Students learning English often feel frustrated that their writing skills seem poor (bad), and they make a lot of simple mistakes. This means that teachers make more corrections. When students see all the corrections that teachers make, they become frustrated or depressed.
The number one question I get asked by students is, how to improve their writing.
Students should try hard not to make simple mistakes, because in fact, simple mistakes make it harder to improve. When a teacher corrects all the basic mistakes, it is harder for the student to see their genuine errors.
To improve your English, it is essential to avoid basic mistakes, and concentrate during study time on errors that prevent you from communicating well.
How many students want to practice using correct prepositions, verb tenses, passive voice, or create complex multi-clause sentences?
Let me tell you how to avoid basic mistakes, and focus on improving your English.
A lot of students forget to capitalise proper nouns, the first letter of a sentence, the main words in titles, acronyms, or first person pronouns. When teachers correct these, the text begins to look very messy. Remember that in English writing, we consider that a well-written text is a readable text.
Here is an example of a poorly capitalised text:
i went home to london for the holidays after finishing my mba, but i missed the train and had to stay in birmingham for a night. the hotel was ok but very expensive.
Here is an example of a correctly capitalised text:
I went home to London for the holidays after finishing my MBA, but I missed the train and had to stay in Birmingham for a night. The hotel was OK but very expensive.
2: Use Spaces Correctly
Separating words and sentences makes our writing easy to read, but is a very common mistake some students make.
In English, we always add a space after a comma, full stop, question mark, exclamation, semi-colon, or colon. For example:
Mike has two cats, a dog, a fish, and an ant farm.
How many cats does Mike have? He has two cats; and a menagerie of other animals!
When we use quotation marks, apostrophes, or brackets we do not add spaces. For example:
Jenny said, "I need to go shopping."
Jenny's mother isn't nervous about the wedding.
Jenny will have a big (to please her mother) wedding.
In English, we use punctuation such as commas, full-stops, colons, apostrophes, etc. in every sentence. In fact, it is fair to say that well-written, understandable English requires correct punctuation. Some teachers and examiners will fail a student who does not punctuate correctly.
As you read this article, I want you to notice where I've punctuated, and where I haven't. There are different rules for using commas or semicolons around the world, but don't worry too much about them now (I use the Oxford comma rule). As your English advances you'll learn what can be changed.
Teachers that I speak to share my frustration when students don't punctuate the end of a sentence, or separate clauses and words in a series with commas. It really does make your writing much more difficult to read, and therefore, more difficult to correct.
4: Do a Spell Check
Using a computer, smartphone, or tablet means that in many cases we don't even need to remember how to spell any more; they all have spell check tools. We can even speak to our phones now. So, there is no excuse for poor spelling in your writing.
If you are using Windows, Apple OS/X or iOS, Android, or Blackberry, then simply install the English dictionary to make sure all of your writing is corrected automatically by your device.
A spell check will correct words like these: horribal, swiming, tripl, pathe, tevelision, hav. Can you guess the correct spelling of these words?
Also, please avoid slang like "wanna" or "gonna" in your written English. Some people use slang when they speak, and that's fine with friends, but it isn't acceptable in exams, or formal writing.
5: Use Conjunctions (Wisely!)
Many beginner and intermediate students struggle with English conjunctions (joining words), and will often avoid them altogether. This can mean that sentences are very short. Here's an example:
Mike is tall. He is 28 years old. He lives at home. With his parents. He has a dog. It's name is Fido. He walks it every day.
This is a boring and uninteresting text to read, however, it can be improved easily. Here's how:
Mike is tall, 28 years old, and lives at home with his parents. He has a dog named Fido, that he walks every day.
The conjunctions used in that text were "and", and "that". It is a very good idea to study conjunctions, and practice writing sentences with two or three clauses which will improve your English dramatically.
English writing is difficult, and your teacher will be very patient with you. We want you to improve and become advanced or fluent users of English.
By avoiding basic mistakes, you make it easy for your teacher to correct your writing, and that means you will get better corrections that allow you to improve much faster.
Learning English can be fun, and you can progress quickly if you want to.
Hero Image by Nic McPhee (CC BY-SA 2.0)