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The 5 Most Common Mistakes You Should Avoid When Writing

 

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While writing, you will likely make mistakes. But, do not panic because it is typical for many. However, some issues are more common, critical and oft-repeated than others.

It is particularly true for novice writers in undergraduate studies although I have also seen graduate students making these mistakes. However, this post is intended for college students and beginners in writing.

Here are the five most common mistakes you need to avoid while writing.

  1. Long Sentences

It is an assumption that good writing is composed of long sentences. Instead, write short sentences because they are easier to follow. But, many love to write long sentences. It is understandable for sometimes it is unavoidable, but most often it can be avoided.

Here is a simple definition of the sentence. It comprises a subject and a predicate to make a complete sense. I am reading, or I am reading a book are both complete sentences.

Expanding on the first sentence, here is an example of a lengthy sentence.

I am reading a book which my father gifted me on my birthday and it is very interesting because the book talks about some issues that I really want to know more about.

It is a 33-word long sentence. But hold on, I have seen horrifying ones. One of my students once wrote an 88-word long sentence.

You need to avoid such sentences. Why take the risk and trouble when there is a better way to write the same in two short and compelling sentences.

I am reading a book that my father gave me on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting and talks about issues that I really want to know more about.

  1. Verbosity

Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Good writing is brief and to the point. It does not use ten words in a sentence where eight or less work just fine, or even better. It avoids using countless adjectives in a sentence when only one perfectly does the job.

It is OK to use jargon for things that don’t have another definition or can not be described otherwise but overusing it also makes you sound pretentious.

Remember, superfluousness is a sign of poor writing.

Examine the short paragraph above for unnecessary words which do not add any meaning to the sentence. Also, these are words which do not change the meaning either if you omit them.

I am reading a book that my father gave me on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting and talks about issues that I really want to know more about.

Read the sentence again without the crossed words. The paragraph will still hold the same meaning.

  1. Poor Punctuation

In Keys for Writers, Raimes and Miller-Cochran write, “Punctuation serves to regulate the flow of information through a sentence, showing readers how to read your ideas.” Commas, apostrophes, semicolons and colons, etc. are some examples of punctuation.

But, many don’t understand or take the accurate use of punctuation for granted.

A deeper problem occurs when the punctuation is absent or its use is incorrect use; it is impossible to convey the intended message to the reader.  Read the following without punctuation signals a reader usually expects.

Although Robert is an intelligent student he could not get into Harvard for his undergraduate studies. The admission committee said we are sorry to inform you about this news because you did not fill out the application accurately.

The paragraph above does not impede the meaning, but conventional punctuation and mechanics clarify the sense further.

Although Robert is an intelligent student, he could not get into Harvard for his undergraduate studies. The admission committee said, “We are sorry to inform you about this news because you did not fill out the application form accurately.”

  1. Repetitiveness

This problem is somewhat similar to verbosity, but slightly distinct because some writers tend to not only use extra words or repeat words but also duplicate ideas. Good writers do not reproduce either because redundant writing becomes boring. The reader loses interest in it which is the worst for a writer.

Look at this example if you don’t want it to happen to your writing.

I am reading a book. I got it as a gift from my father on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting. The book talks about issues that I really want to know more about.

I” is an example of repetitiveness here. A better way to write it is the way stated previously.

I am reading a book. My father gifted it to me on my birthday. I like it because it is very interesting. The book talks about issues that I really want to know more about.

I” is used two times and not consecutively. Only a minuscule change of “my” made a big difference.

  1. Lack of Specificity

Good writing does not beat about the bush, but it is specific and to the point. It deals with a particular subject and doesn’t get into generalizations. The moment it generalizes, writing loses its focus, rhythm and goal.

Most often when I review personal statements of students for college or university admissions, I find generalizations such as “After returning to my country, I will solve many of its problems.” This statement is an example of extremely over-generalized writing.

It has two problems. One, you can’t solve “many problems” because they are huge. Two, it is not clear to the reader what those issues are. And this is what I mean by writing losing its focus and goal precisely.

