If you can’t write, you can’t communicate fully – it’s just that simple. A picture may speak a thousand words, but words can help provide some context for an image. A video may tell a story, but someone wrote its script, or outline, or treatment. When you write well, the world is much easier to navigate. And, improved writing is primarily a consequence of practice. Don’t believe me, your nameless, faceless blog writer? Well then, take it from one Shenandoah University Associate Professor of English Michelle Brown, Ph.D.:
How to Write Like Your English Professor
Have you ever wondered what makes your English professor’s writing sound so clear? The answer arises from a few tricks of the trade that go all the way back to when your prof. was in English 101. That’s right: English 101 gives you all the tools you need to be a great writer–even to write like an English professor.
Writing clearly and effectively boils down to three key rules: practice, revise, and proofread.
Clear and effective writers are not born that way: they practice. They write and they write and they write. If at all possible, they write every day. Remember all those papers you wrote in English 101? All that writing was practice. You’ve heard the old adage: practice makes perfect. Some may tell you that no writing is ever perfect, but practice sure makes writing better.
Have you ever read a really great book and thought, “I wish I could write that well?” Well, you can. The secret is revision. All great writers revise their work. Remember when your English 101 professor told you to write a draft and then revise it? And then to revise that revision? Revising is the process of changing and refining your written ideas until the writing is clearer and more effective than it was in your first draft.
Lastly, after you think you’ve written the single best piece in the world, you still have one more step: proofreading. “Writing is time-consuming and difficult,” you might be thinking now. And the response to that idea is: “Yes, it is.” Writing is every bit as difficult and time-consuming as any other discipline, just in a different way. Save the proofreading for last, because much of your text can change in revision. But proofreading is that last pass over your piece, when you want to make sure that it is really as finished as you think it might be.
Proofreading is when you make sure that you’ve used the correct words and grammar. Make sure that you avoid these common misusages:
their (possessive), they’re (contraction), or there (place)
its (possessive) or it’s (contraction)
affect (to act on) or effect (a result)
who (subject) or whom (object)
your (possessive) or you’re (contraction)
based on… instead of the incorrect based off of
using their to mean only one person
Why would you need to write clearly, like an English professor? The obvious answer is: to get good grades on papers in school.
But the deeper, more long-term answer is that employers have been asking universities for years to train college graduates to write well. That’s right: writing clearly and effectively can get you a job after graduation. And writing skills are marketable in a wide range of employment fields. Start practicing now. For every writing assignment–and even on your own–practice writing every day, revise, and proofread. Just like you learned in English 101.
Just like your English professor.