps open up new approaches to take. Keep digging in, and you’ll find there are all sorts of different ideas to write about. Think of it like a chain reaction: once you figure out one part of the story, another question reveals itself, begging you to investigate deeper.
Tip #6: Keep It Simple and Direct
Good writing doesn't always mean rambling, fancy writing. Sometimes the best way to get the job done is to jump straight to the main point.
If you want your writing to be effective (and we're guessing you do, since you're reading this blog post), be direct. You need to make a quick impression in order to grab the attention of your readers, and you need to be brief in order to keep that attention.
Play around with sentence structure. Use a bold first sentence. Think about how to turn long sentences into shorter sentences. Put your ideas out there first (no beating around the bush!) and back them up later.
Pro tip: Keep your adjectives and adverbs to a minimum in order to be more direct. Our next tip will also benefit from this...
Tip #7: Select Powerful Verbs
One of the easiest writing skills you can master is honing in on word choice. Good writing uses strong, dynamic words that convey a message very quickly.
If you struggle with finding the right words to use, try out an online paraphraser. The paraphraser will recommend alternative ways to phrase things, suggesting new words, tones, and syntax to keep your writing fresh.
Whether your work falls under the umbrella of creative writing or academic writing, one thing is for sure: word choice is of the utmost importance when it comes to conveying your message in the way you'd like.
Tip #8: Proofread, Revise, and Edit
If you really want to improve your own writing, you need to go through the editing process. Whether this is by yourself, in writing workshops, or with a trusted peer one-on-one, proofreading and editing are non-negotiable steps in the writing process.
Editing allows for your writing to improve. You (or a friend, or a host of online tools) will find errors or weak points by going through your initial drafts. Instead of looking at this as a chore, think of it as an exciting opportunity to improve your writing!
During the editing process, you can take the constructive criticism you receive and use it to improve your grammar skills, expand on your ideas, add supporting information, and just strengthen your work overall.
It can be hard to be objective about your own writing, but if you're able to look at it without bias, it will come out stronger on the other side.
Miscellaneous Writing Techniques and Strategies
So we've gone through all of the big writing strategies that will get your writing to be tight and efficient. However, we're not done quite yet.
Here is a series of smaller, supporting tips that will help you as you work through your early work.
Use Fewer Words and Phrases
This goes along with Tip #6, "Keep it simple and direct."
By cutting down on the number of words you use, your audience will be able to understand your point quicker and with less confusion. Less really is more.
Pro tip: Use QuillBot's Shorten Mode to automatically cut down your word count.
Reduce the Number of Negatives in Sentences
Double negatives are grammatically incorrect (not no one, not never, etc), but it's smart to stay away from regular negative speech as well.
Instead of saying "It's not that I'm unhappy," try saying "I'm happy, but..."
This will help you be more direct. It can be confusing to use negatives when your connotation is meant to be positive. Just say what you mean. It'll be easier for everyone.
Use Both Simple and Sophisticated Language
Those with strong writing skills are able to discern when a certain type of language will be most effective.
While you don't want your writing to sound to choppy and robotic by using only simple sentences, you want to write in a way that most everyone can understand (which means it shouldn't be too intricate).
A lot of this has to do with word choice and sentence structure. Vary the types of phrases you use to find your own style and keep your work engaging.
Final Thoughts on Writing Strategies
Whether you've just started writing or you're one of the more experienced writers, at least one of these tips should be able to help you make your writing more effective (and we hope all of them help you to improve!).
Honing your writing skills definitely takes time and practice, but if you're truly determined to make your own work the best that it can be, you'll get there.