 

Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at aslam.kakar@rutgers.edu or @aslam_Kakar

 

3 Common Myths about Writing, Debunked

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Many believe writing is a natural gift you acquire at birth, and it is impossible to develop and realize it on your own. They say since it is an inborn skill, very lucky few have it. Others think writing is a privilege that only the rich with resources and proper education can afford. But, the truth is anyone can be a writer because these are myths, not facts:

  • Writing is a natural gift
  • It is a privilege of the rich 
  • You need to be well-educated to be a writer 

Let us debunk them one by one here.

  1. Writing is a natural gift

The ability to write is not a gift of nature given for free, but a skill that anyone can acquire and improve upon. Some, especially poets, may have a better predisposition towards it, but to be a writer is to write and write regularly. No writer has their stories revealed to them in full. There is a process typical of writing and every writer. Finding a comfortable place and starting to write is a struggle. Everyone is afraid of the blank page, loneliness and distractions. Each one battles with gathering and penning down their thoughts.

Every writer feels disappointed and heartbroken occasionally at having a writer’s block. Every single one undergoes the arduous process of choosing fitting words and writing meaningful sentences. All writers edit and, sometimes, do it countless times. Of course, the more you write, the better you get at it, but there will be challenges when you start a piece afresh. But, the problem is that many people do not understand or misunderstand this process. Hence, they misattribute years or decades of hard work behind writing to nature’s gift. It is not. Write and acquire the skill.

  1. It is a privilege of the rich 

People tend to believe that writing is a privilege of the rich few because they have the money, time and plenty of other resources to afford it. The truth is you do not need to be wealthy to be able to write because many of the affluent are not writers. Instead, some of the world’s best writers were born poor.  Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher and writer, was seven when his mother died. He was a young man when his father died. Hoffer worked in restaurants and other odd jobs for over two decades. He is just one example of the countless other prolific writers who had no relation to riches but became the world’s famous writers.

Having books, libraries, teachers and other sources at your disposal is critical to guide your writing, but they are not sufficient in themselves. You still have to make an effort to pick up the book to read and a pen and notebook to write. You have to have a purpose, passion, inspiration and commitment to be a writer. Without this desire, writing is an elusive and almost an impossible skill to master, regardless of your background and access to means.

  1. You need to be well-educated to be a writer

Education and degrees are not a guarantee for learning how to write professionally because many well-educated people are not writers. Not even good schools equip you with the skill of writing unless you have a personal drive to excel at it. Writing assignments or attempting exams at school once in a while is undoubtedly helpful but not enough if you aim to become a competent writer. Don’t get me wrong. A good education does enable people with essential reading and writing literacy skills, but to become a skillful writer you need passion and vision in addition to knowledge.

To be a writer is to read and learn the language, in which you want to write, well. You need to learn the writing techniques and skills and practice them regularly. Start with these two books: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann. Consult these two previous posts from this blog: You need to Do 9 Things to be a Writer and 5 Essential Lessons in Writing for Beginners. It is not education per se, but your passion and investment that are of significant value to writing. Hoffer did not get a formal education and was instead self-educated, but he wrote ten books. His first book, The True Believer, which I am currently reading, is famous for his classic. Next time you feel discouraged because you did not attend a renowned school to become a writer, remember that your level or kind of education should help, not prevent you from becoming a writer.

 

Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at aslam.kakar@rutgers.edu or @aslam_Kakar

 

5 Essential Lessons in Writing for Beginners

 

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Writing for beginners is a big concern and a challenge because I once faced it. They worry about starting to put words together. The fear is not just about writing words in sentences but doing it in a way that creates some meaning. The inability to develop clarity and purpose discourages many, and it is little wonder that they never come back to writing again.

However, the bad news is this means only more difficulties because the written word is central to most forms of human activity now. Colleges, universities, banks, NGOs and countless other professional institutions require from its members, at least, some elementary knowledge and skills in writing. Act as small and simple as sending a phone text message, or an email demands basic literacy in writing.

