“Darn! I have to write that research paper and it’s due in just two days!” “Oh no, I need to write this really long report for my business team.”
What will I do now? I’m terrified that I won’t do a good job.
When you have to write, it can be a bit scary at first.
Writing is an essential and indispensable part of our lives, whether you’re in school or at work.
Writing is how you communicate and more importantly – whether you communicate at all.
You’ll want to ask yourself, does your message connect with the readers, do the main concepts come through as you intend? Will the person reading my writing benefit from reading it?
Think about this too. When you read, what does the writer do that engages you and makes you want to read on?
Whether you are emailing your professor, or your business supervisor and team members, effective writing equals effective communication.
But what if you don’t think you are a good writer? Or feel that you just don’t get your ideas across as effectively as you can when you are speaking, or the way they sound in your head?
I can assure you, however, that you don’t need to be the next Shakespeare or Wordsworth to become a capable writer. As a learning expert, I have worked with and seen the difference that incorporating a few tips into your writing can help make. And today, I am going to share them with you.
10 Super Writing Tips for College and Business
A secret about effective writing – a considerable fraction of the work does not involve actually writing at all.
To impress your professors, bosses, clients, etc. with your writing, you need to be clear about what you’re writing about.
This not only means making sure your topic is clear in the minds of readers from the get-go, but also ensuring your topic is something your readers would be intrigued in reading about.
You want to avoid talking about the same things everyone else is talking about, because otherwise what would be the point of this paper if the information already exists out there? What would be its value to your readers?
To find a fresh, engaging, creative topic, the key is to brainstorm.
Draw out a mind-map, with the general assignment you were given in the center.
So, for instance, if you were told to write about the environment, the hub from which all your ideas will branch out will simply read “Environment.”
Now, what can you write about when it comes to the environment? Climate change? Recycling? The pollution clogging up our oceans? The more you brainstorm, the more specific ideas you derive from the general directive, and it’s from here that you get your topic.
The key to good writing is good reading.
Professors and colleagues will know if you haven’t actually done your research from the quality of your write-up. How superficial or vague the information you present is, how many times you deviate from the point, etc., can all give away the amount of preparation you did before writing.
To make sure you have a good topic that you can soundly back up, research.
Sometimes, you will find that there is not enough information about the specific topic you’re looking for.
For a long-term original research project that you plan to conduct, or a business proposal that aims to address a gap in the market, this is great. If you can prove that there is a need or a demand for this missing information, your paper can be built around addressing this gap.
For a short-term assignment, or a paper that merely asks for a write-up compiling already existing facts, this is not so great. You might end up wracking your brains about what to write about when you can’t find enough information.
So, while avoiding topics that are too general or too broad, you should also make sure that you have enough data to write a convincing and sound article, essay, or concept note on whichever topic you have selected.
The key to this is knowing where to look. Wikipedia is a no-no, even though it may be a good source of ideas when you’re brainstorming. Use Google Scholar, instead, to find academic journals, professionally written articles, and books about your topic.
3) Write Down Your Thesis or Anchor Statement
Another highly recommended and essential way of staying on track and ensuring the clarity of your writing is to nail your thesis or anchor statement. This lets your readers know straightaway what you are writing about, what your opinion is, what stand you are taking.
I also recommend doing this after you’ve done your reading, rather than before. This way, you take a more informed stand and are better able to defend your point of view than later struggling to find arguments to back up your position.
For instance, “Plastic bags should be eliminated from shopping malls due to their negative environmental impact” is a strong, straight to the point thesis statement. It immediately lets your readers know what you are going to be talking about, and your stand on the topic.
Contrarily, if you start off with “Many malls use plastic bags. They are cheap to produce and widely used. Plastic bags can be reusable; however, they are bad for the environment” you’re leaving your audience dangling on where you stand.
This is because while they know what you’re talking about, they don’t know whether you are arguing for or against plastic bags. Your article or essay may risk sounding more informative and less authoritative.
Now, it’s important to represent all the different arguments in a well-written, well-argued piece of critical writing. But first, establish what your stand is, because that is the one you are going to be defending through the rest of the paper.
