We’re in the thick of the fall semester, and all the usual vestiges of the school year are on the horizon. Whether you’re in a physical classroom, masked up, or continuing your education over Zoom, some things never change—for example, writing assignments. From research papers to short stories to lab reports to persuasive essays, students always have something to write! And with the importance of college admission essays, you have even more reason to work on improving your writing skills. Your teachers, parents, and other trusted adults are always saying that learning to write well is an important skill, but how exactly do you get better at it? No matter where your skills are, these seven tips will help bring your writing to the next level.
1. Utilize outlines
Outlining can sound like an intimidating process, but it’s just a way to plan out your words and save yourself time later in the process. If you think through what you want to say during the outlining stage, the actual writing will take less time because you’ve already planned for the beginning, middle, and end of whatever you’re writing. There are a large number of templates that can help you outline various types of writing, but be careful not to box yourself in or overcomplicate things. Sometimes a simple bulleted list of your points is enough. Your main goal as you outline is to hit the most important points of what you’re trying to say before diving in to actually flesh out your ideas.
2. Use strong verbs
I remember my third grade teacher instructing our class to never use the word “walk” in our writing if we could avoid it. At the time, I thought it sounded like an oddly specific rule, but now, I realize it was intended to push us to learn more descriptive and specific language for our writing. If I say someone “walked” out of the room, you know the person exited the room, but if I say someone “strode” out of the room, you know they exited with purpose and perhaps strong emotion, depending on the context. The point is that strong verbs help convey more meaning than generic ones. Using them will help you not only pack more meaning into a piece of writing but also do it without going past word count requirements in certain situations (such as college admission essays!).
3. Be succinct
Whether or not you have a word count, it’s important to be concise in your writing. Contrary to popular belief, writing more doesn’t make you sound smarter. Instead, it’s quite an art to state your points in a clear and brief manner. Most of the time, summarizing something down to a page or two is harder than writing a 10-page dissertation. Why? Because when you’re concise, you have to determine what’s truly most important about your content and boil it down to a cohesive piece while eliminating the unnecessary stuff. The number of words you have isn’t the important part; it’s the quality of them. So don’t try to grasp at ways to make your writing longer; chances are it won’t be as subtle as you think. Repetitive sentences and excessive adjectives are two common culprits, and they generally serve to confuse and frustrate the reader more than anything. Ensure you have high-quality content to share rather than just a lot of it. While it may take some extra effort, the result will be a more engaging, succinct piece of writing that was worth the work.
4. Keep your writing focused
Although it sounds similar to being succinct, being focused in your writing is a whole different ballgame. Focus is about making sure there’s a point to what you’re saying. It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to let yourself get carried away in mundane details and lose sight of the main idea of your piece. In most writing assignments, you come up with a thesis—the main argument you’re trying to make. Each paragraph you write should directly relate to your thesis; if it doesn’t, you either need to integrate it more fully with the overall message or just remove it. As you’re writing, make a habit of stepping back and re-reading to see if your writing supports the big picture of your paper.
5. Leave time to revise and edit
This is where time management comes in. No matter how talented of a writer you are, there’s always room for improvement, and that improvement comes when you give yourself time to edit, revise, and proofread. Give yourself at least a day to step away from your draft and return to it with a fresh mind. Then read it out loud to yourself; you’ll be more likely to catch mechanical errors, stylistic flaws, and run-on or choppy sentences when you read out loud rather than in your head. Look for unnecessary wordiness, fancy words that sounded strong at the time but feel pretentious now, and—of course—anything that doesn’t contribute to the thesis of your work. Also consider giving yourself time to get a trusted family member, friend, or teacher to review your work. They may be able to catch things you miss. However, the big takeaway here is to leave yourself time before your deadline to make necessary changes and ensure you’re submitting your best work.
6. Read everything
This one doesn’t have anything to do with the actual act of writing, but it’s just as beneficial. Reading really can boost your writing skills by exposing you to both good and bad writing, broadening your vocabulary, and allowing you to witness proper grammar used in context. The best part is that good reading material is found in many places, from the newspaper to fiction books to science journals. Reading from a variety of sources is an excellent way to diversify your understanding of what good writing looks like, as each type of writing has a distinct style. If you needed another reason to make time for reading, here it is!
7. Practice, practice, practice
While all the tips above are useful, nothing is a substitute for practice. The more you write, the better you will get—isn’t that how it works with everything? Continue to explore different styles of writing, pushing yourself to try new things, and you’ll become increasingly versatile and comfortable with the process.
As I write this, I’m only too aware that I still have a long way to go as a writer. But that’s what writing is all about: improving, refining, and honing one’s skills to better communicate ideas to the world. And while your college admission essays may soon be complete, remember that writing is a lifelong skill and will never truly be gone from your life; it only changes forms.
For even more tips on improving your writing, check out the tag “writing tips” to browse our best articles and advice on the topic.