Jorge only writes in English, but he likes to read in a few other fun languages too.
How Do I Improve My English Writing?
If you're reading this, you probably understand English to a certain degree. You probably speak it just fine, and can read it fairly well--but something is missing. You want to write well, too. Maybe you've even tried to improve your English writing, but you feel like you're just running in circles.
Maybe you run a business and your customers are leaving your website in droves because the English in your sales copy doesn't look native. Maybe you started a blog and people keep complaining that they don't understand your grammar sometimes. You keep attempting to proofread your own work, but it doesn't seem to make a difference.
Well, there are two problems that are causing you this grief:
- You are not fluent enough in English. As long as that is true, your English writing will always seem unnatural to native speakers.
- You haven't written enough in English. Even native English speakers can suck at writing English. Writing is a skill that takes thousands of hours to master, in any language. It's a particularly difficult skill because it requires using both the left and right parts of your brain at the same time. You have to think creatively and logically at once, while automatically minding all of the grammar and spelling rules of the language.
Luckily, these problems are completely fixable. You just need practice. Lots and lots of practice. You need to practice more than just writing, though. Writing is one of those weird skills that requires more than just practicing the skill itself. To be able to write well, you have to learn to think a certain way, to read a certain way, and more importantly, to get into your audience's collective mind.
By the way, the title of this article is a lie (almost). It's not easy to improve your skills in English, or any language for that matter. However, it can be straight forward and simple.
I've been where you are. Every writer has. We all start out being bad at writing (and some might say that I still am). If English is not your first language, the challenges that you face can be two-fold.
So here are some important tips to help you improve your English writing skills. If you implement these suggestions consistently, you will become a better writer:
1) Before You Can Write, You Must Read A LOT.
The thing about writing is that it has to come from the subconscious. If you sit there staring at a blank screen, trying to remember all of the grammar and punctuation rules of English as you make your first sentence, you will be sitting there forever.
Correct, native-like English grammar needs to come out automatically as you write. You shouldn't even have to consciously think about it. The only way that this can happen is if you have seen at least hundreds of thousands of examples of correctly-written English sentences. You absorb grammar naturally by reading.
Follow these guidelines and you should be fine:
- Only read things that you enjoy.
- Read a lot. This means reading every day. Go through a few books a week if you can.
Before long, you will see your English begin to vastly improve. There are few other things that can improve your English writing skills (or your skills in any language) more than reading. Reading gives you an intimate, broken-down view of the language.
If you follow no other tips in this article, then follow this one. Read tons and tons of English. Don't just skim. Read carefully. Read deeply. Look closely at the structure of the sentences. Skimming is fine if you're already super fluent; otherwise, take it slow.
2) Learn the Writing Rules That Are Specific to English
One major mistake that I see in a lot of non-fluent writers is that they assume that a certain grammar, spelling, or punctuation rule in their language is the same in English. This is an easy mistake to make, especially if your language uses a lot of the same grammatical marks.
For example, in Spanish, dialog is indicated with a dash (raya):
—No me gusta —dijo Pedro—.
But in English, dialog is indicated with quotation marks:
"I don't like it," said Pedro.
Since both dashes and quotations exist in both languages, it's common for non-fluent speakers of either language to switch these up.
In order to improve your English writing skills, you must familiarize yourself with the formal rules that are specific to the language.
You might find some value in getting a textbook on technical writing and learning all the rules that way, but you don't really need to. By simply carefully studying reading material in English, you will be able to see how things need to be written in practice.
Most importantly, don't take anything for granted. Never assume. If you have any doubts and have never written a certain kind of structure before, Google the specific rules.
Avoid making things up in English. Get creative with the actual ideas that you're writing about, not with the grammar.
The Reasons You Want to Improve Your English Writing
3) Shoot for Generic English
Unless you're writing for a specific audience, try to avoid regional dialects at first. "Generic" British or American English will be understood by basically all native speakers, and if your goal is to have a large audience, this is the type of English you should be writing.
Again, you can develop a sense of what this kind of standard English looks like by reading lots of material written by native speakers.
