8 writing tips

This lesson focuses on eight ways to invigorate your writing style. These tips will come in handy for all written activities that you do, from essay writing to creative writing. They help you meet the third aim of Group 1 courses in the IB Diploma, which states that students are to "develop powers of expression, both in oral and written communication."

In order to meet this objective, you will compare and contrast two letters of application. The second letter is an improvement on the first. Then you will find examples of these 8 tips in the improvements.

Eight ways to improve your writing

Read these following 8 tips on how to improve your writing and search for examples of them in the improved letter below.

 8 ways to improve your writing

  1. Clauses at the beginning of a sentence: good idea, but avoid really long ones.
    There is nothing more boring than a series of sentences that all start with the subject of the sentence:
    Instead of: "I train dogs. The animal shelter hires me. I do this every weekend."
    Try: "As part of my weekend job at the animal shelter, I train dogs."

    While clauses at the beginnings of sentences are great, you can have too much of a good thing. Avoid really long clauses at the beginning of a sentence:
    Instead o f:  "Every day, as I walk to work and pass the kiosk, where they sell those delicious chocolate bars, I stop to buy one."
    Try: "Every day on my way to work, I stop to buy one of those delicious chocolate bars that they sell at the kiosk."
     
  2. Avoid 'it' as the subject of a sentence.
    Sentences that start with 'it' or dummy subjects, such as 'there is...' or 'there are...', are quite weak.
    Instead of: "It is often the case that mobile phones end up on the lunch trays after the meal."
    Try: "Mobile phones often end up on the lunch trays after the meal."

    Sentences that start with 'there is..' or 'there are... often have a 'who' or 'which' that follow. These can be cleaned up as follows:
    Instead of: "There is this guy at school who always annoys me."
    Try: "This guy at school always annoys me."
     
  3. Use the right verb tense.
    This may come more naturally for native speakers of English. Nevertheless, many people make mistakes in the verb tense that they use. Be sure to know when to use each tense, such as the present simple, the present perfect, etc.
    Instead of: "I am attending this school since 2010."
    Try: "I have attended this school since 2010" (the present perfect).
     
  4. Use (relative) clauses.
    Using clauses in general is a good idea, as we saw in the first tip. Using relative clauses, which expand on ideas further (like this one), are also a good idea. Relative clauses make use of words such as 'which', 'who' and 'where'
    Instead of: "I have a new job. I enjoy it a lot."
    Try: "I have a new job, which I enjoy a lot."
     
  5. Watch out for wordy sentences.
    It is good to read and reread your own work. Often times during self-evaluation, you see sentences that are not clear or 'run on'. Wordy sentences can be cleaned up with punctuation and parallel constructions (Tip 7).
    Instead of: "If everyone in the building were to just clean up their own garbage and  if they  just sorted it properly then the recycle man wouldn't have to go through everything, then we wouldn't have to pay extra fees for this service."
    Try: "If everyone in the building disposed of his or her own waste in the proper recycle bins, then we would not have extra expenses."
     
  6. Never start a sentence with 'But'.
    Although you may see sentences that start with 'But' in other works, you should avoid starting sentences with it for academic purposes.
    Instead of: "The character displays a lot of courage. But she fails to save the day."
    Try: "Although the character displays a lot of courage, she fails to save the day."
     
  7. Use parallelisms.
    Parallelisms are sentences or phrases that contain parallel syntactical structures. These usually contain lists of noun phrases or clauses with similar structure. For example: "I decided not to (1) use PowerPoint, (2) read notecards or (3) memorize a script." Notice how ideas 1-3 all contain a verb and an object. They all line up nicely in parallel.
    Instead of: "I brushed the children's teeth and then I read a book to them. They climbed under the covers and I tucked them in."
    Try: "I brushed the children's teeth, read them a book and tucked them in."
     
  8. Use active verbs.
    In persuasive and academic writing and speaking, active verbs sound much stronger than passive verbs. Passive verb phrases use the verb 'to be' and the past participle of another verb. For example "The house was built by me." The active form of this phrase would be: "I built the house."
    Instead of: "The novel has been criticized by feminists."
    Try: "Feminists have criticized the novel"

Compare and contrast letters

Here are two letters of application. The second letter is a corrected version of the first. Look at the teacher's underlined corrections and comment on how the sentenced have been improved. The underlined phrases and words relate to the 8 tips that you have just studied. Explain how each of the 8 tips are done well in the 'corrected letter' and poorly in the 'original letter'. 

