It’s that time of year again—the season of falling asleep on textbooks, spending copious amounts of money on caffeinated beverages, having mental breakdowns at 2 a.m. and writing papers until your fingers cramp. Welcome back to college, my dear friends.
Regardless of your major, you’re going to have to write (and probably a lot). Science majors write lab analyses, Math majors still have to take core classes (aka English Composition 101), History majors write essays for days and English majors, well, you’ll write so much that you might start to question why on Earth you ever wanted to be an English major in the first place. Whether you consider yourself to be a “good” writer or not, there is always room for improvement, so here are a few simple, easy ways to enhance your writing skills.
A few months ago, I downloaded an app called “Word of the Day.” There are plenty of other similar apps like “The Word of the Day!” or “Daily Word” that are basically the same thing, so take your pick. They’re all completely free, and you simply set a time that you’d like to be notified of your word each day. For example, every day at 11 a.m. I get a notification on my phone with the word, click on it to read the definition and then favorite it if I wish to be able to go back at find it easily for later use.
Today my word happened to be “solicitous,” which mean “characterized by or showing interest or concern.” Some people challenge themselves to try to use their daily word in a sentence throughout the day, which can be quite difficult depending on the word, but it’s great practice and really helps you to remember the word and the definition. Plus, using your newly learned fancy vocabulary in your writing automatically makes you sound more intelligent and basically gives you instant credibility.
If you’ve never heard of Grammarly before, you’re seriously missing out. (Although, I don’t know how it could be possible to have not heard about it, I think I’ve seen the commercial for it before every single YouTube video I’ve watched in the past few months.) All you need to do is download the “Grammarly” extension on your browser, like Google Chrome, and it will appear in the upper right-hand corner of your screen, always ready for use. It’s kind of like a fancy version of spellcheck that works outside of Microsoft Word. The program will ensure that everything you type “is clear, effective and mistake-free.” It will underline your errors in different colors and offer suggestions about spelling, grammar and punctuation.
I use it for all of my emails to make sure that I sound like an intelligent, respectable professional that actually knows how to write properly. As a student, you’re going to have to email your professors, important people for internships and your boss at work, and you will definitely want to communicate with them mistake-free. Also, if you have a class where you need make discussion posts, Grammarly is a huge life saver and catches all the little mistakes that don’t get underlined, which could bring your grade up from say a B+ to an A-.
3. Read More
It really is that simple. Just read whatever you can get your hands on. Read the paper, read a book, read the back of your cereal box, I don’t care. It’s important to see how other people write in order to help diversify your own writing style and it will help you to gather some new ideas. Everyone gets stuck in a rut sometimes, whether it be writers block on a story you’ve been working on or just using the same old essay format over and over again.
In the interest of enhancing my own writing, I set myself a personal reading goal and began to ask my friends for random book recommendations, promising myself that I would read the whole thing (or at least try to, some of my friends have bad taste, sorry guys!). I actually read some really great novels and I definitely never would have picked them up on my own. If you’re like me, then you tend to not stray far from what you know you like, which can be very limiting, so pick a friend you trust, ask them for their favorite book and give it a try. You might just be surprised at what you find.
I know, I know, once you finally finish writing something the last thing you want to do is go back and edit the entire thing, but it’s insanely important if you want to be a good writer. One of the best things you can do is to read your work out loud; oftentimes certain sentences will unfortunately sound a lot better in your head. Also, when you read your work aloud, you will find all of the natural pauses, which is where your commas will go in order to help your sentences read more smoothly.
While you are revising your work, you may notice (I know I do) that you repeated the same word too many times. For example, say you use the word “interesting” a lot in your essay. Try using a synonym like fascinating, compelling or enticing, all of which can be found on the wonderful website called Thesaurus.com (it’s a lifesaver). It will not only help you to vary your word choice, but it will elevate your vocabulary as well.
My last piece of advice for you (but certainly not least), is to get feedback. Show your writing to your friend that’s an English major, show it to your professor a few days before it’s due, take it to your school’s writing/tutor center, do whatever you have to do to get an educated second opinion. You have to try to learn to love criticism; I promise these people are trying to help you, they aren’t marking your paper up in red pen to be mean. Others will be able to catch mistakes that you missed and offer valuable insight that you may never have even considered.