How to Become a Better Writer

Private and many public college-preparatory schools emphasize writing and reading in their curricula. Learning to write well is a critical task, particularly in high school. Writing efficiently and clearly is important in part because so many exams and papers ask students to write concise, correct, and convincing essays. In addition, college entrance exams such as the SAT and Advanced Placement exams require essays. Writing is also beneficial because it requires students to process and synthesize information from different sources and to think about it critically and intelligently. Here are some strategies to help students write better.

Read More Carefully

A great deal of writing is based on careful reading. Teachers expect students to read literature and other texts carefully and thoughtfully. As students read, they should annotate their reading, underlining key passages, information about characters, symbols, or points that they may want to use in their essays. Students improve their ability to retain their reading by using the PQ4R strategy, which involves previewing the reading, questioning what the main idea is, and then reading, reflecting, reciting, and reviewing. Writing essays that have a convincing thesis, or main idea, is easier if students already have identified suitable passages to use in their essays. Students need to annotate and cite key passages before they begin to write their essays.

Learn Grammar

Students often have great ideas but do not express them correctly or concisely. Students can learn basic grammar rules to become better writers. For example, students often need to learn how to use commas and how to maintain consistent tenses in their writing. These rules are also tested in the writing section of the SAT.

Organize and Revise

Students should spend time going back over their essays to make sure they are well organized. By the time students are in high school, they need to know how to write a five-paragraph essay. This format involves introducing the topic and thesis, or main idea, in the introduction; explaining your examples in three body paragraphs with proof from the book you are reading or from other sources; and stating your conclusion in the last paragraph. If you are having problems with one of the elements of your essay, go back over the five-paragraph format with your teacher and see how you can improve.

As the saying goes, the major part of writing is revising. While it may seem desirable to turn out the perfect piece of prose on the first attempt, rarely do writers achieve perfection until they have spent countless hours revising and reworking their pieces. Reading about the lives of any great writer will reveal that they spent a great deal of time, and perhaps even struggled, as they wrote and re-wrote; many great books took the better part of a decade to get right (pun intended). Therefore, students need to leave themselves time to rewrite and revise. If students have a hard time catching errors, they can read their work aloud; often, they can hear their mistakes even if they can't catch them on paper.

Read Good Writers

The curricula at many competitive public and private schools will help students become a better writer. Students at many of these schools read great books, and exposure to good writing helps them improve their writing. As they read, they should pay attention to the writers’ techniques. What about the work of Hemingway or the essays of Twain make their work unforgettable Reading great writers gives you a practiced ear and helps you make your own prose smoother and better, just as listening to great music helps refine your ear. There are several great titles out there waiting at your school library.

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