4) Decide on Your Outline
Many students struggle with staying on track when writing a paper, and if not addressed, this habit can persist into your work-life. Your readers will appreciate knowing exactly where they are in your piece, why they are there, and where they are heading.
Having an outline helps you do that. This way, you battle the temptation to cram everything you read about into your paper.
Believe me, I understand the temptation – after all, you did all this reading and learned all this information, and you want to make it worthwhile.
But doing so takes away from the conciseness and clarity of your work, and the mix of confusing and meandering ideas hurts your writing.
On the other hand, by outlining your subject and sticking to pertinent points and the clear categories of information that arise from your reading, you show your reader that you have the ability to find pertinent information, sort them in a meaningful way, and present them in your writing.
5) Start in the Middle
I have helped so many students who struggle with writing simply because they don’t know how to start.
The trick is simple – skip the introduction, for the time being.
Before you begin, ask yourself these questions. When I read an article, a paper or business communication – what is it that makes me want to keep reading?
How can I personally connect with the reader to get my message across, get their attention and make their life better in some way?
After all your research, write out the thesis/anchor statement, and the outline you made of the pertinent information that emerged from your reading, and start from the body of your paper. Your words are more likely to flow because you are already familiar with what you intend to write about.
So, with your thesis statement down, start writing the body. Get your first point from the outline and expand on it. Use the (silly but memorable) mnemonic P-E-E to guide you:
Back up your information with your research findings, ensuring they are from valid, credible sources as much as possible.
All of this adds weight to your writing.
6) Keep it Short and Sweet
As Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit” – in other words, the best writers are the ones who can deliver what they want to say concisely.
College assignments typically have word limits. Even if they don’t, professors, colleagues or clients alike are not going to be amused if, on top of all their work, you give them a ton of extra, unnecessary reading material.
Avoid jargon or excessively flowery language.
One of the key characteristics of a good piece of writing is parsimony or simplicity.
If you can get your meaning across in your own words in a direct but straightforward manner, it helps your writing much better than convoluted expressions can.
7) Write Your Conclusion
With the body out of the way, time to write the conclusion.
This is where you reiterate your stance made in the thesis or anchor statement: “Despite some benefits of plastic bags, they are bad for the environment and should be phased out of production”.
Summarize your main arguments for your stand.
Don’t wait until the conclusion to take your stand or state your opinion. By having a compelling, convincing argument throughout your writing, you show to your readers that you are well-informed on the subject and are thinking and writing critically, not merely summarising existing information.
8) Now Write Your Introduction
Now, with the majority of your paper written, go back to your introduction. You’ll find it so much easier to give your readers the bird’s eye view of what you are going to be speaking about for the rest of the piece since in fact, it’s already completed.
This is much better than writing a vague or half-hearted introduction when you still have not found the rhythm of your writing yet.
Since these are the first lines your readers will be encountering, they need to be engaging, informed, and to the point, to pique their interest for the rest of your work.
9) Proofread and Edit
I would go so far as to say the proofreading and editing part is harder than the actual writing. Once you have the momentum of getting your thoughts down, I find it’s the most effective to just keep going, without stemming the flow trying to check for grammar.
Once you’re done writing, proofread for grammar, clarity of expression, spelling, conciseness. Avoid things like run-on sentences, which can take away from the effectiveness of your delivery.
You could always run your work through grammar-checking programs to help catch mistakes you might not otherwise.
10) Read It Out Loud
One of the best ways of checking the delivery of your written work is to read it out loud.
Does it sound natural? Are you speaking directly to the reader or putting everything at a distance in the passive voice and 3rd person?
Do you feel like you crammed too many technical terms into a sentence, and it feels clunky?
Or is it so long that you get lost partway through it? This is a good way of knowing where to cut, restructure, or edit things for smoother reading.
Make sure you check that you have subheadings to break up your writing, and make it easier to read.
You don’t have to be a novelist or a poet to be a good writer.
Using these 10 super writing tips for college and business, you will find yourself navigating college and business writing without breaking a sweat.
Pat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.
Her courses, Total Recall Learning™ for Students, Total Recall Learning for Professionals™, Total Recall Speed Reading™and Total Recall Memory™ have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.
She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.