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Pride for Red D...


Pride for Red D...

I am thinking of going back to school, and my weakness in the past has been my writing (essays and the like.) What is the best way to improve one's writing ?

[Edited to fix typo in thread title - Michelle]

[ 19 October 2008: Message edited by: Michelle ]

martin dufresne


Maysie Maysie's picture

Pride for RD: I have two suggestions for improving your writing, both very common sense, and time consuming.

The first is to write! And re-write, and get others to read it and give suggestions, helpful suggestions, not just "That was great" or "That didn't make sense".

The second is to read, especially material in the style and format of what you'll be writing: fiction, non-fiction, 1000 words, 2000 words, etc.

I've recently begun teaching a required English class to college students, and aside from basic grammar brush-ups, those two tips will go far.

For essays there are certain standard formats (Intro, Body, Conclusion) that most places of higher education require. Basically, learn them and write within their frameworks. Still lots of room for creativity.

What subject(s) are you interested in? Will the courses require a lot of writing/research? And a belated good for you for deciding to go back to school, an often intimidating thing to do.


Hope you don't mind me fixing the typo in your thread title, PFRD. I just didn't want to leave you open to further spelling flames.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

What bcg said. 100%

The best book about writing clearly is without a doubt [url=http://www.bartleby.com/141/]Strunk & White's [i]Elements of Style[/i][/url]. It's brief, crystal clear and guaranteed to improve your writing. Although I linked to an online copy, it pays to have your own tree-based book, and it's only about four or five bucks new, and used copies abound. It's absolutely essential.

If you are going back to school, learning to write is part of the process. In my experience, first-year college and university students have terrible writing across the board. I'm not sure what level of education you're planning to return to, PoRD, but I don't think you should worry too much. There are also always loads of freelance student proofreaders who could help you if your particularly worried for modest fees. They advertise anywhere on campus.

Pride for Red D...

That's okay Michelle, I just noticed it as well ! [img]redface.gif" border="0[/img] My typing has always been terrible.

I would be getting a graduate degree and becoming an archivist- although I'm waiting for my transcript from Concordia as I'm not certain I meet the requirements- hopefully if I don't there's a short way to dance around that. Alternately, I'd get a women's degree with a specialization in Canadian women's history- this would mean moving out of Quebec though, then moving back to get an MA. That would be another 7 years of my life, although I already have some women's courses and history courses, so maybe that could be shortened. This is all somewhat long term right now (1 -2 years as I need cash), but I want to do what I need to succeed starting now- why wait to do something I see as important ?

I know the formula of intro, thesis, body, conclusion and the basic rules, which is the easy part, but always had problems keeping my ball rolling, and keeping things simple, it's hard to know how to start or end, and if one runs out ideas and is 1 thousand words short, what info to put in as being absolutely relevant (I was writing history, no shortage of facts sometimes and such fascinating people and events, I just wanted to share) etc. I've always been better at expressing myself vocally than written.
As for practise I did just join Amnesty international, there's rabble [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img] , and other things I can think of. Getting blog just crossed my mind and I saw an add in the municipal paper the other day asking for letters, etc. I certainly have no shortage of opinions.

[ 19 October 2008: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]

[ 19 October 2008: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]


What Catchfire said. The Elements of Style is a useful resource for picking up tips on clarity, conciseness, and brevity. Personally, I could do with a more thorough read of the copy that I have.

ETA: Case in point would be my last sentence. What I should have said is:

The copy that I possess could do with a more thorough reading. Or more to the point,

I could put some face time with my own copy of this book to good use.

[ 19 October 2008: Message edited by: Slumberjack ]


Why can't you do a specialisation in Canadian women's history in Quйbec? Though it would be more likely to be through a history degree - by "women's" degree, I presume you mean women's studies.

Also read through your good old Fowler's.

Pride for Red D...

I already have a history degree, and I don't know of any women's history programs in Quebec- unless they're at the French ones, but then in terms of language I'd be even worse off !.
I will pick up the suggested books at my library and go through the link thoroughly- and definitely start applying them as soon as possible. I should probably also pull out my old essays as well.

Pride for Red D...

Stargazer, is there any way I can download all those?

Polly B Polly B's picture

If you've always been better at expressing yourself vocally, record it. Then rough in your writing from that - this was one of my Creative Writing assignments way back when and it was a total eye opener.

edited because I forget what I was doing in college in the 80's, go figger

[ 19 October 2008: Message edited by: Polly Brandybuck ]



Borrow styles you like and make them your own.

Don't write essays. If you want to write for a more mainstream audience, so to speak, essays will not serve you well.

That's not meant to denigrate academic writing, and I'm not saying "dumb it down." But, personally, I don't like reading or writing essays.

Don't get frustrated and have fun. Writing should be fun.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Why would you tell someone thinking about returning to university not to write essays?

PfRD, if you already have an undergraduate degree, you should be able to get a second one in two years or less. If all you need to do is buck up on requirements and the degree isn't necessary, you can do it in even less. Anyway, it sounds like a very exciting time for you. It takes a lot of guts to go back to school if you've been out for a while. Good luck!


I recommend stphen king on writing and pay attention to the section on grammer. lol ooh those spelling and ypos. [img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]


Yes, certainly, going to university for a BA will likely mean writing essays. I misread the OP.


Sorry for the late response Red Delores. I had a look around the site and I think the best way is to either save the webpage or to copy and paste the information into word and then save it.

Hope this helps. It looks like an amazing resource.



Alternately, I'd get a women's degree with a specialization in Canadian women's history...

Concordia has separate degrees for women?

If you want to write essays, write essays. They're among my favourite forms of writing; there's nothing like reading a good polemic in the morning.

Strunk & White is over-rated. What you really want to consult is Sheridan Baker's [i]The Practical Stylist[/i].

As has already been suggested, reading a lot of other people's writing is one of the best ways to learn how it's done.


Lynn Quitman Troyka's 'The Handbook for Writers' is an excellent resource for an writer at any level of competence.

A composition and grammar course is always good too.


Of course, there is typo in my first reply, which sadly does not add to the value of my recommendation. lol.

But it is a good reference book! [img]redface.gif" border="0[/img] )

Pride for Red D...

I just looked around Mcgill's website, and they have a qualifying year program !So I'd bone up on Canadian women's history.Canadian history too- context is important. I would get to go to school in Montreal, and I live right by the train, so easy peasy to get down town ! Still missing those transcripts though, so I'll have to call Concordia.

I'm off to the Library to get Strunk & White as they do not have the other titles mentioned. Thank you !

[ 25 October 2008: Message edited by: Pride for Red Dolores ]