Improve your Writing Skills!
A) Basic Writing Skills
The Objective is to learn and reinforce some basic but important writing concepts, which are
- Using structure when you write
- Opening and Closing Paragraphs
- Topic sentences
- Varying sentence length
- Using Transition words
Using structure when you write
- Structure helps the reader find the important information in your message. Remember, you are writing for an audience who is usually busy and has lots of things to read.
- Good structure organizes ideas clearly, which reduces confusion. If you message is confusing, it not only makes it hard to understand and therefore reduces the impact of your message, it discourages the reader from reading it.
- Helps the writer (you) clearly understand your message and focus on the main issues
Opening and Closing Paragraphs
- This is the first and last impression you are creating. The first impression gives an overview of your message and determines how much attention the read pays to the rest of the message. Good openings are ones that are unique, attention grabbing and related to the rest of the content.
- The last impression is the last thing the reader will see before they put your message away, it is often how they will remember you. Good closings should be attention grabbing, emphasizes the main issues of your message and unique.
- This is where attention is naturally the highest – readers who are reading very quickly will at least read the opening and closing of your message.
- These tell the reader what the main point of each paragraph is. This could either be at the start or the end of the paragraph, but not in the middle.
- Good topic sentences are direct and not too long
Varying sentence length
- There is no perfect sentence length, on average sentences have about 9 to 11 words. Readers like variety, as a writer you should have a good mix of short and long sentences.
- Short sentences are dramatic and powerful, are easy to remember and catch attention. But they have very little information. If you have too many short sentences, it sounds broken and not smooth.
- Long sentences are complex and can hold a lot of information. But they can be confusing and hard to follow. If you have too many short sentences, it could confuse the reader and make them lose attention.
Using Transition words
- Transition words are words that connect ideas and thoughts. They help readers see your train of thinking and create a smooth movement from one sentence to another, or from one paragraph to another.
- Without transition words, your writing sounds broken and you will reduce the attention of the reader and the impact of your ideas.
- Examples of transition words – Furthermore, In addition, Secondly (all words that continue an idea). Therefore, In conclusion, In summary, Thus (words that reach the end of a though or idea, the conclusion). However, Nevertheless, Regardless (words that show the opposite idea, that twist a thread of thinking around)
Self Help (this is not an assignment, but optional work for your improvement)
- Write a short article to practice these skills
- How many other transition words can you think of?
- Analyze an article or letter an try to identify all the above elements. Then rewrite the opening and closing.
Link to In Class Activity
B) Descriptive writing
The objective of this section is to develop descriptive writing skills.
Strategies to write descriptively
- Start with the big picture - explain the overview first then move on to details (“how many objects, what does the entire thing look like, what is the overall shape or function..”). You should give your reader an understanding of how the final object should roughly look like.
- Create reference points that you can use to explain other things (“at the center there is a circle, above the circle is...below the circle is...” the circle is the reference point). Start from something that is easiest to describe, then explain other things in relation to that – you can use this object to explain the location and size of other objects.
- Be systematic - start from left to right, or right to left, or outside to inside or some other logical order. Use your Reference points (“above the circle,...at 3 O’clock of the circle is...between the circle and the ____ is...”). Tell people the order which you are going to use (“I’m going to explain the things that are outside the box first, then inside the box..”). Describe your diagram like you are telling a story.
- Explain key features in detail. Use references to things other people might know - what is sounds like or looks like, how it is similar but different (“this looks like a circle, but one side is flat. The flat side is about 20% of the entire circumference of the circle and is on the right side of the circle... this looks like a donut cut in two, like a pie, like a snake...”). Explain the size, the direction it is pointing at, how far away it is from other shapes, the color, the shape – think of every single detail.
Link to Diagrams
C) Instructional Writing
Objective is to teach students how to give instructions (like writing a manual or a recipe)
Strategies to write instructions
- Start with the big picture - explain the final product you are going to create and describe what it looks like
- Use language that shows order and structure - like first, second, third and so on. It's important to tell it like a story, to keep the user encouraged.
- Create milestones and landmarks - points at which the user can know how far along he or she is, and can check if they are on the right path. Tell them what they should be seeing, if it's wrong they can go back and correct it.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the reader - think like the user and not the producer. Give them everything they need to do before they start working on your instructions. You don't want them to stop in the middle!
Link to Origami Pictures
D) Writing Anecdotes
Anecdotes are powerful ways to convey an idea. People like listening to stories and remember them. Personal anecdotes also shares a little about you with the reader, which helps them to know and remember you.
Strategies to write anecdotes
- Choose them carefully - choose things are unique, but not too strange or disturbing. Think about the feeling you want your audience to feel. Choose something you think your audience can connect with.
- Describe the details - make your story come alive. Use names, colours, places, feelings, times. Help your audience imagine what it feels like. How you tell the story is more important than the story itself.
- Don’t be too long - you will bore your audience
- Always connect your anecdote with your message - don’t leave your audience wondering what is the point of that story. Have a short topic sentence that you can clearly explain what the anecdote shows.
- Be simple – don't use one story to send too many messages. Two is okay, but more than that reduced the impact of your anecdote. Also don't use too many anecdotes. One or two powerful stories is all you need.
Steve Jobs Standford Commencement Speech (text, video)