5 Simple Ways to Make Your Writing More Powerful.
Whatever your subject, whether you’re writing an essay or a Personal Statement there are many techniques you can use to make your work far more compelling. While as a writer and English tutor I could go on for pages, from structure to the importance of knowing your audience, here are 5 essentials my students have taught me over more than eleven years of tutoring. It may seem counter intuitive but much of what I’m going to say involves keeping things simple. The overriding theme in all this is to say less. And whatever your specialism, you might even find that saying more with less becomes your life’s work.
- Be more concise – use sentence length to your advantage.
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Many students write sentences that are overly long. The first simple remedy is to see where you can split and disconnect your existing sentences. Perhaps what you’ve written in brackets is a whole sentence in itself? Can you split and change your sentence from the word ‘but’? A sentence can be as short as a word or two. How? Well, apart from that example, “My writing has very little to do with me at all. It’s the love of it. It burns”. Of course examiners are often looking for complexity, but above all they are yearning for directness and accuracy.
- Trim, shave, edit, carve out – however you do it, eliminate redundant words and phrases.
I’m torn between all the potential analogies here from being a hedge designer to a gem stone carver. Let’s imagine you’re a hairdresser with a rather patient and perfectionistic client who’s perfectly happy for you to keep brushing, checking, and repeatedly standing back for an overview before oh so carefully trimming any last remaining ends.
Is it really ‘absolutely essential’ or simply ‘essential’? Was he an ‘anonymous stranger’ or simply a stranger? Strangers are, by definition, anonymous. Your ‘final conclusion’ is more likely to be a ‘conclusion’ and you certainly don’t need to end a list of examples with ‘and etc.’. Etc. is fine, if necessary at all.
- Use metaphors carefully and creatively
The ‘cream of the crop’ probably originates from ‘la crème de la crème’ in French, though I’ve never known barley to produce milk. A metaphor can become a power zapping cliché when it dies and loses its meaning from over use. Sometimes it can be perfect. Do please be playful and use all your senses to come up with metaphors that most closely convey your ideas. Just yesterday I thanked someone, not from ‘the bottom of my heart’ but from the ‘heart of my bottom’ and they were most appreciative!
- Roget’s Thesaurus is your 209 year-old best friend
First created in 1805, I’m not simply recommending Dr Peter Mark Roget’s thesaurus to help you find an impressive sounding or new word (though there’s nothing necessarily wrong in the latter). Use it to find the right word, the perfect word, the word that’s closest to the essence of what you really mean. As with any amazing resource, use it skillfully and wisely.
There are other ways to make your writing more accurate too. You might well want to replace some of our most commonly used Anglo Saxon originated words such as ‘make’, ‘take’ or phrasal verbs with what is often a more precise, Latin based alternative. Do you mean ‘get’ or do you really mean to acquire, to inherit, to absorb or achieve? Not that I’m denying of course that there might be a time when get is the perfect word to use. Words with strong Germanic roots often have a very powerful earthiness to them.
- Take your writing seriously
Yes, I’m talking you and the very thing you’re writing right now, you literary genius! How can your work have any meaning for a reader until it has a palpable, resonant significance for you? Examiners repeatedly state that they’re looking for originality. You don’t have to be original for the sake of it but they are, certainly in the case of English Lit., interested in your own opinion when you can robustly defend your argument with evidence. Your work also has a far better chance of being original when it’s honest. You don’t even need to say ‘in my opinion’ or ‘as far as I’m concerned’; when your work is powerful enough this will be intrinsically clear in the writing itself.
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