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I'm a terrible writer. I know I am and it's totally ok though. Well, it's not totally ok but I have no other choice to deal with it till I die. I'm a little embarrassed by it but what can you do? It might be due to the fact that I'm slightly mentally dyslexic. I sort of think backwards. When I write freely, you'll notice that many of my sentences should be in reverse order. So, I end up switching sentences a lot.

Anyway, I don't want my 2 children to become like the poor writer that I am. I would love it if they developed writing skills that they can wield as powerful tools for the rest of their lives. I think writing well is such an important skill no matter what you end up doing in life. I strongly believe this.

Last week, I read my friend, a district manager send out emails to his reports and to his subordinates. I was really bedazzled by the way he wrote. It was so crystal clear, convincing, and even beautiful. He doesn't even check what he has written. He writes it and immediately sends itI How does he do it?

How does a person truly become an great expository writer? I've been searching the internet but none of the websites have really convinced me that they know what they are talking about. I haven't read anything that demonstrates methods that I feel will really turn my kids into good, solid writers.

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Writing is a learned and acquired skill, like anything else. It is not an inborn talent. You can have certain natural aptitudes for aspects of writing, but most of it is developed through hard work.

Writing a lot, and getting good quality feedback are the two best ways to improve. If you want your children to be better writers than you, emphasize the "work" aspect rather than talent one. People who think writing is all about talent tend to give up more easily and never improve. It took me a long time to deprogram myself from the talent myth. I can attest from experience, there are no shortcuts, no matter how much aptitude you have.

Your friend may write easily and fluently now, but I bet he's put the the time and effort in getting to that place. If you're not sure, ask him.

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  • Thank you for your help. Can I ask why you believe it's an acquired skill? Why does writing a lot make you a better writer? You are right though. I don't know if he put a lot of time and effort into writing although he went to a good school. (One of the best in the US although he didn't get very good grades.) Sep 28 '20 at 22:11
  • I know it from experience. I had a lot of writing talent as a kid, but I learned the hard way --that doesn't mean anything if you don't put the work in. There are many people who are wonderful writers now who could barely read and write when they started. They just worked harder than everyone else, and made it to the top. Sep 29 '20 at 0:41
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Honestly, I think the best way to improve your writing skills is to read. This helps with vocabulary, punctuation, clarity and delivery. You can even look at some samples and try to identify what's wrong, or what could have been written better.

It takes a lot of practice to be able to send out emails without checking them, so that's what you should do. Write two emails every day, then sit down to proof them. You don't have to send these to anybody.

There are a lot of Chrome extensions that help check your writing. They make it easier to read and more fun.

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  • Thank you for your helpful answer. Do you have any background in linguistics that leads you to believe this? Or, does this come from anecdotal experience? Sep 28 '20 at 22:02
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There are two aspects to improving your expository writing, and only one of them is about writing.

The first issue is basic writing skills. In general, all writing involves a set of common skills. You want your words to be easily digestible, but to contain all the information you wanted to communicate. What information you want to communicate will depend on genre and circumstance, of course - in a horror story you might want to build a sense of uneasiness as you describe a scene; in a children's story you might want to communicate warmth and simplicity along with the action.

Business writing (since you used that tag) is a different animal than creative writing. It is rare that you will be aiming for an emotional tone, or describing scenery. Also, when you're writing for business, you're not writing about something because you really wanted to write about it; you're writing about a subject because there is specific information you have to communicate to a specific audience. It's not a matter of talking about something you have a knack for explaining, or finding a sympathetic audience for a personal style that is an acquired taste.

This leads into the second issue with expository writing. When you're writing a email to a colleague, as when you are writing a chapter for a textbook, you need to consider exactly what you need to communicate, what your recipient would already know, and the most convenient and least treacherous path between those points. This is an issue of pedagogy, not of writing skills per se.


For developing writing skills, a few simple things to focus on are:

  1. Use simple grammar when possible. (Many layered clauses can leave a reader lost as to what you're even talking about.)
  2. Use technical jargon only if your audience will be familiar with it. (Or define it, if you absolutely must use it.) Some people are impressed by big, fancy words. If your idea is to impress those people, go ahead and get fancy - but it's poor writing to use more sophisticated vocabulary than necessary.
  3. When in doubt, use fewer words. Even when your writing is transparent and digestible, it's daunting for the recipient to face down a wall of text. Use formatting to break things up, and just don't say more than in necessary. Often, if you have time to proofread what you've written, you'll see that you have used more words than were necessary to get the point across.

For developing good skills at communicating ideas to a selected audience:

  1. Consider where the recipient(s) are in their current understanding of the issue you're communicating about. This cannot be stressed enough; in my own experience in the corporate world, an inability to understand what the recipient does not understand is the single biggest shortcoming I come up against.
  2. Understand that there are different paths to understanding the same ideas, and different people will be more responsive to different explanations. Analogies are great, except when someone just wants to mull over the facts.
  3. Don't beat around the bush. This isn't a novel; you're not building up to a plot twist. Extensive documenting of all the errors a program generated may be important, but not as important as the short message at the start saying that all the errors were minor and fixable and the project can move forward.
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  • I think a big factor that needs to be considered when you write an email in a business setting is leadership and corporate politics. My friend doesn’t actually think about what he writes but by luck, what he writes shows strong leadership. I'm the opposite. The way I write and act usually doesn't show great leadership. It's about showing your subordinates and the people you oversee that you care about them but also you show the correct amount of sternness. Oct 6 '20 at 13:11
  • @QuietInMontana Ah, you're asking for suggestions on showing leadership. I read the question in the context of my own work, which has more to do with trying to communicate key information from a technical perspective to non-technical people than with inspiring someone.
    – Jedediah
    Oct 6 '20 at 13:56
  • Not leadership per se but just writing well in an expository way. For example, a legal memo can be considered expository but leadership not needed. I just want my kids to write well for whatever lies in front of them. I just want them to be a good writer since I think it's MAJOR plus. I know because I'm a poor writer. I think showing leadership is a huge plus too that can be expressed through emails? My friend writes in such a way that's very clear, very convincing, and just the right amount of protectiveness mixed with sternness so they listen to him and feel like he's on their side. Oct 6 '20 at 19:50
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There are two things to it -

  1. Practice
  2. Perspective

Practice is the work you explicitly do to enhance your craft - reading books, understanding the flow and the exposition, and then trying to imbibe those values.

Perspective refers to the opinion(s) you have/adopt for the written work and adds a depth to your writing.

Get them to read - a lot. Get them interesting books. You can find interesting stuff in this regard at my new blog (it's completely free, don't worry) - https://chrisbastien.blogspot.com - I've just started but I am adding to it continuously. You might get a fresh look at what you already know about all this. Also if you like it, do subscribe :)

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