At American universities (and also secondary schools), years are spent training something called creative writing; in the Czech Republic, the situation is different in a certain regard. Here you can study mathematics or physics even if you don’t know how to write well (which isn’t true in the USA or Great Britain), even though you’ll have to write a bachelor’s thesis in these fields as well.
No one can learn how to write during just one class lesson – it’s more similar to playing the violin. The theoretical basics can be picked up relatively quickly and some methods can be mastered, but training and the time spent on it is something that can’t be avoided. If someone says they’re not good at writing, they might be having one of the three basic problems (and all of them can be remedied):
- They’ve got something called “writer’s block”. There are many techniques (or methods) to work with this and get rid of it. They’re not the first or the last person to be afflicted, and it’s actually not a big problem.
- They’re not practicing enough. Learning to write can only be done by writing, and one of the things that’s recommended for improving writing is regularity. Don’t go to sleep until you’ve written at least one paragraph – of anything. It’s also nice to try various forms of writing so you can find something that suits you.
- They’re not reading enough. Reading and writing are closely linked. The more things we read and the higher their quality, the better we’ll write. If we understand something, imitate ways to express it and have a good vocabulary, we’ll be more successful than just watching TV shows. The advice is simple – read! Ideally, you should read something that’s similar to the format you want to write in.
If we focus on academic writing (term papers, essays, books, articles, …), the basis for writing something is having good sources that we can read and rely on. The basis of writing is working with a thought that we want to insert into the text. It’s often said that each paragraph should express one such thought, which should be introduced at the beginning and finished at the end. At the same time, the beginning of the paragraph should build upon the one before it, creating a smooth and readable text. This might seem like very general advice that we’ll always be able to apply to normal writing, but you should really try to write paragraphs that will have one central idea each. Nothing more, nothing less. Then link them together somehow.
We’ve now come to the two basic styles of writing. The first group of authors includes linear types – they start writing at the top left of the page and after several hours of typing or scribbling with their pen, their text is finished. Then they only make some changes and adjustments. These people are rare and have to have read and written very much already. Most people, however, are more accustomed to the non-linear style – they write in fragments according to what they find interesting or important at the moment. Then, from their pile of notes, they start to piece together their final text. This is something that can be done quite easily on a computer, but not as well when writing by hand.
There are great debates surrounding how to prepare for writing. Some recommend writing an outline at the beginning and then continuing on in the text according to it. If you’re writing a text in a group, there’s few other options, but it’s probably the most difficult method of writing there is. The next possibility is working with a thought map, which you can use to gradually create an overview of the topic and process individual sub-topics according to it. This is a more creative, less structured method and usually yields more interesting and less superficial results. Some people don’t plan their texts at all. They start writing without knowing what the result will be. Once again, this is an approach that is in many ways difficult and highly unpredictable, and the more experience you have in this area the better.
If you’re writing an academic text, try to think about your sources while writing – filling in citations to literature after you’ve already written everything is both highly annoying and also impractical, as it’s difficult to go back and find them, making your text less sharp and clear. You don’t always have to cite everything according to a norm – that can be done during the final proofreading process, but you won’t be able to manage without continually keeping track of where you’ve taken a certain statement from.
To conclude, here are three recommendations:
- The most important things are the beginning and end of a text. Pay closer attention to these areas. You have to inspire and captivate at the beginning, and summarize and close the topic at the end. Don’t be afraid to insert a certain call to action at the end, or evoke the feeling that the text is changing something or showing new perspectives on the world.
- Think about what format you’re writing the text in. Is Word really the ideal solution?
- Read what you’ve written! Without good proofreading and “rereading”, the text won’t be good.