I remember those days when I was scared to death to write something and then show it to someone else to read. Because seeing my reader’s face reaction change as he/she reads was terrible. The worst thing of all, getting those repeated questions like “What do you mean by this? What do you mean here? What did you write here? What did you want to say here” and so on and on and on would kill my spirit.
It is so terrible that you just do not want to write anything after that. So I was researching and researching about writing skills a lot. I used to read a lot about writing. I still read whenever I find useful. But nothing changed my writing skills until I took a teacher a training course at Westminster International University in Tashkent (this is where I teach English). After one month at the course, I was asked to write a coursework.
Believe it or not I knew almost nothing about writing skills. Well, yeah when I studied at Uzbek State World Languages University I also wrote coursework and diploma works but I would not call them as real writing experience because I really do not know how I wrote them.
So I was asked to write a coursework but since I did not know how to write normally I went to our resource center to look through coursework papers of last-year students. I took 3 of them and caught a tram back home. When I was looking through coursework, man … I was totally and totally blown away seeing how everything was written using super … yeah … super easy and simple language.
I thought “Well, I should not be using any smart words and sophisticated language here”. It was sooooooo easy. When I wrote my first draft and showed it to my personal tutor I almost had a heart attack. I thought my writing was still poor and that she would cross out almost everything. No, it did not happen. She pointed out several areas to improve and that’s it.
That was a green light for me. The coursework word limit was around 8,000 words. I wrote 11 or 12,000 words and submitted my work one week before the deadline. That was my little triumph, to be honest. =)
So now let me share with you some of the tips and guidelines I followed when I wrote my coursework back then. Well, even now I use them every time I write my blog posts. Let’s go!
1. Avoid translating
If you are thinking in Uzbek, Russian, Tadjik etc and then translating your thoughts into English, you are doing it all wrong. Many students I know think that Russian and English work the same way when it comes to translation. Well, yes … For example, sometimes it is possible to translate from Russian into English word by word. However, remember that you will end up with the text which only looks English but sounds Russian.
Translating from one language into English is also not practical. It is because first, you should think in that language and then translate your thoughts into English. That’s why you hate writing. That’s why people do not understand what you write. I also used to translate a lot. I think many people start like this. So do not worry too much.
I remember that day when I showed my essay to my English teacher and she said the essay was written by someone who speaks Uzbek. After so many years, I understood what to do. Just read more English books, watch films, listen to podcasts, speak with your friends and teachers in English. Then you will slowly start thinking in English. When you start to write something, just write in English even though you do not know how to write. Make mistakes. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes every time I write new blog posts. So take the first steps.
Bottom line: Think in English and stop translating.
2. Use linking words
This is a story I always tell my students before they begin to write their essays or stories. Many students just do not understand why they should use linking words. I also did not know why I should use them. Use linking words in your writing to link the ideas, sentences, and paragraphs. This will help your reader understand your written work easily. Now let me tell you the story itself.
Imagine yourself as a driver who needs to travel from Tashkent to Samarkand. (My best regards to you if you are from Samarkand, by the way. Let’s suppose you are driving to Samarkand for the first time and on the roads you see no signs. I am talking about the signs that say for example “Welcome to Samarkand”, “Left – Bukhara, Right – Samarkand” and so on. How do you feel when you see no signs on the road if you are driving to Samarkand for the first time? Happy? Guided? Relaxed? No… absolutely no… If you are driving from Tashkent to Samarkand for the first time and you see no signs on the roads, you will feel frustrated, confused and exhausted. Right? Yeah …
Writing is also like driving to a place where you have never been to before. Those road signs are linking words you should use. The driver is the person who reads your written work. Samarkand is the conclusion.
Bottom line: Linking words help your reader understand easily
3 Use simple words: Yes, I know you want to use those sophisticated, smart and beautiful words in your writing. Fine… I am happy. I am impressed by your vocabulary. But please remember to use only those words you really know the definition and the way how they should be used.
Yes, I know if you are writing an IELTS essay, they also check your vocabulary knowledge. But … if that advanced level of vocabulary does not fit within your essay then, believe me, you will not get any higher score anyway. Here what I advise you to do. In fact, I always tell you and my students to think beyond IELTS and TOEFL essays.
For example, let’s imagine you want to write an essay to apply for a scholarship or you want to write a post for a wider audience on your blog or on this web-site. If you want to win a scholarship, will you write your essay using simple words so that selecting committee easily understands your ideas and select your essay as one of the best? Or you will write using advanced vocabulary not knowing how to use it and end up losing a scholarship?
Same thing with your blog post. If you write using simple words, a lot of people will understand your writing and that post gets maximum attention. If you noticed everything that I write on this web-site is written using extremely simple words. I also know a lot of difficult and complicated words, but I do not use them because I want to make everything simple for you guys.
Bottom line: Keep everything simple.
I have been practicing my writing skills for already 5-6 years by writing e-mails, coursework and blog posts and you know what? Every time … yes … every single time I write something I make sure I spend some time to proofread my writing and I do it patiently. Here are the things I pay attention at.
Firstly, my sentence structures are very important for me. They must not be too short and too long. Short sentences create an impression that my English is at Elementary level and also it makes my reader get bored. Long sentences make it difficult for my reader to read and understand.
Secondly, I do all my best to use simple words … the words that everyone knows. I am serious. For example, go back to the beginning of this paragraph now and read it till the end. I am sure you will not find any new word. You will understand what I am writing even if your English is Pre-Intermediate level.
Thirdly, I check if I am using linking words to connect my paragraphs or my sentences. For example, in this paragraph I am using linking words such as ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, ‘thirdly’, ‘for example’ and so on.
Finally, I make sure I use conversational and semi-informal tone of voice when I am writing. I do not write in academic style. I do not write in a book style. I write as if I am talking to you.
Bottom line: Read what you wrote and polish your work.
5. Write step by step
I always write my posts step by step. My usual first step is to write the title for my post. I know it may sound a bit weird, but this is how it works for me. I create the title and then I create sub-title. All my sub-titles are connected to the main title. For example for this post I have brainstormed 6 subtitles. I hope you can see them easily.
Then I have a break and sit down to develop each sub-title. When I am developing I always remind myself of sub-title and main title I am writing about. If I do not do this, I lose my focus and may start writing about things that are out of topic. That is why I always remind myself about what I am writing about.
When I am done with sub-title development I proofread everything I wrote. This way I get my post polished and almost free from grammatical and other mistakes. Now notice that I am saying almost free instead of saying free because no matter how many times I may proofread my work, I always find a mistake.
Bottom line: Do not rush. Write step by step.
6. Write to a complete stranger
This is another story I tell my students before they begin writing their essays. When you write, you should imagine writing to a complete stranger – a person you have never met in your life. Likewise that person also never met you and in fact knows nothing about you. But he is educated (e.g. he reads at least one book every year). He does not have a specialist knowledge in the topic you are writing about (e.g. medicine, technology, business etc.) but knows a little about the topic.
Now imagine you writte your essay, print it out on a white paper and make a paper-plane. Yes … a paperplane. Then you throw it onto the air and it flies away. After a few meters away from you it lands in the front of a man I described above. That educated man with no specialist knowledge opens your essay and gets hooked (becomes interested) in your essay after reading your introduction. Then he continues reading your essay till the end. If he contniues reading till the end, that means you wrote everything clearly. Hope you understood the purpose of my little story.
So if you want to write super clearly, you should ask yourself this question – “Will a complete stanger – educated but has no specialist knowledge about my topic – understand my writing? If yes, how – easily or not easily?”
Bottom line: Make your writing super clear to a complete stranger. You will win!