In the Writing Lab, we often get asked, “What can I do to improve my writing skills?”
That’s a complicated question. Obviously, you could run to Barnes and Noble, buy a book on nouns and verbs, and furiously pore over the pages for months, writing and rewriting sentences. That may help, but it would take a lot of time, and college students aren’t known for having tons of free time.
You may even see books titled Ten Steps to Better Writing or How to Become a Better Writer. Often, these books promise to make you a better writer in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, this is about as reliable as the latest weight-loss product. The truth is that it just takes time to become a better writer.
Improving writing skills is much like improving any type of skill, including playing an instrument or shooting a basketball. You have to work at it, practice daily, and keep going even when it gets frustrating.
So how do you improve your writing skills? There is one simple, though time-consuming, answer: READ! Just like a pianist has to listen to music in order to play well and a football player has to watch game films and study plays, students need to see how professionals write in order to improve their own skills.
The best part about this plan is that you don’t have to read classic literature. Let’s face it; you probably won’t get much out of The Sound and the Fury or Moby Dick unless you’re an English major, and most English majors don’t understand these books. Just pick something you like and read it.
Go to the library and browse the shelves. If you like rock music, read a biography about Steven Tyler. If you like animation, there are a lot of books about how Disney movies are made. If you’re interested in underwater basket weaving, well, good luck.
You don’t even have to read books. Flip through a magazine. It doesn’t have to be Businessweek; Cosmopolitan will work. Browse the internet for articles and blogs. You can even read product reviews; some of them are pretty funny. (I recommend checking out Amazon reviews of BIC Pens for Her.) Even reading cereal boxes, brochures, flyers, and menus helps expand your vocabulary.
*Disclaimer: Reading Facebook may actually hurt your writing skills.
You may not even consciously realize that you are learning, but all those new words and phrases are slowly sinking into your brain. Eventually, all your new skills will show up in an English essay or research paper. Trust me, time spent reading won’t be wasted.