writing tip: outline, outline, outline before BEGINNING

(NOVEMBER 2018)

In order to become a truly great writer, outlining what you intend to write about is a key aspect to developing both the ideas and the structure of the piece of writing that you intend to create. It can be beneficial to be spontaneous to create from scratch but depending on how complex the topic of your paper or essay is, it would be best to outline once or twice before beginning to write the rough draft.

How you would like to outline your paper or essay is up to you but the outline should focus on the sections or parts of your paper and the main themes / ideas that you wish to address. After constructing the outline, you should have a good idea on what questions you are going to answer with your paper and which page(s) of the paper will discuss which ideas.

Having an abstract of one paragraph or two paragraphs is also key to being part of your overall outline especially if it is for a research paper. If you are planning to use outside sources, it is also key to create your bibliography and correct cite the outside research and/or pieces of information used to supplement your paper’s argument.

There’s no certain length that your outline should be but if it includes an outline of your paper’s structure by detailing the sections and which page(s) would focus on which topics along with an abstract and a completed bibliography, it could be two to three pages in total length. The main thing to keep in mind with an outline is that it fits your needs as the writer and it helps to clarify what you hope to achieve in writing your paper whether its for research, for persuasion, or for scientific purposes. It should help you to express your ideas and your thoughts in a succinct manner before you even begin to write your introduction down. If you put serious effort into it, it’s likely that your paper will be better off and you will be more easily able to write it effectively.


Writing tip: Ask Questions of your professor, teacher, and/or mentor if you need help

(September 2018)

If you’re a student of the English language and you’re looking to get better at writing specifically, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a key tip because many students are shy about clarifying the details when it comes to a written assignment. As a student, you should be able to ask your professor, teacher, or mentor about any questions you may have about the writing process.

More than just the writing process itself, you should understand how many paragraphs, pages, etc. that your written paper or essay needs to be in order to meet the requirements of the assignment. Written assignments are varied in their requirements, the citations needed, and how to structure it. An academic paper will be different from a book review just as a research paper will be different from an argumentative essay.

It’s much better to speak up politely and even stay after your class to talk to your professor or your teacher one-on-one if you have any questions that you are not willing to ask in front of the rest of your classmates. Some teachers and professors depending on what kind of written assignment it is would even be willing to edit your rough draft and give you some useful feedback on how to improve your essay or paper. By taking the initiative and receiving edits from the teacher or professor from the rough draft, you’ll have a much better idea of what to change and adjust in your writing to do well on the assignment when you submit the final paper.

Another area where you should be clear with regards to any written assignment is how to cite your sources. If it’s not clear, then please be sure to ask questions and to get good answers from your professor, teacher, etc. whether outside sources for your written work is needed and how should these citations be placed within the paper, otherwise as footnotes or endnotes.

Being able to ask your professors questions ahead of a written assignment’s due date will be very useful in making sure you’re able to comply with all of the requirements in order to get a better final grade. In addition, if you’re polite and the questions make sense to him or her, then it’s likely you’ll form a better relationship with your professor and your teacher. They may even look to call on you more during class discussion to get your insight on whatever topic is being covered in the lecture / session. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and you’ll find that you’ll gain more confidence as an ESL student as a result!


writing tip: leave the reader wanting more from you

(August 2018)

As an English writer, you should want to do a good job of 'hooking' the reader in or 'leaving' them wanting more from you at the beginning or the end of your written work. It's one thing to be proficient with writing in English but it's an even more impressive feat to be able to hold the reader's attention for a long time and get them to invest in what you have to write about. There are different ways of doing this as an English writer but I find that it's best to be creative and try out various approaches to keeping the reader interested.

At the beginning of a paragraph, essay, or a formal paper, you may want to start out with a quote from a famous person or someone who has a relation to the topic of your writing. You also may want to tease the reader with a 'cliffhanger' sentence by introducing the story at a pivotal point in time and then going back to the beginning of the story before actually writing about the end of the story. In addition to a quote, the cliffhanger of a story, etc., you can also pose a rhetorical question to the reader that they may want to answer for themselves in their mind but for which you are going to address throughout the rest of the essay. 

If you want to leave the reader wanting more, the end of the essay, paper, etc. should leave the audience with something to think about. You should attempt to leave a few unanswered questions that they can do more research about and that they can check out more information about. The last thing to keep in mind is that you should want to leave the reader thinking about what you have written long after they have finished reviewing your work. If they never pick up your written work again, that doesn't mean your English writing isn't good, it's just that it wasn't that entertaining, interesting, or enlightening. 

