The Basic Of Good Writing
So you’re going to sit down at your computer, go through your notes, and in a few hours produce a piece of research writing. Right? Wrong!
It is impossible to start from nothing and produce a good piece of writing, because it is very hard to organize your material and write at the same time. If you are working out which piece of research to talk about next and worrying about verb agreement, you are less likely to produce a good piece of writing.
- Plan your writing. Before you start writing, find a way to organize your material so that you know what you are going to write about, in what order, and what you’re going to say. Try writing an outline. Trying writing your ideas down on the back of an envelope, or a piece of old paper. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it just has to help you think about what you are going to say. Use whatever method works for you, no matter how strange!
- Ignore the language! When you plan your writing, don’t worry about the language. Concentrate on what you are going to say. Write in notes so that you don’t have to think about verb agreement. Don’t waste time worrying about spelling. You can think about all these aspects of writing after you’ve decided what you are going to say. If you spend a lot of time fixing all the prepositions and conjunctions in an early draft you are not going to be willing to cut out paragraphs or sentences that you later realize aren’t necessary, or to change them substantially. So don’t put a lot of effort into proofreading until you are sure that what you want to say is the best you can come up with, then you can spend more time on fixing up the writing so that the punctuation, spelling, etc. is correct.
- Write and rewrite! More experienced writers rewrite more times and more substantially than less experienced writers. Are you surprised? Good writing takes time for everyone. The better a writer you become, the more you will see that the first thoughts/ideas/writing that comes out of your head and onto the page can be improved. So give yourself time to rewrite so that your readers see the best of your thoughts and writing, not the best you could come up with at the last moment.
- Find readers! ask people to read what you’ve written. Ask friends, ask professors, ask your writing advisor in languages. But don’t wait until your writing is “perfect” because then if people suggest changes you won’t want to make them! Give people drafts and let them know what sort of feedback you want: comments on organization? on ideas? on your language? on the technical aspects of what you’ve written?
- Keep writing! Good writing takes practice. The only person who can make you a better writer is you. So work at it, show your work to other people, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
There are plenty of writing handbooks and guides available. They can give lots of useful hints and tips, but if the methods they suggest do not work for you then use a different method: there is no one way to write. Of course, the way you write depends very much on what suits you, and what suits the particular piece of writing you are working on.