In this the 3rd and final piece on writing and error analysis I will look at things to do rather than things not to do. I talk a lot about planning and I feel very strongly that this is key to good writing. Checking comes next, you don’t want to throw away marks, or make yourself look stupid with silly errors. Of course practice is the key and the more you practise the better you will become.
Here are my 7 glorious virtues to help achieve a good, low error, written style.
1. Less is more – this maxim can refer to several areas of writing
- don’t make your sentences too long, long sentences give more room for mistakes if they are going on to 3 lines check them carefully!!
- word limits are a guide – if you have 220 and the guide is 250 don’t add 30 words for the sake of it. If you have concluded your argument and feel satisfied with the piece you have written leave it. 30 extra words will not gain you marks if they are not relevant in fact they could destroy your essay altogether!
- don’t write more than 1 essay at a time – if you produce 3 essays at the same time it is likely that they will all have the same mistakes. Have your piece of writing marked or looked at before you begin a second.
2. Analyse your mistakes – make sure you understand how to improve on any errors and add them to your mental check list for next time
- this may seem like common sense but I was horrified once to find that an IELTS class of mine were putting marked essays in their folders and not looking at my comments or suggestions! As a consequence their scores were not improving and they produced the same type of writing each week.
- understanding where you went wrong is key – unless you do this you will simply repeat the same mistakes over and over
3. Make synonym lists – look at words you use a lot in your writing – find synonyms – rich vocabulary demonstrates your language ability and gives your writing sophistication
- opening phrases (Some people, On the one hand, Although etc.)
- closing phrases (Finally, In conclusion, In my opinion etc..)
- linking words (in spite of, moreover, nevertheless etc.. See my post on Linking words)
Find more of these on Gapfillers How to Write.
4. have a list of knock-out words and phrases – pick out a few words that will enhance your writing and use them – once – sometimes a beautiful sentence or word is used in an essay and it has an amazing effect! Then it is used again and sometimes a third time and that initial effect is destroyed.
some examples might be –
- starting sentences with present participles (…ing) – Having weighed up all the pros and cons, it is vital that …. etc (make sure you don’t lose sight of your subject in these sentences)
- using the passive –
- cleft sentences (see my post on this)
Of course it depends on the type of writing you are producing as to which of these is appropriate but you need one or two in your armoury. Use them deliberately for effect (making sure, of course, that you can use them correctly!!)
5. look at models – unless you are planning to break the mould with your writing (which would be dangerous in an exam or with a job-related report!) use models as examples. You can find these easily on the internet. If you are an IELTS student look at newspaper versions of data reports (the business sections have lots of these). Type in your essay title and see what comes up. DO NOT COPY THESE, use them to analyse how things are expressed and what words are appropriate for the topic. Make notes and then use these phrases and words in your own writing.
6. be bold – (this may seem to contradict 5 above, but I am talking in microcosm here – not the entire piece) try new things (this is best done before the exam or final draft) some new phrases or grammar items -it can only help to give your writing more variety. Even if it doesn’t go completely right you’ll get some credit for trying.
7. read more and widely – your reading also acts as a model for your writing. By reading widely you are exposing yourself to different styles and models. You will become familiar with a wider range of phrases and vocabulary as well as good grammatical usage.
So, as with many things, writing is 80% preparation and 20% execution!!