So, instead of giving up on it, it is important to realize that there are solutions to this problem.

For the past decade, I have learned and practiced the following lessons and have greatly benefited from them. I hope some of these steps will help you kickstart your writing.

Learn and practice the following five lessons every day.

  1. Read Every Day

Reading is an essential first step to writing. Read as much as you can, and read every day. Or read at least a few pages a day. While reading, develop a keen mind. Observe the skills of other writers. Notice their use of words and construction of sentences. Pay attention to how they connect ideas and bring coherence and organization in them. Look at their paragraphs. What makes one section distinct from another? How does the transition take place from one thought to the other? What words do authors use for the transformation? The list of things to watch is endless. You may be curious about ideas of your interest, which is fine. However, be very attentive to these fundamental details. Imitate, not copy, these skills. Apply them to your writing, and always give credit to a writer when you quote them word for word or use their work as a reference.

  1. Master Basic Grammar Skills

Writing without the correct knowledge and use of grammar is like building a house without bricks. Surely, one can not but agree with E. B. White that “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” However, White’s quote is nonetheless a perfect example of the correct use of grammar. The rule is that you have to know the rules of grammar first to break them. The most essential and necessary skill in order is the parts of speech. They include the most commonly used verb, noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition, interjection and conjunction. I will leave the details for you to find out but start with the following two books, English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy and English Grammar and Composition by Wren and Martin, for high schoolers. Another most advised and a little-advanced book is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, E. B. White. Consult the first two before the third one.

  1. Write but Start with a Sentence First

All writing starts with the construction of a single sentence. Write your first sentence. Do not feel overwhelmed by the thought of long articles, long texts and thick volumes of books. They all started with a single sentence once. Of course, writing gets more and more complicated to handle when you write another sentence, the next and the next to that. Then you have many thoughts, and here is where writing for beginners becomes especially challenging because they lose focus on conveying their message with clarity and meaningfulness.

There is one trick that helped me get over this challenge when I was struggling with it. And here it is: If you know the goal you want to accomplish with a sentence, it is most likely that you will convey a better meaning than when you have little idea about what you want to do with the sentence. The same goes for connections between sentences. Also, this is precisely how you attain flow and coherence in your writing in general. Do not, likewise, forget that constructing sentences give you the excellent opportunity to practice word and grammar skills.

  1. After Sentence, Write a Paragraph

Once you learn sentence construction and can write clear and meaningful sentences, you are ready for paragraph writing. Think about a new paragraph, usually, as a new sentence with its distinct idea, words, intent and objective, but also remember that, just like between sentences, there is always some sort of connection between paragraphs. The reason for writing text in sections or paragraphs is to break down information to make it easier for the human mind to follow. We tend to feel overwhelmed by long texts with no empty spaces between them. Another reason for paragraph writing is introducing new ideas in new sections.

  1. Learn the Correct Use of Words

My English teacher in college once said, “worry over nothing but words.” But, many overlook this fact. The right use of words is essential for proper writing. Without knowing their precise meaning, the use of words ends up out of context only to distort the purpose of a sentence. For instance, there is a big difference between the words pursue and persuade. The former means to follow and the latter to encourage or convince. If you doubt the sense of a word, look up its definition in the dictionary. I use Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary for many reasons. It defines a word with its different meanings, enlists phrasal verbs associated with the word and gives examples of sentences. When you search a word, make sure you briefly go over its different connotations and read sentence examples.

Read and enjoy the post, and share it with your friends. I would also like to know your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at aslam.kakar@rutgers.edu or @aslam_Kakar

 

 

You Need to Do 9 Things to be a Writer

Aslam Kakar

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Photo Credit: Cheryl Sutton https://studybreaks.com/2017/11/14/nanowrimo-step-up-your-writing-game/

Writing is one of the most challenging skills to learn. Unlike learning to ride a bike or drive a car, knowing how to write is a subtle art. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to master it. But the good news is that if one commits to it, learning how to write is entirely attainable. Nine steps have helped me improve my writing over the years.