Keep in mind the use of quotations, rhetorical questions, cliffhanger openings, thought-provoking sentences, as well as the use of interjections (wow!, huh?, ah...) to throw the reader for a loop by making your written work stand out more and get them to read your writing again for a second or third time. 


Writing tip: Focus on the topics that you care about or are interested in

(JULY 2018)

A key aspect that's not discussed often enough when it comes to trying out your writing skills in a foreign language is the idea of focusing on writing about topics that personally appeal to you. It doesn't help when you are first starting out to write about topics in English that don't excite you or where your vocabulary is lacking. In order to enjoy writing in a new language, it's best to choose those topics that are fun for you to write about or that which are easy for you to go into details about.

While you may receive writing assignments or take courses where you have to write about a specific topic for a grade, you should not let that discourage you from practicing your writing abilities in English in other ways. It's a really good habit to pick up where you take the initiative to write in English in your free time and because of that initiative, you can choose the topics that you actually want to practice writing about. When you are in a school, university, or general class setting, you often will not have the choice to write about the topics that you would like to.

Putting in the time practicing on your own will set you apart from other English writing students. When you're able to discipline yourself to write for an hour or two away from your school, university, or other kind of formal education, you will stand out from your peers. It will take willpower and dedication but forcing yourself to write about topics that you enjoy will make the writing process a lot easier to get a handle on.

If you really like sports, you should write a short essay about which sport you enjoy the most and how often you play it. Also, if you really enjoy reading books, you could write an essay or two about a few books that you really like and why you enjoyed them so much. The possibilities are nearly limitless when it comes to interesting topics that you can cover in your English writing. The key thing to remember is that you must be the one to take the initiative as an English student to write on your own time so that you will be able to choose the topics that you like to write about and better improve your written proficiency. 


writing tip: the purpose of the main idea followed by supporting ideas

(June 2018)

It's no secret that if you have been following this 'writing' tips section that it's key to have an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion to make up an essay or an article. In order for an essay to be complete, this basic structure needs to be in place in order for the reader to get the most out of it. 

However, once you have the essay structure down, it's important to be able to brainstorm the main idea of each paragraph followed up two or three key supporting ideas for that paragraph using evidence and/or examples to back up your main idea. Whether it is a research article, an argumentative or persuasive essay, it's key to remember that each paragraph especially the introduction and the body paragraphs should highlight the main idea and the supporting ideas. When it comes to the conclusion paragraph, you are basically going to re-state the main idea that you introduced in the opening paragraph while citing your supporting ideas once more to leave the reader(s) with. 

The introduction paragraph is used to 'introduce' your main idea followed by a brief tidbit about what your supporting ideas are going to entail. Depending upon how many body paragraph(s) you have planned, each supporting idea should be expanded upon in on body paragraph where the research and the evidence is cited through facts and details given. In the body paragraph(s), you can rehash what your main idea is but you should not give it too much of your attention. Listed below, I have detailed how the structure of each paragraph should play out along with an example of what a main idea would be along with three supporting ideas for a prospective essay topic. 

Introduction: Tell the audience what the main idea of the essay is along with an introduction to each of the three supporting ideas to be highlighted in the body paragraphs.

Body: Paragraph #1 - Supporting Idea #1 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

           Paragraph #2 - Supporting Idea #2 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

           Paragraph #3 - Supporting Idea #3 with Main Idea briefly discussed (evidence / research needed)

Conclusion: Re-state the main idea of your essay while discussing briefly your supporting ideas and why they should matter to the audience. No more evidence or research should be introduced into the concluding paragraph.

Example Essay Topic

Main Idea: There is too much plastic in the oceans.

Supporting Idea #1: Many sea mammals have been harmed or even killed by the plastic.

Supporting Idea #2: The plastic in the ocean is contaminating our food and even our de-salinization of water efforts.

Supporting Idea #3: The plastic is disrupting our oceanic ecosystems and causing coral reefs to be damaged. 

Whatever essay topic you choose to focus on, remember to make sure that you clearly have a main idea and at least two or even three supporting ideas to make the essay flow better whether it is persuasive, academic, or research-based in nature. 


