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How to write well in English

Writing is often the skill that language learners find hardest to develop. I think the main reason for this is that in our everyday lives, many of us don't need to be able to write in the foreign language we are learning. And if we do, it's usually things like emails and reports for work or essays for exams. In other words, most of the writing we do is 'serious' as opposed to 'fun' which can take away our motivation for practising! Learning to write well in English takes considerable time and practice, perhaps more so than for the other skills. In this post, I am going to share the 5 most important things you need to get right if you want to have good written English.

Spelling English spelling is notoriously difficult, even for native speakers! These days, however, you probably write on a computer which means you can use spell checking software! This should sound obvious, but it is always surprising how many people do not turn their spell checker to English before they send me their writing to check!

If you are working towards an exam, you do need to memorise spelling patterns as there will not be a spell checker on the computer you use in the exam. Make sure you include this as part of your vocabulary-learning routine. When learning vocabulary, you should be learning spelling, pronunciation and collocations all at the same time!

Learn the 'conventions of the task' Cambridge love talking about 'the conventions of the task' in the marking criteria for their writing exams. By this, they mean does this letter look like and read like a letter (rather than a report).

All writing genres have their own ways of presenting and organising information. For example, the language and organisation I expect in an email is different to the language and organisation I expect in a blog article. In addition, the level of formality can change considerably from one genre to another and it is very important to get this right.

A letter usually begins with a salutation and a quick introduction to the reason why we are writing. A letter can be formal or informal. A report generally begins with an introduction and often uses subheadings and bullet points as well as a more formal tone. These conventions are important to learn and use. You must be really clear about the conventions of the tasks you need to write! Find some examples online and observe how they are organised and what kind of register is used.

Learn chunks and phrases that are task-specific

This idea applies to learning vocabulary too. As an example - I am writing to complain about the cost of your venue - would be appropriate in a letter where as - complaints have been raised regarding the cost of the venue - would be suitable to a report.

To find useful phrases, look for examples of the kind of writing you need to do online. Then, read a couple of examples carefully and look for useful chunks and phrases. Copy these to a document that you can easily access next time you need to write.

Learn how to organise paragraphs

Probably the biggest problem I see in learner writing is weak organisation. Different languages organise their information in different ways and it is important that you learn how to do this in English if you want your writing to be polished and sophisticated.

You could start by learning how to write a PEEL paragraph. PEEL stands for Point, Explanation, Example and Link (to earlier or later information). It is a simple paragraph structure that is taught to children in the UK. Just learning this simple structure will enable you to write more clearly and logically, and this paragraph structure is adaptable enough to be used in different genres.

Always make a plan!

While you may not want to plan every email you send, when it comes to a quarterly review or a CPE essay, a good plan is essential. Without one, it is more difficult to know what to say and where to say it and you may spend more time writing. Despite this, learners often don't write plans and their writing suffers as a result. Your plan does not need to be long and complicated. Even just 5 minutes spent thinking about an introduction, the main points and the conclusion is enough to help you organise your thoughts so that the writing process is quicker and easier. I always make a rough plan of the points I want to cover in a blog post, or any other piece of writing. Usually I just bullet point the key ideas then use that as a basis for the writing.

If you follow these ideas, your writing should improve with time and practice!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about exam writing.

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