Why Good Writing Matters

When a writer gets good at her craft, she can make it seem easy—almost effortless—to write elegant and well-thought-out prose. But writing is never as easy as it seems when you read a polished piece of work. Beneath the surface is a hidden history of struggle, false starts and dead ends, inarticulate and uncertain ideas laboriously worked into clear, lucid, sometimes lovely prose.

Good writing, like any craft, is the product of training, practice, and persistence. That can be discouraging, but it should also encourage you: if you persist, if you work, if you try, you will become a better writer, a good writer, able to express your thoughts with elegance and clarity.

10 Powerful Ways to End Your Article

These are rules of thumb, not commandments. Break them when you think you should, but follow them most of the time.

1. Be playful. Don’t lock yourself into a particular argument too quickly. As you think and develop your ideas, expect them to change and go in directions you hadn’t anticipated. Expect to be surprised by what you say.
2. Build your thesis on a strong verb. Try to sum up your argument in one clear, active sentence.
3. Develop a plain style characterized by active verbs and straightforward syntax. Avoid big words, being verbs, the passive voice, nominalizations, and jargon..
4. Be sensitive to the rhythm of your sentences. Balance long against short, fast against slow, general against specific.
5. Pay close attention to the beginnings and ends of paragraphs. These are natural emphasis points.
6. Remember that an argument unfolds in steps. In essays the natural way to express these steps is in paragraphs (not to say that each logical unit = one paragraph). Make sure your paragraph structure is in sync with your argument.
7. When you’re done with the draft, compare your initial claim with what you actually end up arguing over the course of the essay. If your claim and the essay itself don’t quite fit, figure out how to reconcile them. You may have strayed from the right path—or you may have thought up a better approach. Make sure to check back with the original assignment—is your essay in tune with it?
8. Consider your evidence. Have you ended up using the best source material? Have you pruned quotations so as to use only the most effective passages? Have you woven your quotes into your paper? Have you followed the formatting requirements for your course and field?
9. Now that you’re done, polish your beginning and ending. Fast start and strong ending.
10.When you (think you) are done, spell-check the document. Also print out a draft and read it, pencil in hand, expecting to find mistakes. You’ll find them.

Why it matters

In the end, other people’s rules and advice can only do so much. Over the long term the best thing you can do to become a better writer is to read a lot and develop your own judgment and skill. Read stories, newspaper and magazine articles, novels, poetry, bureaucratic forms, email, online stuff, magazine ads, cereal boxes, movie reviews, whatever. You’ll find lots of good writing, and lots of bad writing—and once you have a bit of a critical eye you can learn useful lessons from everything you encounter.

What about one of the staples of college life, textbooks? Are they useful? Actually, whatever the subject, in terms of writing textbooks tend to give you lessons in what not to do, since they are usually written by committee in as inoffensive and bland a style as possible. Textbooks also become, with each new piecemeal revision (there are tremendous competitive pressures to revise every year), ever more shapeless heaps of words. For better models, ask your teachers to recommend their favorite books in their fields. Eventually, you should build a storehouse of good writing that you can draw on regularly.

Above all, just read, read, read. Learn to stop worrying and just love words. In the end, write for yourself—write to think, write to learn, write to become a wiser and better person.

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