Writing tip: make sure you do your research and use examples to back up your ideas

(MAY 2018)

An overlooked part to writing a good essay is the fact that you'll need to back up your main ideas with real examples. These examples can be more scientific or research-based in nature or they can be based off of your own personal experiences and background depending on what kind of essay you are writing. If it is an academic, scientific, or evidence-based essay, you'll need to use outside sources that are legitimate and directly related to the main ideas you're posing in each paragraph. 

For an academic essay or paper, you should not be using your own opinions and experience to count as doing research. When it comes to this kind of writing, you need to find research that is evidence-based, has been backed up by more than one source, and is able to be cited in either the footnotes or the endnotes. The examples for this kind of essay should be not your own but rather those of other authors in your field who came to a similar kind of conclusion. You can use quotations to cite the work that they've done and use their findings to supplement your ideas and add validity to your essay's argument. 

When it comes to an persuasive or opinionated essay, you won't have to do as much scientific or academic research, but you'll still have to use your own experiences and personal background to add to your essay. Also, there should be a mix in these essays where you use the experiences of other people to back up your main ideas and theses statement. Your experiences and background could be useful in developing one body paragraph but another body paragraph or two could be supplemented by those experiences of other people whether they are historical figures or friends and family of yours. 

Your research and outside examples should always be cited in the correct manner whether that is a quotation, a footnote, an endnote, etc. There are many different citation styles that can be used for various types of essays but choose the one that feels most comfortable for you to implement. Whether its Chicago / Turabian style being used for Business and History writing, MLA (Modern Language Association) style being used for the Humanities, or APA (American Psychological Association) style being used for Education and the Sciences, please choose one of the above citation styles that fit best for your essay. 

The main point to keep in mind is to always cite your research / findings in some way if it is not your own. You should always be careful in avoiding plagiarism or taking from another person's work without carefully citing their examples. Depending on the type of essay, you may also be able to use your own experiences, research, and background to make your writing great. Without any evidence, examples, or research to support your thesis statement and/or main ideas, your essay won't nearly be as complete or as appealing to the reader.


Writing Tip: Remember to use punctuation! 

(April 2018)

While having the correct grammar and vocabulary usage in your writing is key in order to do well as a writer, it's always important to remember to use punctuation and to do so correctly. A lazy writer will forget to use correct punctuation and therefore their essay, article, or letter will suffer as a result. Basic punctuation is one of the fundamental building blocks of a complete sentence in the English language. 

If we wanted to define what 'punctuation' is, a good definition for this concept would be that it is a collection of signs and symbols used by the writer for the reader's benefit. Punctuation is fundamental to constructing a written sentence and helps the reader to figure out how the sentence itself should be read.

In any written format, sentences are the building blocks on which essays, articles, and other forms of writing are created. In order to be fully functional, sentences must have proper pronunciation in order to make them complete. Punctuation helps make the meaning of the sentence clear and helps the reader with understanding its context. 

There are many different forms of punctuation but the most important ones for any sentence to have is to place a capital letter at the start and to establish a proper ending which could be in the form of a period (.), exclamation mark (!), or a question mark (?) to be put at the end of the last word. The basic sentence can only be complete with the capital letter at the beginning of the first word and a proper form of punctuation to be placed after the final word.

Different sentences are going to have various forms of punctuation but it is key to be able to use the correct forms of punctuation at all times. Punctuation can often be used incorrectly so it is important for the average English learner to understand the form, meaning, and usage of each kind of punctuation. 

The basic signs of punctuation include: the comma (,), the period (.), the exclamation mark (!), the question mark (?), the semicolon (;), the colon (:), the apostrophe ('), the quotation marks (" "), the hyphen (-), the brackets ([ ]{ }), and the slash (/ \). 

Please be sure to do your research on these different forms of punctuation and it is likely that this writing topic will be covered more in depth in the future as we go over each of these punctuations signs. Overall, remember to use them in your writing for each sentence you create in the correct manner!


writing tip: using peer review to your advantage

(March 2018)

In the past few months, I have stressed the importance of reviewing and editing your written work in order to make it better. Proofreading your work yourself, creating a rough draft or two before finishing it off with a final draft, and the last piece of the puzzle which is the need for peer review. 

Having a second or third pair of eyes is absolutely key when it comes to becoming a better writer. There are going to be times when you are going to miss some mistakes during your own editing process. It's good to have somebody to catch those mistakes and correct them for you during the peer editing process. 

