How to Improve Your Writing Skills

Original Editor - Michael Rowe

Top Contributors - Ewa Jaraczewska, Jess Bell and Kim Jackson  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Transforming and organising ideas into written text is complex. Writing is a process which involves the integration of rules (like grammar) and skills (like how to structure the text), where "skills need a high order thinking and a deep understanding of developing ideas".[1] Writing competence is essential in daily life and academic achievement.[2] Writing helps us to express our ideas.[3] It assists with building analytical, rational and critical thinking and presentation skills.[3] It even helps us to be more eloquent, concise and elegant in our speech.[3]

Academic writing, which includes writing essays, reports, theses, scientific papers, or reviews of articles, is not easy.[4] Students must refine their writing skills to execute academic tasks more successfully.[5] This article discusses different perspectives on writing and offers suggestions to help you improve your writing ability.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

"Writing is refined thinking." -- Stephen King[6]

Writing: a form of human communication that involves representing language through symbols.

Text: the result of writing.

Reader: the interpreter of the text.

Why Write?[edit | edit source]

"Clear writing signals the reader that you're capable of clear thinking."[7] -- Michael Rowe

Writing should bring clarity and structure to your thinking, and it may help you improve your learning and understanding.

Weak Writing[edit | edit source]

Most novice writers are weak writers. Some reasons for poor writing include the following:

  • The curse of knowledge: the writer has difficulty imagining what it is like for someone else not to know what they know. They, therefore, use technical terms and abbreviations and make other assumptions.
  • The writer does not understand what they are writing about. They use jargon and complicated ideas to convince the reader they know what they are talking about.
  • Overuse of the passive voice. Passive writing is more impersonal. It hides the active participant in the text and comes across as vague and evasive.

Classic Style[edit | edit source]

Classic style writing provides a good foundation for improving writing.

When you write in the classic style, you:

  • tell the reader something true and important that they did not already know
  • tell the story in a way that there is no doubt as to what you mean
  • must understand the concept thoroughly before putting it into words

Classic style is premised on the following:

  • the writer has seen something in the world
  • the writer positions the reader so they can see it with their own eyes
  • the reader and writer are equals
  • the goal is to help the reader see something that is real
  • the style is conversational

Rules of Writing[edit | edit source]

  • Writers must be able to express themselves
  • Writers must have a basic understanding of the rules of language
  • Writers must have good reading skills - reading provides insight into how others use language to communicate

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot" -- Stephen King[6]

Rules of Writing a Research Paper[edit | edit source]

Weixiong Zhang[8] provides the following ten rules to help you write a research paper:

  1. Your paper should be a driving force: design a research project with your final paper in mind
  2. Less is more: producing "fewer but more significant papers serve both the research community and one’s career better than more papers of less significance"[8]
  3. Choose the right audience
  4. Present the experiments and results in a logical order
  5. Be thorough and make sure the presentation is complete: discuss the hypothesis, interpret results, include adequate background and introductory material, be transparent, and make sure figures and tables are self-contained
  6. Be concise
  7. Be artistic: pay attention to spelling, grammar, usage, paragraph indentation, page margins, fonts, writing style, etc
  8. Be critical while revising your draft: delete parts of your text that do not fit
  9. Gather feedback and critiques from colleagues, coworkers, and friends and ask them for opinions, suggestions, and comments
  10. Treat reviews with respect and assess their feedback objectively

Stages of Writing[edit | edit source]

Writing is an iterative process with four overlapping phases: pre-writing, drafting, editing and revising. Writers should be open to changing their thinking and destination during the writing process.

In the pre-writing phase, the writer outlines their idea, searches for necessary resources, and organises the content.

During the drafting phase, you will write a complete draft of the text. You shouldn't be aiming for perfection in this phase. Instead, you are trying to structure your overall argument. Writers usually prepare several drafts and often delete whole sections of text that do not align with the purpose of their task.

"Writing multiple drafts of a piece of work is the only way to get it into the best version it can be."[7] -- Michael Rowe

In the editing phase, the focus is on tidying up your writing. This can include attending to transitions between paragraphs or subsections, signposting, improving grammar, correctly formatting references, and deleting what isn't working. During this phase, you might send your text to someone who is a better writer than you and ask them for feedback to improve it further. Authors amend fundamental aspects of their original text during the revising phase based on the feedback received. In a revision, you might have to change some of the structure of the text or how the evidence is presented.

