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Tips to Improve Your Writing Skills

Learn how to improve your English writing skills with these tips and practices to help you prepare for the TOEFL iBT® test and university study.

Read and listen to academic articles and other material in your own language.

Take notes on what you read and hear.

  • Start out taking notes in your own language, and then take notes in English.
  • Summarize the points in complete English sentences.
  • Ask your teacher to review your writing and help you correct your errors.
  • Gradually decrease the time it takes you to read the material and write these summaries.
  • Practice typing on a QWERTY (standard English) keyboard, if you don't already use one.

Listen to recorded lectures in English. Practice finding the main points and taking notes.

  • Stop the recording every 20–30 seconds and write down the main points.
  • Replay the recording to check your notes and add information you may have missed.
  • Use your notes to write out these ideas in fuller, more complex English sentences.

Learn important phrases that help you figure out what is happening.

  • Determine who the source of the information is:
    • the speaker
    • someone else the speaker is talking about
  • Find out how certain the information is — might be versus is
  • Listen for words that indicate the main ideas being discussed:
    • point
    • factor
    • issue

Practice writing grammatically correct sentences and use appropriate words to summarize information from text and lecture material.

  • Each week, focus on a different aspect of English grammar. Complete grammatical exercises that reinforce this aspect.
  • Record news broadcasts and informational programs in English from the radio or TV.
    • Practice listening and writing grammatical sentences about what you hear the newscaster say.
    • Ask your teacher or a friend to review your work.

Learn to pay attention to differing ideas about a topic, and to find the similarities and differences of opinion.

  • Look at different articles about the same topic (for example, editorials). Make a list of the similarities and differences of opinion about the topic.
  • Take a controversial cultural issue, and write about how your culture understands it. Then, compare your ideas with someone from another culture.
  • Study expressions that are used to compare and contrast ideas:
    • in contrast
    • on the other hand
    • however
    • but
    • although
    • similarly
    • like
  • Do another writing task in which you explain the ways in which these points are related, the ways they are different, or the ways in which one article supports the other or makes you look at the other in a different way.

Read 1 lengthy article in English from a magazine or a website each day.

  • Outline the article.
  • Write a summary of it in English as quickly as you feel comfortable writing.
  • Ask your teacher to review your summary to see if your sentences are grammatically correct, and if your sentences and vocabulary have accurately expressed the ideas from the original source.
  • If you are writing many short, simple sentences, try to combine related ideas into more lengthy, complex sentences.

Read short but interesting academic articles in magazines and on websites in your own language each day.

  • Translate them into complete, accurate sentences in English.
  • Ask your teacher to review your translations for accuracy of content, vocabulary, and grammar.
  • Learn to recognize common errors you make so you can correct these on your own.

Practice combining information you have heard and read into a written summary.

  • Read a text before listening to a talk on the same subject. Make a list of the similarities and differences of the information presented.
  • Read an editorial on a subject. Then talk to someone about it and listen to what they say about the issue. Then, write a summary of the different views.

Get a book that teaches the different types of connecting words.

These expressions show the relationship between sentences and paragraphs. Know expressions that show:

  • reasons — because, since
  • results — as a result, so, therefore
  • examples — for example, such as
  • comparisons — in contrast, on the other hand
  • a process or list — first, second, then
  • conclusions — in conclusion, in summary

Practice English writing and typing every day.

  • Keep a journal — write your opinions about things you experience or topics in which you are interested.
    • Start out writing in your own language — this will help you get used to journal writing and build your confidence in your writing ability.
    • When you begin to feel comfortable keeping a journal, write it in English.

Pay attention to your grammar and sentence structure.

  • Study the basics of English grammar and develop your vocabulary.
  • Practice writing correct sentences in English — begin by writing simple sentences.
  • Make sure each sentence has a subject and a verb, and that the subject agrees with the verb.
    • The student likes …; The students like
  • Take 2 of your sentences and practice combining them.
  • Re-read what you wrote — look for and correct mistakes.

Study the organization of good paragraphs and essays.

A good paragraph discusses 1 main idea. This idea is usually included in the first sentence, which is called the topic sentence. Each paragraph should discuss 1 aspect of the main idea of the essay.

  • Write paragraphs in English that focus on 1 main idea and contain several complete sentences that explain or support that idea.
  • Ask your teacher to review your paragraphs for correctness.
  • Think about who will be reading your writing. In some situations, you need to write in a formal manner and your sentence structure, vocabulary use and general style should reflect that.
  • Read in English as much as you can — this will help you recognize good writing styles.

Pay attention to how ideas support a position.

Practice generating ideas to support a position.

  • Read articles and essays that express opinions about an issue — for example, a social, environmental or educational issue.
    • Identify the writer's opinion or opinions.
    • Notice how the writer addresses possible objections to the opinion, if they are present.
    • Outline the article and note the ways the writer supports the ideas.
  • Write a response in English to the article or essay, taking the opposite viewpoint.
    • Outline your response.
    • Note the methods you use to support your ideas.
  • Re-read what you have written.
    • Make sure your supporting ideas are clearly related to your main point.
    • Note what methods you use to develop each of your supporting points.
    • Make sure you have developed each of your points in detail. Is there anything more you could have said to strengthen your points?

Pay attention to how you organize ideas.

Think about how a reader who isn't familiar with your topic is going to be able to follow the information you want to present.

  • Spend time planning and thinking about how to organize your ideas. Your reader should be able to understand how your essay is organized.
  • Have a friend or teacher outline your essay so you can see if others can recognize how you present and explain your ideas.
  • Make sure you are using the right words to connect your ideas and supporting information in the way you want your reader to understand them.
    • Remember that your reader doesn't know what you know or what you intend. Is there any way your reader might misunderstand? If so, consider revising how you present and explain your ideas.
    • Ask your teacher to check your use of topic sentences, paragraphs, and connecting words, phrases and sentences. Did you use these correctly and effectively?

Continue improving your English writing ability.

  • Create your own dictionary of English words.
  • Use those words in your own writing.
  • Try writing longer and more complex sentences.
  • Focus on appropriate sentence formation and accurate word choice.