With more than 4 billion cell phones in use around the world, most of us write every day via text or email. We are comfortable with that. The nerves may start kicking in a bit more, however, if we have to communicate an important message to our boss, craft a cover letter, fill out a report, or write a blog. And if we haven’t been in the classroom since high school, the thought of a writing a research paper could send us into a panic.
Whether you are a novice or seasoned writer, knowing how to skillfully convey your message across all professional levels is a competency that almost every employer is looking for – even more so in the days of COVID-19 and remote work. In fact, good writing can provide a steppingstone to career advancement. If you’re feeling a little shaky in the written communication department, exploring 10 steps for improving writing skills will help set you on the path to mastering this critical ability.
- Further your Education
The first step needed to improve your writing is to understand the importance of doing it well. Right or wrong, people make judgments about you based on how you communicate verbally and in writing. Particularly in the workplace, how well or poorly you write can reflect on your professionalism, intellect, and education, so honing your skills is definitely worth the effort and can help further your career. You can improve your writing skills when you continue your education with an online degree from Ottawa University.
- Assess your Skills
The second step is to get a realistic picture of your current skills. By assessing your comfort level for writing various types of materials, your knowledge of the writing process, and your proficiency with grammar and punctuation, you can determine what kind of assistance you need. One way to evaluate your writing abilities is to complete a self-assessment questionnaire, whether it’s one for general writing or more specifically for writing research papers. You can also take a direct approach to assessing your writing skills by finding an English professor or talented writer who will read your work and point out areas for improvement.
- Reach out for Assistance
Third, and perhaps most important, is knowing where to go for the professional development you need. Ottawa university’s faculty are dedicated to making sure you succeed. They go the extra mile to answer your questions, provide direction, and connect you with the resources you need. Your Academic Advisor will also be more than happy to direct you to the tools that best meet your learning style.
There is no shortage of resources available to improve your writing and to catch errors you might make. Whether you just need to brush up on the basics or need some serious guidance, most of these resources are free and easy to use. Sometimes you just need a little guidance in finding the best ones that will work for you.
- Devise a Plan
A fourth step to becoming an effective written communicator is having a blueprint. Nothing of beauty or usefulness is created without design and intention. The same goes for a well-crafted letter, essay or research paper. Start by determining your audience and purpose/goal for writing, which will help determine your tone. Then identify the points you want to convey, along with any supporting facts, examples, quotes and ideas for each point. Figure out how you will introduce your topic and summarize or conclude.
Whether you initially create this roadmap in your head or need pen/cursor to get the thoughts flowing, make a written outline of your project that you can follow point by point. This will help you stay on topic and flow more easily from one point to the next.
- Use your Resources
Fifth, take advantage of technology and your natural tendencies to aid in the writing process. If you are more of a visual person, designing a mind map, or diagram, of your project might be useful. If you are a verbal processor, you might use the voice recorder on your phone to dictate notes, even an entire document, that can be transcribed and edited later. You can also utilize the voice-to-text feature in Word.
As a student of Ottawa University, you will have open access to OU’s Lib Guides. This online resource provides the most up to date style guides to teach you exactly how to cite your sources. It brings forth specific examples showing the difference between quoting and paraphrasing sources within your papers and presents a variety of blogs to assist you in your writing. Ottawa University also offers Net Tutor, which allows you to upload a paper for free review before you submit it to your professor.
- Practice your APA Skills
The sixth step towards improved writing is practice, practice, practice! To help with the technicalities of your research paper, it’s important to have strong APA skills. You would never become a star quarterback without relentless hours of hard work, and you won’t become an effective writer without regularly exercising your growing knowledge and skills.
Writing and Critical Thinking in the Liberal Arts is one of the first classes you will take at Ottawa University to help you polish up your writing skills. As you pursue your degree with Ottawa, you will start using the resources listed above and gain more writing practice. You will hone your APA skills as you get more comfortable writing research papers.
- Make sure to Revise and Edit
The seventh component is one of the most necessary writing skills in being a successful online student. It is the editing process. If you just let out a deep sigh, don’t worry. You’re in better hands than you think. Remember, as you practice and get more comfortable with grammar, punctuation and the basics of writing, you will start to self-edit while you’re writing. You also have access to the resources already listed to help you review your work and make necessary changes – use them!
Another important editing tool is the “walk away” rule. When you think you’re finished with your writing project, walk away from it for several hours, or a day, if possible. Come back with fresh eyes to review and edit it before submitting. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll catch. Finally, as vulnerable as you may feel having someone else read your work, it is invaluable to have a seasoned writer’s feedback that will improve what you’ve written.
- Develop your Reading Skills
Number eight – READ! What does reading have to do with writing, you may ask? As a developing writer, your reading takes on new purpose. You are now paying closer attention to the writing style, grammar, punctuation, tone, and flow of all different types of material. As you begin to evaluate social media posts, newspaper articles, corporate materials, fiction and non-fiction books, note the style elements that appeal to you, whether it’s transitions, word pictures, phrases, or sentence structure. Find ways to experiment with those elements in your own writing. In other words, learn by example.
- Know When to Paraphrase
Number nine is more of a tip than it is a step, but it can’t be overstated. Make sure you understand the difference between plagiarism vs paraphrasing. Plagiarism is the act of using someone else's work or ideas without crediting the original author and thereby pretending it's your own. Paraphrasing means rephrasing the original text in your own words – which may still require a reference. Plagiarism is a big deal and can result in getting an F on an assignment – or being expelled from school. It can even hinder your career advancement. Make sure you know how to correctly acknowledge the sources of facts and others’ ideas in your written work.
- Have Trust in Yourself
The final step is also a tip. It’s easy to get writing paralysis when you are unsure of your abilities, but as the old Nike slogan says, “Just Do It.” Trust that it is a process and that you will get better. Start putting words on “paper,” diligently practice these 10 steps, and allow yourself time to grow. Be your worst critic - if you get a C on a paper, dive in to find out why and how you can do better. Also be your best cheerleader – celebrate when you finally get that A or raise your GPA.
As a writer, you have a voice – your personal style for expressing your thoughts. Few things are as rewarding as finding that voice and learning how to convey it with confidence and competence. You’re on your way to learning the necessary writing skills required to become a successful student and to further your career. We can’t wait to read what you have to say!
What are you waiting for? Take the first step toward improving your writing skills by pursuing an online degree with Ottawa University.