Here they are.

  1. Write

Colum McCann says, “Keep your arse in the chair and write.” Write every day. Write about anything. Natalie Goldberg says, “Write the worse junk in the world.” Fill notebooks with the junk. Tear them apart later if you don’t like to keep them, but fill them first. Write about people on the train. Write about how the old woman to your right looks. Write about the smell of bathroom in the subway. Write about the tall guy who just passed by your seat. Give yourself time. An hour or half but don’t miss to write.

  1. Write More

If you want to be a writer, an hour is, of course, not enough. Write more. Initially, it is okay if you write for shorter periods but you have to give yourself more time once you establish the initial practice. Begin writing every day. Increase an hour to two or more. Some writers suggest writing a thousand words every day. Others suggest a specific number, say ten or fifteen, of pages every day.

  1. Write Even More

The more you write, the better. If you want to write a book, for instance, two to three hours may not work. Writing requires discipline and serious hard work. You will have to spend many many hours every day, especially when you are in the final phase of finishing a substantial writing project.

  1. Write When You Want to Write

There will be moments when you will love to write. Take advantage of such moments. Write more and more. Many writers suggest keeping a notebook and a pen at all times. Take notes of ideas that come to your mind because it is difficult to remember everything given the unpredictability of our memory. Keeping a notebook and a pen or a smartphone is a useful strategy to record critical ideas amid hundreds of thousands of random impressions that visit our mind every minute of the day. 

  1. Write When You Don’t Want to Write

Most of us find it difficult to be consistent in writing. We may write but very inconsistently. Successful writers write every day. They write even when they don’t want to write because there is no easy, magical way to be a good writer. The only way to be a writer is to sit and write. You will see the difference soon than you think. But this only means: Keep writing more.

  1. Believe that You Can Write

Debunk the myths about the art of writing. Writing is not a gift of nature, and neither is it the property of a privileged few. Some among us may be good at it, but writing can, nevertheless, be learned and mastered almost by anyone who is willing to learn and practice the skill. I could not write a paragraph correctly and coherently until I was twenty. It took me a decade of active and passive learning and practice to write. And now I am here to teach how to write.

  1. You are almost always Young to write

Many people, especially the youth, ask when is the right time to start to write. The answer is: You are almost always young to write. It is true that some people are fortunate enough to start early, but that does not mean those who start late can not learn to write. However, it is beneficial if one can start it as early as possible. Colum writes that you can write if you are in your teens. You can also write if you are in your fifties, given you have the writing toolbox.

  1. Research, Read and Think Before You Write

 It is incredibly important to read and research before writing. Someone once rightly said, “many people are writing when they should be reading.” At a more advanced level, one needs to think before writing. By ‘thinking’ I mean the why, how, etc. of writing. It, of course, depends on the kind of writing and topic. If you are writing randomly, you can write about anything. But if you are considering to write a serious piece for a newspaper, you need to research and think about the facts, different arguments and dimensions of the article.

  1. Always Edit After You Write

Editing is the fun and best part of writing. Without editing, writing is never complete. Think and rethink your piece. Read and re-read it. Draft and re-draft it. Revise, re-revise and re-write it. Don’t be afraid of changing, deleting and editing ideas. Keep an open mind. Knowledge and writing skills develop with openness to appreciating the complexity of the world.

Keep writing. With time you will discover that you have real, important things to say. Things that matter in your life and things that are relevant to people around you. Sometimes, it is just about dusting the surface off of random thoughts to find significant ideas. It is not only this; after practice, you will discover your voice. You will gain the confidence and authority in your self that will make what you write matter.

PS:

For this post, I borrowed some of the steps from Brian Clark’s post on ten steps on writing and elaborated them. If you practice these steps, I guarantee the gradual improvement in your writing. These are, however, by no means the only ways to be a writer. There could be hundreds of other ways. You may come up with your own, and I would love to hear about your ideas in the comments.

 

Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at aslam.kakar@rutgers.edu or @aslam_Kakar

 
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