Catherine Enos – Opinions editor
As an editor for a newspaper and as a senior who has peer-edited plenty of papers, I witness a great deal of good writing– as well as fair amounts of bad writing. Writing is clearly an important skill to have. Additionally, it’s a requirement to pass a writing class for all students at Rhode Island College. So it’s concerning when you read what someone has written and it has no structure or central argument. To become a better writer, there are a few things people can do:
Know your weaknesses.
Everyone is bad at something when it comes to writing. Some people are bad at spelling, others are bad with structure, and so on. The important thing is that you know what mistakes you make and have made so that you can avoid them in the future.
Swap papers with a friend.
Offer to read your friend’s paper (one you trust and think is a proficient writer) to provide criticism in exchange that they do the same with your paper. This allows you to see how other people, in a similar situation as you, write and format their papers. In addition, maybe they’ll point out an error you missed or offer constructive criticism– which is never a bad thing.
Go to the writing center.
RIC is great in offering students a center where strong writers are employed for the sole purpose of helping you become a strong writer yourself: the writing center. Even if your writing is perfect (which is unlikely), you have nothing to lose by taking advantage of what your tuition pays for.
By reading more, you not only learn new things, but you also build a stronger vocabulary. On top of that, you can look at the structure of a good piece for some insight on how you should write. If you’re reading a book, an article or a magazine from a well-known publisher, the writing has probably gone through a rigorous editing process. Therefore, most of these works will show you what strongly-structured writing looks like.
Start with an outline.
Outlines can be annoying, but they help you to make sure that your paper stays structured. What’s important is that you have basic benchmark structures: an introduction, a main argument/thesis, support for that argument, and a conclusion.
A good writer adapts to change and accepts constructive criticism. For example, the format of many newspapers (AP format) elicits shorter, briefer paragraphs (a paragraph may be one or two sentences)– this is obviously not the case in academic papers. When I first joined the Anchor as a writer, I noticed that professors were commenting on my papers that my paragraphs were too short. Instead of brushing it off with an “I-write-for-a-newspaper” know-everything attitude, I addressed the issue and made sure I wasn’t writing short paragraphs.