 Compare and contrast two letters of application

Tip from the poor letter from the corrected letter
Don’t have too many clauses at the beginning of a sentence.
Over the past six years, each morning, as soon as my students walk in the door… I am so happy to see them again and see my classroom take on life again. 
Each morning for the past six years, I have been happy to see my students walk through the classroom door. 
Avoid 'it' as the subject of a sentence.
It feels so natural to me to be a primary school teacher. 
Being a primary school teacher comes so naturally to me. 
Use the right verb tense. (Use present perfect with ‘for x amount of time…’)
Yet for the past few months I am longing for and thinking about a new personal challenge. 
Nevertheless for the past few months I have been contemplating a new personal challenge. 
Use (relative) clauses,  such as ‘who’, ‘where’, or ‘which’.
..it is a relatively young international school and I would like to be a member of a pioneering and ambitious team. 
it is a relatively young, international school, where I could be part of a pioneering and ambitious team. 
Watch out for wordy sentences.
Last, I value the fact that the experience of living in Amsterdam and the Netherlands are being used and added to within the multicultural setting of your school, as I think this city and also the Dutch culture have much to offer 
I also like the fact it is a Dutch subsidised school with competitive fees and open doors to a variety of students. 
Never start a sentence with ‘but’.
But in view of my university education, teaching secondary school students might be a future job possibility to me. 
In view of my university education, teaching in the secondary school might be a future possibility as well. 
Parallel structures
I am an open minded person with excellent social skills. I tolerate pressure easily. 
As a colleague you will find that I have an open mind, good social skills and an ability to handle pressure easily. 
Use active verbs instead of passive verbs.
..value would be added value to your organisation by... 
I would add value to your organisation.

Original letter

Dear Ms X,

Over the past six years, each morning, as soon as my students walk in the door… I am so happy to see them again and see my classroom take on life again; It feels so natural to me to be a primary school teacher. Yet for the past few months I am longing for and thinking about a new personal challenge in the field of primary education. As I am very much intrigued by different cultures and languages I have decided to start looking for a position at an international school.

Your school attracted my attention, as it is a relatively young international school and I would like to be member of a pioneering and ambitious team. I also like the fact it is a Dutch subsidised school with competitive fees, so it is open to a very broad variety of students. Last, I value the fact that the experience of living in Amsterdam and the Netherlands are being used and added to within the multicultural setting of your school, as I think this city and also the Dutch culture have much to offer.

Initially I am interested in positions in groups 3-8. To me, children of these ages are still very spontaneous and eager to learn and at the same time able to communicate and discuss well. But in view of my university education, teaching secondary school students might be a future job possibility to me.

I am an open minded person with excellent social skills. I tolerate pressure easily. Group management, organising and planning is natural to me. I graduated at an outstanding technical university and worked several years as an consulting engineer and groupleader in the field of logistics and general management. This way I developed my rational, analytical and coordinating skills. Then I decided to really follow my heart and passion and became a primary school teacher.

I believe value  would be added to your organisation with my skills and enthusiasm and I would very much appreciate to be interviewed so that we could discuss more about the job description, my motivation and suitability.

Yours sincerely,

Candidate Y

Corrected letter

Dear X,

Each morning for the past six years, I have been happy to see my students walk through the classroom door. Being a primary school teacher comes naturally to me. Nevertheless for the past few months I have been contemplating a new personal challenge in the field of primary education. As I am very much intrigued by different cultures and languages, I have decided look for a position at an international school.

Your school caught my attention because it is a relatively young, international school, where I could be a member of a pioneering and ambitious team. I also like the fact it is a Dutch subsidised school with competitive fees, open to a variety of students. Furthermore, I appreciate how your school brings the multicultural atmosphere of Amsterdam into the school.

Initially I am interested in teaching groups 3-8. To me, children of these ages are still very spontaneous, eager to learn and able to communicate. In view of my university education, teaching in the secondary school might be a future possibility as well.

As a colleague you will find that I have an open mind, good social skills and an ability to handle pressure easily. Group management, organising and planning come naturally to me. I graduated from an outstanding technical university and worked for several years as a consulting engineer and groupleader in the field of logistics and general management. Through this I developed my rational, analytical and management skills. Then I decided to follow my heart and passion and become a primary school teacher.

I believe I would add value to your organisation with my skills and enthusiasm. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss the possibility of working together soon.

Yours sincerely,

Candidate Y

Apply these tips to your classmates' work

You can divide the class up into 8 'expert groups', where each group focuses on one tip. After everyone has written a rough draft of a written assignment, you can circulate them through each group, checking for your particular area of focus, or 'tip'.

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.