Whether there are changes to be made to your grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, or the content of the writing, a peer editor can help you in a number of ways and give their unbiased opinion. When you edit your own writing, you tend to be biased and think that you're a better writer than you are. It's a common blind spot where you believe you haven't made many or some mistakes when there are a few that you could have looked over.

When it comes to who you should be replying upon as a peer editor, it would be best to have someone who you trust and have confidence in to look over your writing. I would recommend a colleague from your job, a trusted mentor, or a classmate if you're going to school or university currently. If you have a close friend or family member who is reliable and you consider to be a good editor, it would be good to have them do the peer review. 

The most important thing to consider for peer review is that the person editing your written work is reliable. They will be able to make the edits for you in a consistent manner while not taking too long to get their suggestions back to you. When it comes to writing effectively, deadlines are important to abide by which is why you should rely upon a peer editor who is timely in their commentary. 

The writing process is never perfect but if you proofread your own work, write a few drafts before the final version, and utilize the help of a peer reviewer, then there's a good chance the final essay, article, or paper will be high quality. I hope you got out a lot of this particular tip and that it will serve you well in your English writing. 


writing tip: Create a rough draft or two 

(February 2018)

When it comes to becoming a better writer, it is integral to be able to write a rough draft before submitting your written work. Not only does it allow you to check for spelling and grammar errors but it will allow you to shape and refine your ideas in a more coherent way. When you write an essay, a letter, or an article for the first time, you're likely to miss a few things in the actual content of the writing that you're trying to get across. 

It's ideal in the rough draft to first write out what your main and supporting ideas are going to be on a separate piece of paper. You can use them as a guide when you're developing your introduction, body paragraph(s), and conclusion. Reading your first draft out aloud to yourself is a good way of seeing what needs to be changed, added, or deleted. 

The thing to keep in mind with making a rough draft is that you should not be making any edits to it as you write. The first rough draft should contain an outline of your ideas and the structure of the essay itself. A second rough draft is often necessary because you'll be able to edit your own work whether its' grammar or content related. Reading your rough drafts out loud to yourself is a key way to see what needs to be improved.

You should never submit your first written draft as your final draft. That would be a huge mistake to make especially if you are a submitting an important article or research paper. Depending on how important the written assignment / task is, you'll want to have a least two drafts before submitting the final version. Being able to edit your own writing is a crucial skill and will help you develop proofreading skills for yourself and others.


writing tip: The ART OF PROOFREADING

(January 2018)

If you would like to become a better writer in English, it's important to take your proofreading seriously. Proofreading encompasses not only good grammar but an understanding of what correct sentence structure looks like. You need to be able to study examples of good writing and try to incorporate it in your own writing pieces as much as possible. 

In order to become a good proofreader, you have to familiarize yourself with a dictionary to spell words correctly. When it comes to grammar, it's important to have a few resources such as 'The Elements of Style' by William Strunk, Jr. with you to help check your writing for accuracy and structure. Having a few good grammar resources will help you to develop as a writer and also know different grammatical concepts such as prepositions, idioms, verbs, nouns, etc. 

A good writer will look over his written work not just once but multiple times. You should be willing to proofread at least two times before submitting your writing whether it's an article, essay, paper, etc. You may miss the written mistakes you've made when you only check over your writing once so at a minimum, you have to proofread at least twice to correct the mistakes you may have made.

One last thing to keep in mind is that it's good to get the perspective of another proofreader so if it's possible, have someone else look over your writing for an unbiased opinion. If you can have a friend, a family member, or a colleague from work give you their opinion about your writing and correct your mistakes, it would help benefit you as an English writer. It's always best to get a second opinion after you've proofread your own work just to see if there's any error that you missed out on correcting. A true mark of a good writer is someone who's not afraid to get another perspective and is willing to make changes to become better at their craft.


Writing tip: Using Correct capitalization 

(December 2017)

Capitalization is one of the key parts of having correct punctuation with your writing. When you don't use capitalization correctly, it can ruin the flow of your words and sentences. For capitalization, you must make sure that the first letter is always in uppercase while the rest of the letters are in lowercase. There are over a dozen rules when it comes to using capitalization correctly in writing but for this weekly tip, I am going to focus on the top five rules to follow.

Rule #1: Capitalize the first word of any paper, article, essay, or other document in the first paragraph. You should also make sure to capitalize the first word after each period(.). 

Rule #2: Capitalize proper nouns and adjectives especially those that are more specific in terms of their location, organization, title, historical meaning, etc.

