I am not good at many things. However, I am okay at a handful of things.
I can reach books off of high shelves. I can recommend a movie for you to watch based on your preferred genre. Set a plate of food in front of me, and *poof*—I can make it disappear before your very eyes.
If there’s one thing I’m particularly okay at, it’s writing. Sometimes I like to believe otherwise, but if the opposite were true, I think Hayley and Abhigna would have kindly kicked me off 186 South College by now.
Disclaimer: I am not an English major or a Writing Fellow, and I do not, nor do I pretend to, know all the in’s and out’s of the complex galaxy that is the English language. However, over the years, I’ve made enough vocabulary, grammar, and spelling errors to provide me with some insight that I hope can assist you. With a little practice, patience, and dedication, anyone can become a skilled writer.
Hence, I am pleased to present some tips and tricks for reaching your full writing potential, because if your professors, Purdue OWL, or pure reason can’t sway you, maybe this freshman can.
1. Proofread your paper before asking others to read it
I cannot — let me pause here to let that sink in — stand it when I’m asked to proofread something littered with tiny mistakes. You may not think they’re a big deal. After all, what are your professors who have spent years getting graduate degrees for other than correcting your goofy spelling errors (the red squiggly lines are not just your imagination, friends) and reminding you for the umpteenth time that “The period goes inside the quotation marks.”
In case you’ve forgotten, a gentle reminder that you’re human. All of us are prone to making an occasional error in our work, and it takes a while to get the hang of the myriad of spelling and grammar rules out there. You can’t spell revision without vision, so look over your work at least once after writing it.
2. Write something you enjoy reading
If you don’t like how it sounds, chances are we won’t like it either. If you start zoning out while reading, either you need to fine-tune your writing to make it more engaging, or that sentence is too long. It’s really just a matter of trusting your gut as to what sounds pleasing to that little voice in your head that vocalizes what you’re reading.
3. Check citations
Yes, not everyone is going to read them, and yes, they are a pain in the neck to compile. However, sloppy, ill-formatted citations, both on a Works Cited page and in the text itself, are an eyesore, especially if you get a citation nut like me looking over your work.
There are plenty of digital resources out there to help you figure out what to cite and how to cite it. Remember your ancestors who did not have Purdue OWL!
4. Become good friends with a thesaurus
There exists a multitude of words beyond “good,” “great,” and “interesting.” Do these words get the job done? Sure. Is reading “excellent” 15 times in the span of the same paragraph enjoyable? No.
You don’t need an actual thesaurus. Simply Googling synonyms for a given word will yield a vast array of websites and suggestions for different terms to spice up your work.
5. When you have a writing-related idea, drop everything (unless you’re holding a pet, a small child, or something fragile) and write it down
While I do not advocate leaving a Zoom lecture to do so, I recommend writing it down on a sticky note, an open document on your computer, or that food wrapper on your desk you keep forgetting to throw away. Chances are you’re not going to remember that brilliant idea (at least in the pristine state you first found it) down the road, so scribble it down for later and learn to read your chicken scratch if need be.
This will also be a big timesaver for later, when you will regularly find yourself staring into the void of a blank document on your computer screen. Which brings me to my next point…
6. DO NOT wait until the last minute to do something
Writing, no matter how skilled you may be, almost always means revisions. No one writes a perfect essay in one sitting, nor does anyone write a solid research paper 3 hours before it’s due. Spacing a writing assignment out, even if you devote yourself to working on it for half an hour a day, works wonders and saves you massive amounts of stress.
You don’t have to simulate research projects (although if that’s your thing, go for it). But really paying attention to what it is you write, be it an essay, email, or grocery list, is a helpful way of boosting your writing skills. Even correcting your text messages can work wonders and impress your friends.
I’ve also found that writing in a journal can help, and if you want some real-world practice, you can always join us at 186 South College. We’re waiting for you!
Yes, yes, yes — I know that you’re probably a busy college student (and an Honors College student at that) with credits to fill, a GPA to maintain, and extracurriculars to extracurric. I am not saying that you need to go pick up War and Peace in original Russian. However, how can you learn to write well if you’re not consistently exposed to good writing?
Whether it’s an academic journal for that incredible research paper you’re going to write after reading this blog post or that book that’s been on your must-read list since high school (we all have one), reading will make you a better writer by introducing you to new words, styles, and ideas. So, go ahead! Peruse that menu, that billboard, that infographic-laden poster, that childhood magazine you just found behind your dresser — you never know what value it’ll have later on.
9. Have fun with it!
Writing is fun! There, I said it! It doesn’t have to be a chore if you don’t want it to be. If you’re writing an open-ended research paper, try to make it about a subject you’re genuinely interested in — you’ll naturally want to write well about it. If it’s a more creative piece, embrace your artistic side and let that tiny voice in your head shine through — the world deserves to hear it.
Now, I am not advising you to turn your final research project about, I don’t know, the brain activity of dolphins into a Shakespearian sonnet. As awesome as that would be, not only is it contextually inappropriate — it’s simply unnecessary. There are some universally-agreed upon cases where formality supersedes creativity. That is not, however, an excuse to make your writing boring.
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