7 Ways to improve English Writing Skills

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I’ve never really spoken about writing, as far as I know. So, this one has been highly requested. I know a lot of you are doing your IELTS exams, so I have got seven top tips that are going to help you improve your writing.

So, my first tip for improving your writing is keep it simple. Now, I know this seems really, really obvious, but I always say to my students simple done accurately is better than complicated done inaccurately. In other words, it’s better to keep things simple and do it well, rather than over-complicate everything and do it badly. So, in English writing exams, you want to show off your English, but you want to show off your accurate English, not all this English that you don’t know or haven’t learnt yet. Now, that leads me on to point number two. In order to avoid making mistakes in your writing, it’s a really, really good idea to have a collection of set phrases and keywords that you can use in that exam.

So, my tip number two is prepare key phrases. Now, you do have to be careful with this. You don’t want to rehearse what you’re going to write, but you do want to have a nice selection of things that you could possible say if the time arises. Now, especially on the IELTS exam, and I know a lot of you are studying for this but this really goes for any academic writing exam, you want to have linking words and key phrases prepared. Now I’m going to give you a list with two examples for each point. It doesn’t cover everything that you need to know, but if you study everything in the list, you will be much, much more prepared for your English writing exam. So, pay attention, and if there’s any point that you think, “I really could expand on that,” go and do your research, and prepare yourself. You want to make sure that you have a variety of different ways to … compare: “in the same way,” “at the same time,” contrast: “on the contrary,” “however,” give examples: “for instance,” “to illustrate,” give your opinion: “from my perspective,” “from my point of view,” generalise: “overall,” “all things considered,” to express certainty: “undoubtedly,” “of course,” to express partial agreement: “in a way,” “to some extent,” to show cause: “owing to,” “due to,” to show effect: “for this reason,” “consequently,” to mark time: “to begin with,” “following this,” to add information: “furthermore,” “moreover,” to express condition: “unless,” “provided that,” and to conclude: “in summary,” “in short.” So that’s just a very brief list showing you exactly what you need to study to be fully prepared for any English writing exam.

Now, point number three, and definitely, definitely, definitely for academic writing, i.e. English tests or university pieces, do not use contractions. Or is that don’t use contractions? So, cannot to can’t, do not to don’t, shall not to shan’t, I am to I’m, these are all examples of contractions, and in your writing exams you want to avoid these. I know that you guys really, really, really want to keep your word count down because you are restricted, and you want to show off as much as you possibly can, but I’ve got lots of tips for reducing your word count coming up, so make sure that you do not feel tempted to include contractions in your academic writing.

So, tip number four, reduce your word count. Use as few words as possible. Completely contradictory, because I’ve just told you that you should not use contractions. But I’ve got some really, really good mini tips within this big tip to help you keep your word count down and your English level up. The first one is avoid these dead weight words like “very,” “so,” “a lot,” “really.” I have mentioned this before in a video, but if you want to show off your English, avoid these; they’re pointless. They are empty calories in English. Replace them, instead, with a strong word. So instead of saying “really happy,” I would say, “I am elated.” Instead of saying “so scared,” I would say “terrified.” Okay? So, by using strong words and avoiding these boring words, you can reduce your word count by a fair bit. Now, another way to really reduce your word count but really improve the quality of your writing is avoiding “there is” and “there are.” We want everything to be as clear as possible, and sometimes “there is” and “there are” can act as fillers; they add extra words to our sentences.

So, I’m going to give you an example so you can see this and bear it in mind next time you’re doing an academic piece of writing. Sentence one: there are many problems that we may encounter. There are many problems that we may encounter. Sentence two: We may encounter many problems. We may encounter many problems. The first sentence has eight words. The second sentence has five words. You have reduced your word count, and you have increased the quality and the clarity of your writing. So, make sure you apply this in your next exam.

Number five, read the right documents. Read the right pieces of writing. I know many of you like to read in your spare time, you like to do it for fun, and a lot of you will read books in English, which is amazing for improving you spelling and improving your vocabulary as well. But if you’re trying to get a good score in an academic writing exam, you might not be reading the right kind of thing. Look at the potential pieces of writing that they’re going to ask you to do. Are they asking you to write article, reports, essays? Maybe they’re asking you to write all three. If they are, read all three. You need to go online or go to your library and read articles, read reports, read essays, read reviews. Do everything you can to familiarise yourselves with all the styles of writing.

Number six is one that you will have heard in school so many times; but, I’ve worked as a teacher for many, many years, and I get so frustrated with silly, stupid mistakes that I know that my students know. They don’t make these mistakes when they’re speaking, so why do they make them when they’re writing? So many times I’ve gone and I’ve prepared a lesson because I’ve seen that there were some very clear mistakes in my students’ writing. And I prepare a lesson to correct this mistake, and when I go to teach it they say, “But teacher, we already know this; this is baby stuff.” And it’s because they don’t check their work. I have a clear example of this. I used to work as a proofreader.

I used to check through documents before they got sent off to publishers to make sure that they were all correct, that there was no spelling mistakes, there were no grammar mistakes, there was nothing, nothing wrong, they were all perfect. And I was amazing at doing this. I could get every single mistake. Just by looking at a document from a distance I could pick out those errors. However, if you follow me on Instagram, you will see that I make spelling and grammar mistakes all the time. Why? Because I don’t check; I don’t check my writing. I am a native English speaker, and I make spelling mistakes. Granted, many of them are due to auto-correct on my phone, which I am battling with. But a lot of them are my fault. And I don’t check them, so I don’t see them. I know when you finish an exam, you’re like, “Ugh, I’m done; I want to move on to the next question,” but you can avoid so many point deductions just by checking through your work, so please, please, please, make it your absolute priority. I personally think it’s much better if you write less and check more; fewer words, higher accuracy. And I know normally I promote fluency over accuracy, but not in writing exams. In writing exams, you want perfection. Now, number seven is perhaps the most relevant and the most difficult of all, especially if you’re in really remote parts of the world.

Number seven is write and get it checked. Write and get it checked. And unfortunately, the getting it checked thing is a lot harder than it seems. You want to write as much as possible, checking it, of course. It used to really annoy me when my students would come in with five essays. I was so happy that they’d done that, but then I saw that they’d made loads and loads of stupid mistakes, and I just thought, “Ugh, why didn’t you check it? “I’m just correcting the same thing over and over again.” But write as much as you can, check it, and then see if you can find somebody to correct it. Now, I’m not saying find a complete stranger. It’s got to be in their interest to correct it as well. I personally think it’s very unlikely that you’re going to find a random teacher on the internet that will be willing to check your writing for free. However, there are lots of services and pen pal sites if it’s like a mutual exchange. If you find somebody who wants to learn your language and they can help you with your English, then you can do that. Or, like I mentioned, on services such as Lingoda, and you can just have a straight hour of analysing writing that you’ve already done and already sent them. But I will say, especially to my younger viewers, really, really, really be careful when you’re contacting people online to practise your English. Make sure it’s a trustworthy person, because there are so many predators that want to talk to you, especially young girls, to “practise their English,” and it doesn’t actually turn out to be a English practise. It turns out to be something quite different, so please, please, please be careful. If you’ve got the funds, and if you’ve got the time, get a proper teacher and pay them to help you. Is there any way that you’re going to be guaranteed the proper skills, and the proper qualifications, and also the proper incentive. Why would a random stranger on the internet want to help you with your writing? What’s in it for them? Always think about that. Right, guys, that’s it for today’s lesson. And I’ll se you soon for another lesson.

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