"Revision is best understood as re-vision. Re-vision. Re-think. Re-imagine. It’s mind’s eye work. You hover above the paper and re-visualise its topography. You see it again. You bring a fresh perspective to the task. You replace your original idea with another. And then re-write."[9] -- Pat Thomson

Text Structure[edit | edit source]

The structure of a text may vary depending on the topic, the audience and the purpose of writing. However, each piece should contain the following three sections:

  • Introduction
    • includes the main concepts readers need to be familiar with in order to understand the text
    • identifies the main characters in the story / presents the problem that the writer is going to resolve through the writing
    • shows the background or context in which the narrative takes place
  • Body of the text
    • includes the writer's arguments that relate to the characters/problems introduced earlier
    • writers should be consistent in how they frame their arguments in the body of the text
      • if presenting your text chronologically, you should avoid switching to a different frame, like geographical or social
      • while it is possible to switch between perspectives, it can be jarring if it is not done well
  • Conclusion
    • ties up loose ends in the text
    • answers questions that were posed earlier
    • brings a character's story to a close / resolves the problems presented in the introduction

Barriers to Writing[edit | edit source]

Barrier # 1: Lack of time/procrastination.

Solution: schedule time to write until daily writing is a habit ("time blocking").

Barrier # 2: Waiting to have the right resources.

Solution: there will always be more research, more articles to read, and more notes to make, so start NOW.

Barrier # 3: Inadequate equipment, e.g. old computer.

Solution: develop a habit of carrying a pen and notepad to write almost anywhere.

Barrier # 4: Waiting for inspiration.

Solution: the more you write, the better you get at writing. Do not wait for inspiration. Allocate the time to write.

Barrier #5: Having "writer’s block."

Solution: writer's block is not real. Start by putting one word after another, editing, gathering resources, reading, and taking notes. You should continue writing even when you do not feel like it or doubt your writing skills.[6]

Barrier # 6: The writing environment is not set up yet.

Solution: disconnect from the internet, turn off your device notifications, and eliminate all possible distractions. Sit at the desk in the corner of your room, take out your pen and notepad, and start writing. Your writing environment is ready.

Tips to Improve Writing[edit | edit source]

Tip # 1: Writing is learned best through gaining writing experience. To improve your writing, you should read a lot.

Tip #2: Write one word at a time because this is how writing is accomplished. Write consistently.

Tip # 3: Invest in learning. Write about a topic you care about and feel others should care about.

Tip # 4: Clear thinking becomes clear writing. Do not use jargon, big words or symbols. Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.

Tip #5: Avoid words such as very, quite, basically, actually, virtually, extremely, remarkably, and completely. They do not have any impact on the sentence.

Tip #6: Including citations at the end of the sentence replaces sentences such as: “Research shows that…”, “Recent studies indicate that…”, or “New findings suggest that…” These phrases add little meaning.

Tip # 7: Be selective about what you want to include in your writing and leave out whatever doesn't serve the purpose of your writing.

Tip # 8: Use a dictionary and a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary while writing.

Resources[edit | edit source]

  1. Graham P. How to write usefully.
  2. Pinker S. 10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes).
  3. Ball CE, Loewe DM. Bad ideas about writing.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Ushbah Mubarok F, Nurul Asri A. Infographics: Media for Improving Students’ Writing Abilities. KnE Social Sciences 2020, 4(4).
  2. Kim YG, Yang D, Reyes M, Connor C. Writing Instruction Improves Students' Writing Skills Differentially Depending on Focal Instruction and Children: A Meta-Analysis for Primary Grade Students. Educ Res Rev. 2021 Nov;34:100408.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bora P. Importance of Writing Skill to Develop Students’ Communication Skill. JRSPELT 2023; 7(35).
  4. Muhammadolimovna KZ. Methods of developing academic writing skills of students. American Journal of Pedagogical and Educational Research. 2023 Jan 31;8:149-54.
  5. Schillings M, Roebertsen H, Savelberg H, Dolmans D. A review of educational dialogue strategies to improve academic writing skills. Active Learning in Higher Education. 2023 Jul;24(2):95-108.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Zhang M. 22 lessons from Stephen King on how to be a great writer. Available from [last access 4.10.23]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Rowe M. How to Improve Your Writing Skills Course. Plus, 2023.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Zhang W. Ten simple rules for writing research papers. PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 Jan 30;10(1):e1003453.
  9. Thompson, P. (2018). the challenges of revision. Available from[last access 1.10.2023]