Examples: the Empire State Building, the United Nations, a Colombian dance, the Great Depression.

Rule #3: In most cases, do not capitalize the word 'the' before proper nouns. 

Examples: the White House, the Grand Canyon, the New York Times

Rule #4: You should always capitalize the first word in a complete quote, even if the quote occurs in the middle of a sentence. 

Example: Abraham Lincoln stated in the famous Gettysburg Address, "Four score and seven years ago..."

Rule #5: Do not capitalize prepositions, conjunctions, and/or articles unless they are the first word in a formal title such as for a movie, book, song, etc. 

Examples: 'Of Mice and Men', 'The Old Man and the Sea', 'From Here to Eternity', 'What a Wonderful World.'

While there are more than a dozen capitalization rules out there, these five rules in particular will give you a head start in becoming a better writer. 


WRITING TIP: HAVE AN INTRODUCTION + BODY PARAGRAPH + CONCLUSION IN YOUR ESSAY

(November 2017)

In order to become a better English writer, it's very important to have a structure in place when it comes to your essay or paper if you're writing one. You're going to want to make sure that you start with a beginning paragraph known as the 'introduction.' With the introduction paragraph, you're going to set the scene in terms of telling the readers what the topic of your essay is along with some supporting sentences discussing the topic(s) that are going to be covered later in the body paragraph(s). Your introduction paragraph should be between 3 to 4 sentences total and you should also have a thesis sentence laying out the main purpose of your essay and what you hope to get across to the audience. 

After completing the introduction, you should make sure to have a body paragraph or body paragraphs next where you discuss the topic in a couple of ways depending upon how many paragraphs you need to get your point of view or opinion across. 

For example, if you're discussing the topic of climate change, you'll need a couple of paragraphs in the body section to discuss why it's an issue, what can be done about it, and how should people work together to reduce the effects of climate change. In this particular example, you're going to have three body paragraphs total which should be between 4 - 6 sentences total. In the body paragraph(s), you need to make sure you're giving examples, statistics, or evidence to support the claims and ideas that you brought up in the introduction paragraph. The body paragraph(s) are the meat of your essay or article so make sure that it's convincing, detailed, and engaging to your audience. 

Lastly, you can finish up your essay or article with a 'conclusion' or concluding paragraph. The conclusion is similar to the introduction in that it is only going to be 3 - 4 sentences total and you're going to sum up the main points or arguments again that you want the readers of the essay to take from what you wrote. You'll want to restate your thesis from the beginning paragraph and make sure to leave your reader wanting more. It's important that you follow the introduction + body paragraph(s) + conclusion structure in order to have a truly great essay. The structure and formatting of an essay is really important so you have to make sure that it becomes a personal habit for yourself whenever you're writing in English. 


Writing tip: No Run-ON Sentences

(october 2017)

One of the key tips when it comes to writing in English is to limit or eliminate any run-on sentences. If you're writing a paragraph, essay, or an article, you'll want to double check yourself to make sure that there are no-run on sentences. 

A run-on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses, which are complete sentences are connected to each other improperly rather than being kept as separate sentences.

Complete sentences should only have one independent clause within them to make grammatical sense. Having a run-on sentence is a structural flaw in one's writing that will affect the flow of your paragraph or essay.

There's no issue in connecting two independent clauses together to be reflected in the same sentence but they must be connected with a conjunction word such as 'but, and, for, yet, nor, or, so.'  

Example: I wanted to go to the movies with Jake, but I had a lot of homework to finish last night.

Without a conjunction word in between the two independent clauses, you're likely to have a run-on sentence. Let us look at an example of a run-on sentence v. a regular sentence with the correct structure.

Example: My science professor graded my exam he gave me an A. (Run-on)

Example: My science professor graded my exam, and he gave me an A. 

What these examples show us is that it's important to have correct punctuation in order to avoid the mistake of having a run-on sentence. It's important to use a comma and a conjunction to connect the independent clauses together. In addition, the two independent clauses could be sentences on their own so you don't need to put them together if you do not want to. 

Example: My science professor graded my exam. He gave me an A.

As you can see above, by separating the clauses into independent sentences and making them shorter, you can also avoid having a run-on sentence. Correct punctuation, using conjunctions, and making simple sentences that express a singular thought are the best ways to avoid making a run-on sentence. 

If you want to be a better English writer, make sure you take this weekly tip to heart. It could mean the difference between a great essay or a poor one.