English Writing Skills: Some Helpful Ideas

I have always found it interesting when students at VirtualEnglishTeacherOnline.com, or the reporters and critics I used to edit at The New York Times, would ask me how to improve English writing skills. The short answer is: Write the way you talk!

Many great talkers and story tellers get nervous when it comes time to write something. I have never understood why. I will tell you a secret trick I used to do with writers at The New York Times or the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, where I used to work. When a writer would get stuck and say to me, “I can’t find a good way to begin my story,” I would say to them, “Tell me – what is the story about?” Then, as they were speaking, I would write every word down without them knowing it (this is easier now in the days of computers with their silent keys than it was back at The Sunday Telegraph in London, when we used noisy typewriters).

After they finished speaking, I would read their words back to them, and almost always we could agree, “Here is a great opening to your story.” So the first trick if you want to improve English writing skills is to write the way you speak.

To Improve English Writing Skills, Organize Your Thoughts

It is true, of course, that not everyone is a good speaker! Why? Because they do not put their thoughts in order before they start speaking. What is the best order for saying your thoughts? Well, when in doubt, say the first thing to start with, the second thing next, and so on until you have finished all your ideas. It is as simple as that. However, first you must have your ideas put all in a row, and people sometimes forget to do that. It is called English writing skills, but really it is English speaking skills. Actually, it is thinking skills, which are important in any language.

So for students who want to improve English writing skills, I tell them that writing is not that different from speaking. There is one big difference, however. When you speak, the words disappear, and your mistakes disappear as well. When you write, your words remain on the page forever! That is why it is so important always to read over your work to catch small obvious mistakes. Spell Check is a help, but it does not solve everything. You must do that yourself. My own personal method, if a piece of writing is very important, is to print it out and proofread it line by line, with a ruler in hand. I learned this trick at The New York Times. You catch most mistakes that way.

So I will add another rule for better English writing skills. Read over your work carefully every single time. You will be amazed at how your English writing will improve, with very little effort.