Writer's Guide

by Joshua S. Levin, Ph.D.

Good writers aren't born, they're made. Writing is a practice. How skilled would basketball players, pianists, or doctors be, if they only practiced ten hours a year? Practice leads to growth.

You can become a great writer.

Business and academic writing in Standard English has increasingly become the language of the powerful. The ability to use words effectively is inseparable from the ability to shape relationships. It is for this reason that I encourage you to cultivate these important writing skills. There are many other kinds of writing, and each variety has its own beauty, use, and value, but Western culture has selected this specific style of writing as the primary vehicle for the communication of written information in science, business, and politics. Learning to master these skills may be the single most valuable tool that you acquire in college.

Over the years, I have developed a number of considerations for writers. These are issues that excellent writers think about when they are putting their thoughts to paper. The last consideration that I have included is an outline for writing an essay. If you closely follow this outline, your writing will be clear, coherent, and focused.

Consideration #1:

Have fun.
Give yourself enough time to enjoy the process. Writing is a way of sitting down with your thoughts. It is quality time with your brain. Explore your mind; your thoughts are valuable, and your perspective is unique. The more that we know ourselves the better we are able to effectively share our thoughts with others.

Consideration #2:

Have something to say.
It is much easier to write when you actually have a series of ideas that you want to discuss, express, or analyze. The first thing to do before writing a paragraph is to come up with the ideas that you want the paragraph to contain. Outlines are an excellent way to jot down and organize the points that you want to make.

Consideration #3:

Write in a quiet environment.
Good writing is musical. When writing has rhythm, the ideas flow. In order to hear the rhythm and melody of your thoughts and your writing, it is important to turn off all outside stimulous- music, television, etc. These other inputs have rhythms and melodies that distract from the discovery of your own written voice. Writing with music on is very much like trying to sing while someone else is singing a different song. At the very least, try turning off music or television with words that compete with the words in your own head. Some people claim that they write better with music on, etc. It's possible. Try writing to the music of your own heart, and then decide.

Consideration #4:

Stick to the topic within the essay.
All of the ideas in an essay must be closely related to the topic of the paper.

Consideration #5:

Stick to the topic within a paragraph.
All of the ideas in a paragraph must be closely related to the topic of the paragraph.

Consideration #6:

Arrange your paragraphs with care.
Consider the best order for your paragraphs. Arrange them in such a way that each paragraph builds upon the previous one and leads to the next.

Consideration #7:

Avoid redundancy.
Ideas must not be repeated unless the repetition is absolutely necessary for clarification.

Consideration #8:

Write for a conservative powerful audience.
Cultivating writing skills that will empower you in a competitive world requires the ability to use words with precision and restraint. The audience for academic writing is similar to the professional employer who will read your resume' cover letter. Choose and arrange your words so that you will fully express the sophistication of your thoughts, the care that you put into your work, and the appreciation that you have for the reader's time and energy.

In order to develop this formal writing style, you will want to avoid using slang and casual forms of speech unless it is essential to the particular thought that you are expressing. Simply ask yourself, "can this be said in a more formal way without losing its meaning?"

Consideration #9:

Develop an Outline.
Academic writing depends upon carefully organizing your thoughts.
Outlines are tools for organizing thoughts.
They tell the writer:

Consideration #10:

The following outline is a guide to help you write a clear, focused, essay. When you are writing, you should be able to point to each one of these sentences in your paper. If you cannot, there may be something missing. Constantly ask yourself, "Does this paragraph relate to my topic? Does this point relate to the topic of this paragraph? Does this idea support the point that I am making?"

Outline for an Academic Essay

Introductory Paragraph

    Body Paragraph #1

    Body Paragraph #2

    Body Paragraph #3

    Conclusion Paragraph

Your writing is an extension of your voice and a reflection of your mind. Learning to write well, will help to empower both your voice and your mind. All it takes is time.

Get extra help at the writing center. Call 651-3187.