7 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Writing, like any other skill, is something you can get better with time and practice. Let’s learn how.

[Featured Image]: A woman with curly hair and wearing a white long sleeve shirt, writing in her notebook, while sitting in front of her computer.

Writing is often a day-to-day task in many professions spanning diverse industries, from sending emails to preparing presentations. Writing skills go beyond grammar and spelling. Accuracy, clarity, persuasiveness, and several other elements ensure your writing conveys the right message. 

What are writing skills?

Writing is a technical skill that allows you to communicate effectively through the written word. Though these may vary depending on your writing, several transcend categories. Writing skills can more specifically include:

  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

  • Spelling

  • Sentence construction

  • Structure

  • Research and accuracy

  • Clarity

  • Persuasiveness

Each of these components can influence the quality of writing.

How to improve your writing skills

Here are some strategies for developing your own written communication:

1. Review grammar and spelling basics.

Grammar and spelling form the foundation of good writing. Writing with proper grammar and spelling communicates your professionalism and attention to detail to your reader. It also makes your writing easier to understand.  

Knowing when and how to use less common punctuation, like colons, semicolons, and em-dashes, can unlock new ways to structure sentences and elevate your writing. 

If you want to strengthen your grammar and spelling, use a writing manual. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Pam Peters provides information on effective writing. You can find similar resources at your local library, bookstore, or online.

2. Read what you want to write.

Knowing what finished writing can look like can guide your own. Read humorous short stories if you’re trying to write a short story. If you want to write a book review, find a few and take note of how they’re structured. Pay attention to what makes them good and what you want to emulate (without plagiarising). If you’re working on a school assignment, you can ask your instructor for examples of successful pieces from past students.

Make reading a part of your everyday life to improve your writing. Try reading the news in the morning or picking up a book before bed. If you haven’t been a big reader in the past, start with topics you’re interested in or ask friends and family for recommendations. You’ll gradually understand what subjects, genres, and authors you enjoy.

3. Proofread.

While it’s tempting to submit work as soon as you’re done with it, build in some time to revisit what you’ve written to catch errors big and small. Here are a few proofreading tips to keep in mind:

  • Set your work aside before you edit. Try to step away from your writing for a day or more so you can return to it with fresh, more objective eyes. Crunched for time? Allotting 20 minutes between writing and proofreading can allow you to approach your work with renewed energy.

  • Start with easy fixes, then progress to bigger changes. Starting with easier changes can get you in the rhythm of proofreading, allow you to read through your work once more, and clear distractions so you can focus on bigger edits. Read through your work to catch misspellings, inconsistencies, and grammar errors. Then, address the larger problems with the structure or awkward transitions. 

  • If you could say something in fewer words, do so. Being unnecessarily wordy can cloud your message and confuse the reader. Avoid phrases that are redundant, repetitive, or obvious.

  • Read out loud. Reading aloud can help you find awkward phrases and areas where your writing doesn’t flow well. 

Should you use computer spelling and grammar tools?

Many computer-based tools—like spell check on your word processor or Grammarly— can help you find and fix simple spelling and grammar errors. These tools are imperfect but can help even the most seasoned writers avoid mistakes. Take note of any frequently highlighted words or phrases to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

4. Get feedback.

Whether you’re writing emails or essays, asking for feedback is a great way to see how someone else will interpret your text. Have an idea of what you’d like your proofreader to focus on—the structure, conclusion, persuasiveness of an argument, or otherwise. 

Approach a trusted friend, family member, co-worker, or instructor. If you’re a student, your school might also have a writing resource centre you can contact. 

Consider forming a writing group or joining a writing class. Find writing courses online, at your local community college, or independent writing workshops in your area.

5. Think about structure.

Grammar and spelling keep your writing consistent and legible, but the structure ensures the big ideas get across to the reader.

In many cases, forming an outline will help solidify the structure. An outline can clarify what you hope to convey in each section, allowing you to visualise the flow of your piece and surface parts that require more research or thought. 

The structure might look different depending on what you’re writing. An essay typically has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A fiction piece might follow the six-stage plot structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement. Choose what’s best for your purposes.

6. Write.

Keep writing to become a good writer. Here are a few ways you can get started:

  • Start a journal or a blog.

  • Join a class or writing workshop.

  • Practise free writing.

  • Write letters to friends or family.

  • Put together an opinion piece for your local newspaper or publication you like.

7. Know some common fixes.

Even if a text is grammatically correct, you can make it more dynamic and interesting with some polish. Here are some common ways you can sharpen your writing:

  • Choose strong verbs (for example, “sprinted,” “dashed,” or “bolted” instead of “ran”).

  • Avoid passive voice.

  • Vary sentence length.

  • Cut unnecessary words.

  • Replace cliches with original phrasing.

Getting started

Whether you’re a scientist, product manager, journalist, or entrepreneur, writing effectively will allow you to communicate your ideas to the world. You can use your writing to say exactly what you want through practice, exposure, and familiarising yourself with basic rules.

If you’re looking for a structured way to expand your writing skills, explore writing courses on Coursera. The first week is free.

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