By USPA Learning Coach, Kelly Dalke

Writing does not come easily to many. It can be overwhelming, time-consuming, and make us feel vulnerable. It’s quite risky too, a place where we have to trust ourselves and hope our audience understands what we are trying to say. As you progress through levels of school and mastery, there will be new goals and new aspects of the craft to accomplish. These five tips will help you set up a foundation of skills and habits, creating a bridge to success. 

1. Consider Your Audience

In any kind of writing, you must consider your audience. What does audience mean? Audience is who your work is meant to target. You don’t want to think of your writing as being solely for your teacher, you want to imagine it being read by people of the community. Consider who would benefit from this piece of writing, who would enjoy it, and who you would want to read it. Because of this, the following tips are of utter importance.  

2. Be Specific

Being specific is very important for successful writing, in academic writing such as essays, lab reports, and projects, but also with creative writing such as personal essays, plays, poetry, etc.  

For academic writing, you want what is called textual evidence. Textual evidence is specific references to the text, meaning, you describe in detail a portion or section of the text. Textual evidence also means using direct quotations. If you can pull a line from a text to use as an example you are on your way to successful academic writing. If you are writing high school level papers or higher, you want to also begin using MLA style citations. This includes in-text citations and a Works Cited page at the end of your essay. There will be more on MLA in the future but for now, a great resource is the Purdue OWL website. 

For creative writing, being specific means being detailed. You want to create a visual in your readers’ minds. Storytelling should include sensory details (sight, sound, touch, taste), imagery, and figurative language. The more specific and detailed your creative writing the more successful it will be. 

3. Good Writing Takes More Than One Draft

Good writing is more than a one-step process. No published piece of work you see out in the world (or in the classroom) was completed on one try. Good writing takes time, patience, and effort. Process is just as important as content. Follow these steps:

Prewriting: This is what takes place before you write. Here, try to assess the task and anticipate what you will need to complete it. Review any reading by previewing the text, meaning, look at the genre, author, time period, etc. During the prewriting, try should get all of your ideas for the assignment on the page. This can be in the form of lists, brainstorming, short paragraphs, pictures, website links for resources, and more. This can be either a clean outline or it can be messy. The point of prewriting is to gather your ideas in one place so when you sit down you write you have a plan. 

Drafting: This is where you begin to put what you gathered in prewriting into cohesive paragraphs. For academic writing, I suggest writing the body paragraphs of your essay first. This is where the content is, where your specific details and textual evidence live. This is the heart of your essay. Drafts can also be messy and have errors. Just get the words on the page and save the polishing for revision and editing. 

Revision: Revision is not editing, it is just as it sounds Re-Vision-ing your work. Try to look at it from multiple perspectives, imagine changing the order of your paragraphs, think about what would happen if you expanded on an idea you already have included. You should write 2-3 drafts. The revision stage is also when I suggest you add your introduction and conclusion for academic writing. Make sure these are their own full paragraphs with a hook and thesis statement in your introduction and a reiteration of main points in your conclusion. It also never hurts to end on an impactful image when possible. 

Submission: Now, writing is hardly ever final, but this should be when you edit. It is when you put your work through a spell checker or use Grammarly or proofreading software like Ginger. This is when you make sure all I’s are capitalized and punctuation are correct. You will lose points for messy writing, so be sure to slow down and check for errors. A little trick: read your work out loud to yourself before submitting it. You will find more errors this way than reading to yourself quietly! Turn in professional-looking work.

4. Save Your Work

Always write in a Google Doc or Word doc first. Technology can fail us, and if you write your essay only in the online classroom you are risking the possibility of losing your work in a technological failure. Be proactive and save your work in a Google Doc or Word document first! Not to mention the spell check and editing features that are at your fingertips.

5. Trust Yourself

Most importantly, have fun writing. Your voice is the one that matters, not who you think you should sound like. You all have valuable, important things to say about literature, yourself, and the world around you. Trust your value as a writer and you will do just fine. 

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