Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2003

Raise Your Writing That Extra Notch

No matter what we write, we want our readers to take value away from the experience of reading our words. That value can come from a well-defined argument, a descriptive narration that inspires, a clearer understanding of a process, or a precise sense of a comparison or contrast. Sometimes, however, your writing can miss the sharpness of expression that you sought when you started the project. The text seems disjointed or not clear enough. You're disappointed. You know you could have said more, but you don't know just how to do it. You don't understand why the finished product doesn't live up to your expectations of it. The key to finding greater writer satisfaction is to raise your writing a notch, so your words will better express the idea you have chosen.

How do you raise your writing that extra notch? What techniques can you use to make your writing better and more communicative? There are three techniques that work well:

  1. Including appropriate illustrations and examples
  2. Expanding your discussion/argument
  3. Narrowing your subject/topic focus

Let's look at the last of these techniques first. At first glance, you wouldn't think that narrowing a topic would help you to raise your writing to a higher level, but it does. Focus is important to good writing, and focus starts at the beginning when you organize the work. It is particularly important to base your writing focus on its planned length. You need to be very aware of how many words/pages you have available to make your point. Are you writing a short essay, a long research paper, or a book? By narrowing the scope of your subject to fit the general length that is available, you will avoid the common problem of being too broad or wordy, or going off on a tangent without realizing it.

Once you know you have 1,000 words, for example, to present your thesis, you'll realize that you probably should limit yourself to 2-4 arguments to defend it. On the other hand, if you know you have 5,000 words to write a short story, you will develop the plot accordingly to determine how many characters you can introduce and the number of scenes you can use to tell the story.

Focusing on your essay or your story before you start to write allows you to choose the best details early and then make sure they're included the way you want them and in the right order. You'll raise your writing a notch because you'll be using precision.

Another valuable technique that can raise your writing a notch is to use related illustrations and examples. Both will add depth and breadth to your arguments and strength to your thesis statement. This technique adds practical details that can explain your argument points in all their aspects and illustrate your theory. Examples of such down-to-earth tools are quotations, case studies, literature summaries, statistics, visuals, graphics, interviews, observations, etc.

Finally, learn how to expand your discussion/argument by carrying both to a higher level. Many times, a writer offers a wonderful argument or makes an excellent point related to his or her subject or thesis. Then the writer simply stops with that brilliant statement and does not expand it in any way. Ask yourself, "What comes next? What does the statement mean? How does it relate to my thesis or the conclusion I'm working toward?" It's important to clarify or define a good point, so it doesn't get lost. The reader needs to see the development of an idea, so as to understand the relationship of that one idea to the whole paper. It's also important to present opposition or alternatives and discuss why either or both are useful or not so useful to an understanding of the thesis and its final rendition.

For instance, when you present a quote, don't just present it and move on. Discuss the meaning of the quote. Put it in context, and relate it to other quotes and other parts of your discussion. In that way, the level of your writing is raised an additional intellectual notch and becomes more meaningful. Such expansion of thought presents alternative viewpoints and details that are valuable to drawing the final conclusions of either an argument or the entire paper. Using this technique raises the entire scope of the writing to another level. The reader will take away a more complete understanding of the entire document and your point of view as its author.

Whether you are writing an essay or a research paper, composing a poem or a letter, documenting technical material, or developing a proposal, it is important to try to raise the level of your writing using the techniques presented here. Doing so will communicate the ideas that inspired you and raise your writing that important extra notch. You will be able to communicate your ideas in greater depth and with increased passion; both you as the writer and your reader as the listener will benefit enormously.

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