When you are required to write an assignment or any other challenging document, how do you feel about the task ahead? And how do you start writing? Do you carefully construct a plan before writing, or just start writing and think about the process as you go along?
SURROUNDED BY WORDS
Students are surrounded by words: words in academic books, journals, Internet, crafted by seemingly competent and professional writers. The anguish and endless revision by these writers are hidden, unknown, and what is left is a polished and professional product – that emphasises the inadequacy of the student who feel they have to write to the same standard.
WHAT TO DO IN THIS SITUATION?
“Being a writer is, above all, having control over how you write and trust in your ability to make progress. If you try to walk with your eyes closed you find that the first few steps are easy, but after about ten paces you begin to slowdown, to tread carefully, sensing the terrain and feeling for obstacles. You lose faith in your ability to continue. Open your eyes again and the terrain guides you onward”(Sharples 1999, p.128)
Apprehension of writing can be overcome by gaining clearer awareness of the ‘terrain’: understanding more about both the craft and process of writing.
THE PROCESS OF WRITING
Here are the basic steps of the writing process. Knowing these steps and following them will help you become a better writer.
Step 1: Prewriting/Planning
First choose a topic. Then plan and organise what you are going to write. You can use a mind map or graphic organiser to help you plan and organise your ideas.
Step 2: Drafting
Write a rough draft of your ideas. Do not worry too much about making mistakes. You can correct them later. Just write!
Step 3: Revising
Get other readers’ responses to what you have written. Make revisions based on their comments and your own ideas to improve your draft. Think about what to add, what to cut and what to change.
Step 4: Proofreading/Editing
Read your revised draft carefully and look for mistakes in grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation. Correct any mistakes that you find. Then get other readers to help you find errors that you have missed.
Step 5: Publishing/Presenting
Complete your final copy. Share it with others by publishing it or presenting it.
Wyllie (1993) surveyed student and academic writers to learn about the writing strategies they used. She categorised five main strategies and gave them names associated with creative or construction occupations.
- Oil painter
They start writing with the end result clearly in their minds.
They think hard about what they going to say and make mental plans about the structure. They then work continuously and sequentially until the job is done, with few pauses or revisions. They rarely lose sight of the ‘big picture’ as they write. Only a small percentage of the respondents were in this category!
They made detailed plans first, usually with chapter or section headings to guide them. They write a first draft, usually in a sequential way, starting with chapter 1, but sometimes starting with the easiest section. They then continually review and revise their work until satisfied with it. They rarely correct as they go along, preferring instead to leave it until they have completed the first draft.
They do not always have a big picture in their minds when they start writing, but more likely a series of ideas and points they want to make. They start with one idea and build up the text sentence by sentence, revising each until they are happy with it. Their revision is predominantly at a small scale, sentence or paragraph level, rather than with the text as a whole. The big picture emerges slowly in the process, with ideas emerging sequentially and gradually.
They usually produce rough plans that organise text under broad headings, though these might be abandoned once they begin to write. They are flexible in their writing, usually writing in a linear and sequential way, from introduction onward, but sometimes starting with an easy section. They revise frequently, both to the meaning, grammar, spelling and ordering of the text, both during the writing and after, until they are satisfied with it.
They write by discovery and never have a complete picture in their minds when they start. They start off by jotting down a few ideas as they occur and organise these later. They begin writing sometimes with a rough plan, but often not. They jump into the text anywhere they feel comfortable or at the easiest part and go backwards and forwards from there. Their work is subject to much revision and they may correct as they go along, but generally do this later.
GOOD ENGLISH IS PLAIN ENGLISH
A Golden Rule in all forms of writing is ‘good English is plain English’.
Writers on business communication share similar views: that plain English is at the heart of effective written communication.
WHAT IS PLAIN ENGLISH?
These commentators identify six features of good plain English and share similar views on each of these.
- Short sentences
- No unnecessary words
- Familiar words
- Prefer the active to the passive voice
- Good punctuation
DEVELOPING YOUR WRITING SKILLS
Ways of developing your writing skills:
- Attend an English class
- Attend an Effective Learning Service (ELS) workshop
- Read books on the skills of writing
- Study on a writing or Personal Development Module
- Talk to the Effective Learning Officer (ELO)