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If you’re here, you’re probably looking to improve your writing. Whether you’re crafting an admissions essay or preparing for a standardized test, such as the writing section of the ACT, improving your writing is a very worthy goal.
Even if you’ve already studied all the necessary content and done practice writing tests, putting your knowledge to paper is not always a simple task.
But you don’t have to lose points due to difficulties communicating through the written word. Remember that most standardized tests say that they are not marking your writing per se, but that they are looking for clarity of thought. This is because they know that good writing is impossible if you do not clearly understand what you are trying to say.
Improving your writing is often as simple as improving your clarity. Since writing and clarity go hand in hand, a reader can understand your ideas and arguments only if you’ve communicated them effectively on the page. By focusing on attaining correct, cohesive, and convincing writing—that is, the three Cs of writing—you can achieve clarity and thus improve your writing.
Writing errors inherently compromise clarity. Grammar and spelling errors can negatively affect your writing, your clarity, and, ultimately, your score. Graders work fast, and while you likely won’t lose marks for a few grammar mistakes, testers might find themselves concentrating more on errors than on the content.
Therefore, revision is crucial. Set aside some time to reduce the number and severity of errors in your writing. This includes catching spelling and grammar errors, reducing repetition, ensuring smooth transitions between thoughts, and more. If you find yourself struggling to grasp English mechanics, check out The Student’s Guide to Grammar and Punctuation.
Ensuring clarity through correctness also involves attention to language. Here, simplicity is key. Simple sentences are better than long, convoluted ones. This is also true for vocabulary; don’t use a long word just for the sake of sounding smarter.
Finally, pay attention to voice. For example, it’s generally best to use the active voice (e.g., “Shakespeare wrote Hamlet“) and avoid the passive voice (e.g., “Hamlet was written by Shakespeare”).
Writing without good structure is often unclear and disjointed. Therefore, any long or essay-style answers require a clear structure. The general structure of these is as follows: an introduction (with your thesis), a body (with your arguments and evidence), and then a conclusion (to sum up the main points).
On a larger scale, focus on splitting up your paragraphs logically by argument. Be sure to use transitions throughout to present clear connections between each paragraph. On a smaller scale, mold each paragraph to follow the same clear structure as the full piece, in which the topic sentence acts as an introduction, the middle sentences as a body, and the final sentence as a conclusion.
Don’t forget to keep referring back to your thesis. Each sentence should be related to it in some way, either in giving background information for the thesis, explaining your perspective on it, proving it, or summarizing it. Be careful not to get sidetracked or lose focus. If you do, don’t be afraid to cut sentences or reframe your argument; your writing will benefit from this in the long run.
Your ideas will be unclear if they are not developed to explain your intended meaning or supported to back up your claims. Accordingly, it’s not only important to practice the conventions of writing and the structure of your writing but also to practice developing the content of your writing. Along with being correct and cohesive, you’ll have to be convincing to achieve good writing and thus good scores.
Reinforcing your thesis with all the relevant evidence and examples you can conjure will allow you to be convincing, so place emphasis on giving concrete examples and evidence throughout. That is, reason your thoughts well and be convincing in your reasoning. A reader should never question your stance, so be sure to acknowledge counterarguments and address them appropriately when necessary. Backing up your chosen argument in your writing will help sell it to the reader, and addressing counterarguments will help you remain convincing even if the answer is not necessarily black and white.
While it’s true that standardized tests should grade your thoughts, knowledge, and practice, demonstrating the depth and breadth of these facets on paper requires good writing skills. Concentrating on writing a correct, cohesive, and convincing essay—that is, practicing and executing the three Cs of writing—is a good place to start to improve your writing and your writing scores.
Jes Gonzalez is a magician and a mechanic; that is to say, she creates pieces of writing from thin air to share as a writer, and she cleans up the rust and grease of other pieces of writing as an editor at Scribendi.com. When Jes isn’t conjuring or maintaining sentences, she’s devouring them, always hungry for more words. Connect with Scribendi on Facebook or Twitter today!