It may be unfair, but if you come from a country where English is a common second language, you have to be especially vigilant of your writing and speaking habits. In places where English is used as a second language, regional expressions that are specific to that culture tend to develop. This type of English may sound non-native or unappealing to native speakers.
For example, while there's nothing wrong with using the expression "to do the needful" if you are speaking to an Indian audience, this term does not exist among native English speakers from countries like the United States and Australia. It will sound awkward to them and they will have trouble understanding you.
4) Start Journaling Daily (in English)
Practice, practice, practice! There is no way to get around it; you must practice your writing to get better at it. Just reading will help you improve by leaps and bounds, but what will really solidify your skills is writing in English every day.
To be able to do this day after day, you're going to have to make writing a habit. For this, you can start a daily journal. Write about anything you want--just write it in English.
I suggest using specialized journaling software because it will help you keep track of which days you kept up with it. You can find software like this for free. RedNotebook is a great open source journal application that runs on all the major operating systems.
Alternatively, you can start a personal blog and use that for your English writing practice. In fact, putting your writing out there will help you with this next tip:
5) Look for Feedback / Constructive Criticism
Without feedback, it will be harder for you to learn what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.
Be careful who you seek advice from, though! The Internet is full of trolls who just want to cut people down. This is why the key word here is constructive. The criticism should be aimed towards building your skills, not tearing down your confidence.
To do this right, seek out people who are
- Experienced in reading and writing English. This is essential. Do not get advice from people who are as fluent or less fluent than you. That's the blind leading the blind. Instead, ask native speakers for their brutal advice.
- Not trolls. Again, it's a waste of time to approach people who are just looking to make themselves feel better by making you feel stupid. If someone is making fun of you, they're doing more harm than good, even if some of their criticisms are valid.
One thing I will caution you about, though: Looking for feedback does not mean asking people to edit your writing for free. The point of these exercises is to learn to edit yourself on your own. Take whatever advice more experienced people give you and apply it to your work.
Improve Your English Writing a Little Bit Each Day
One final thing to keep in mind is to not overwhelm yourself. No matter which of the tips you use, do a little bit each day.
It's much better to have a daily habit of slow improvement than to push yourself hard for three days and then quit. If you work slowly and steadily, as the weeks and months go by, you will be surprised at how much your English writing will improve.
Putting the Tips Into Practice
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the best way to manage tenses in my writing?
Answer: You can do a few things:
First, try to picture yourself in what you're writing. If it's in past tense, actually imagine the actions taking place in the past; if it's present tense, picture them in the present, etc.
This is a non-technical way of resolving your tenses, and sometimes organic solutions are more intuitive for some people.
Zoom out and look at your writing as a whole unit, not just word by word or sentence by sentence. Picture what your writing is actually describing and how it connects to real life and real time. Keep the question of, "When is this happening?" in the back of your mind at all times, correcting your tense when you see that it's off.
Eventually, with enough mindful practice, you won't make the mistake anymore, because you will "feel" when it is not right.
Another approach you might take is to only write in one tense for a while in a certain context. For example, if you write creative fictional stuff, you might want to choose one tense (perhaps past tense) and practice writing only in that tense for a few weeks or months. Once you've done that for a while, you can start playing with present tense. If you get used to them one at a time, then they will be more solidified in your brain, and you'll be less likely to accidentally mix tenses.
Like all writing, you will need to practice consciously until it is so ingrained in your subconscious to use the right tense, that you don't even think about it anymore.
© 2017 Jorge Vamos
Peter on April 11, 2019:
Thanks for your guidance, I believe it will be very productive and I will go ahead and put it into practice right.
shakil rizvee on March 27, 2019:
i think for me better way
Nazrul Islam. on June 06, 2018:
Very good advice indeed.All the tips given here seem pragmatic to build up anyone's writing proficiency.Sill I am struggling with my writing but I am passionate enough to be well versed in writing.I will,certainly,try my level best to abide by your given tips.Tons of thanks for sharing the article.
Justin on May 31, 2018:
Thank you so much for writing this post. Those tips make sense to me, and I definitely will try them all. The key is to be more persistent in learning every day.
garydung on May 17, 2018:
Thank you for your advice. I will try my best to keep on writing. Hope to have a vast improve during 1 month.