How To Improve Your Writing Skills

Writing is a serious business when its impact is important. Regardless of your academic level, career or occupation, everyone has to write to communicate with others, whether it is a friendly email, a formal business memo, a report, a job application, a press release or a message of condolence.

If you are still developing your English skills, it is necessary you also develop or improve your writing skill. The latter can determine if you receive the desired reaction from your reader. Did you inform, persuade, calm or entertain as you hoped? The effectiveness of your communication can affect your daily life and your life course outcomes. So, miscommunication can have serious consequences and unintended effects.

There are some techniques that you can use to help improve your writing skills and take you to the next level. This page covers nominalisation, active/passive voice, and using the third person.

How To Improve Your Writing Skills

Nominalisation:

This refers to the process of changing verbs (or other parts of speech) into nouns. This process can be effective in your writing, as it not only helps you reach the point you were making quicker but also helps you with paraphrasing and creating headings as well if needed.

Process of nominalisation:

  1. Identify the verb (or verb phrase) in the sentence
  2. Change the verb into a noun (or noun phrase)
  3. Reconstruct the sentence using the noun, instead of the verb. Sometimes additional information is needed to complete the sentence.
Example
Take a look at the following sentence:

  • The job was completed by junior staff.
    Was completed = verb phrase.

The noun phrase we can use here instead could be = The completion of

Now, let’s reconstruct the sentence:

  • The completion of the assignment by junior staff…

Here, the sentence is not complete as it still requires a verb. However, by doing this, you can bring in extra information which you could not have done in the first example.

You can usually spot nominalisation when we need to use ‘of’ after the noun, and many nouns will end with the suffixes -ion, -ness, -ment. However, be careful of using too much nominalisation in your writing. Although this technique can be handy in some situations, overusing it can result in your writing becoming unnecessarily complicated and less explicit.

 

Active vs passive voice:

Active voice means that the subject comes first in the sentence and therefore is the most important thing in the sentence. For example, I ate the biscuit. ‘I’ is the most important part of the sentence here, because it is about ‘who’ ate the biscuit. Therefore, ‘I’ comes first.

Passive voice means that the action in the sentence is the most important and the subject is not important or doesn’t belong in the sentence. For example, The biscuit was eaten (by me). The fact that the biscuit was eaten is the most important part of this sentence, and who ate it is not relevant or important, that’s why ‘by me’ is in parentheses because it can be included if needed.

Passive voice

You use the passive voice:

  • to avoid using informal personal pronouns (I, we, you)

It will be argued that… (instead of I will argue that…)

  • when the ‘doers’ of the action are not important, or you don’t want to mention them:

e.g. The buildings were built in 1950.

A mistake was made.

  • to describe a process

e.g. The dry ingredients are mixed together.

A word of caution:

  • Overuse of the passive voice can sometimes make your writing ‘wordy’, vague, and more difficult to read. Try to keep a balance of active and passive voice in your academic writing.
  • When reporting on research especially; be sure to include some active voice.

 

Using third person:

Using third-person refers to using either proper nouns or pronouns to refer to the subject in a sentence. It is usually recommended to stick to the third person in academic writing as it helps you to support your argument using credible sources, rather than from your own position.

Consider the two sentences below:

  • Many researchers believe that looking after the community’s mental health is important.
  • I think that looking after the community’s mental health is important.

The first sentence is more appropriate for academic writing as it not only points to research that supports the argument made, it doesn’t come across as a personal opinion. Check out the examples in the table below for more ways to maintain a third person in your academic writing.

First or second person  Third-person
In this essay I will discuss… This essay will discuss…
When you have finished the task… When the task is finished…
I strongly agree that this is a valid point. This is a valid point.
If you’ve never written an essay before these techniques may help. These techniques may help those who have never written an essay before.

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