By Cleaver Green, Editor
English is one of the most complex languages, do defining English writing skills should be difficult, and instructing writers on how to improve English writing skills, an all-day job. However, there is consensus and specificity among educators about exactly which skill sets good written English requires. Thus it is possible to identify which writing skills to focus on to get the maximum improvement in your written English. Happily, and simply, these seven skills set areas apply to all types of writing, including but not limited to email, business, technical, report, and essay and academic writing. Improving writing skills in any one area translates into improved writing overall. Recognizing and understanding the skills in these areas will lead inexorably to an expanded writer’s consciousness, an increased knowing about where to look for mistakes and how to find the strengths in his/her writing, which is to say, the writer becomes better at writing.
The Seven English Writing Skill Sets
Audience/purpose: the writing identifies and describes a realistic audience, one logically suited to the topic and purpose.
For instance, this article is written to attract and inform readers about the suitably narrow topic of the seven English writing skill sets. Because we wish to be understood, we have written in a casual style but because we aim to inform as an authority, we have observed all standard English rules of writing.
Improve your skills in this category by reading about audience and purpose in any composition textbook. Also, be mindful of the needs of the audience rather than your needs when you write.
Insight and thoughtfulness: the writing topic is treated freshly, perceptively, and with intellectual rigor; the content goes beyond repetition of “top of the head” general knowledge; logical presentation.
For instance, most of us have had the unpleasant experience of reading a bland, tiresome essay that says nothing new and says it in old, tired ways. Using trite expressions and old wives’ tales for “research,” the writer drones on endlessly about nothing or endlessly recycles old opinions s/he heard somewhere years ago. Insight is a deep or unique understanding, so if your writing says nothing new or unique, or if its content is composed of things the writer heard someone say once, it probably lacks thoughtfulness and insight. Words and phrases like “always,” “never,” and “my mom said,” or “I have always been taught/told” usually lead to this kind of dull writing.
Improve your skills in this area by reading any books, poetry or plays from classic literature. Schedule a time to just think about things like mortality, responsibility, guilt, betrayal, any of the big issues of human life. Develop the habit of asking yourself what may lie beneath the surface of things, people, feelings, and events. When you write, say something new, preferably that only you know about or think.
Organization: the writing has clear focus; engaging opening; sufficient parts arranged for smooth reading; a sense of an ending.
For instance, do not digress from your chosen topic in any piece of writing. The esteemed American writer, Edgar Allen Poe, advised writers to include literally not one word in the story that does not contribute to the story’s ending.
To improve your organizational skills, try reading short stories while observing how they are written. Because they are so short, the authors have to make the most of space, which leads to tight organizational structure. Another method of improvement is writing summaries because again space is limited and so the writer is forced to seriously consider how to incorporate all of the ideas of the original work into a much smaller space.
Development: ideas are developed in a variety of ways with sensitivity to the audience and purpose; relevant research usefully skillfully integrated. Demonstrates competency in analysis.
For instance, in preparing to write this article, we ran a Google search to determine the top five or ten search terms that were related to the phrase “writing skills.” Since our purpose is to provide our audience with useful information, we began by making sure the article was about the topics people were seeking information about. Then, throughout the article, we have developed this article by adding information until our meaning is clear.
There are two easy ways to improve development in your writing. The first is to plan your thesis more carefully at the outset. A properly narrowed or broadened topic will direct you in how to develop it. Brainstorm some topics and write some trial theses during the planning stages of your writing. Heed this simple formula: a thesis that is too narrow will not sustain extensive development because there simply will be no areas left to develop since ancillary areas have already been eliminated in the thesis; a thesis that is too broad will lead you to write an essay that never ends because there are always unanswered questions created by using too broad a thesis to guide your writing.
Style: the tone and voice are appropriate for the audience and purpose; clear, clean and graceful sentences with variety and maturity of structure; diction (word choice) is precise, informative and sensitive to audience needs and values.
For instance, one would not tell dirty jokes at a funeral unless it was the funeral of someone who loved dirty jokes and wanted them told. Be sensitive to the needs of the audience, and you will find your style appropriate. Ignore the audience at your peril. Whether or not it seems right to you, the audience is an integral part of all writing. In fact, the audience is very the reason for it. Be prepared to adapt your style to your audience.
Improve your style by working on sentence variety, vocabulary. Practice empathy so you can see your writing from other viewpoints. Read, read, read from classic literature.
Correctness: the writing is appropriately clean of errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar, usage, and sentence structure.
For instance, have you tried to read writing that is riddled with mistakes? Observe how much is lost when correctness is overlooked. Incorrect writing asks too much of the reader.
To improve your correctness, you may want to review basic English usage, grammar, and punctuation in any writing text (a few good ones are listed at the end). If you need substantial improvement, visit your writing center or buy one of the remedial texts listed and work your way through it. Grammar and punctuation homework may not be fun, but it is a highly effective way to correct simple errors in your writing. We would never want to fail to put words on the page because we fear making mistakes, but we also would never want to fail to correct as many mistakes as possible before publishing our words. Don’t overlook or ignore the spellcheck function in Microsoft Word.
Degree of difficulty: an acceptable or superior degree of difficulty is a sophisticated, insightful concept, suitable for upper level courses; an average degree of difficulty is appropriately complex topic and idea for a high school or first year college writer; a lesser topic is only suitable for high school level writing and isn’t deep enough for work or college writing.
For instance, your experience at the softball playoffs or the Homecoming festivities are not appropriately complex for adult writers. Your experience learning how to help your paralyzed brother with bullying, while also a younger person’s topic, leaves room for mature reasoning and development. Occasionally, the simplest of topics can be developed into fine essays, but beginning with a suitably complex topic is more likely to yield a good result.
To raise the degree of difficulty in your writing topics, choose topics found in classic literature, philosophy, history, or science, and narrow your topic suitably, i.e. US foreign policy is too large a topic even for a book, so narrow it to US foreign policy in 2016 in relation to Guam. Note that fixing this problem is more a matter of choosing better rather than trying to use development to transform Tic, Tac, Toe to Trivial Pursuit.
Please note that the Green’s Writing editorial board adapted the list of Seven Skill Sets from a synthesis of in-house grading rubrics from several US universities and colleges to arrive at a generic list that approximately reflected the current consensus on English writing skills. We found rubrics with more parsed categories, and rubrics with fewer, but the average rubric rates content at around 45% percent, development at 45% percent, and lower order concerns around 10% percent, and this division is consistent even when the level of writing is much higher. We do not present this information as fact but as our considered opinion.