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Engels voor Nederlanders: How to improve your English writing

Jun 16, 2020

So, you can hold a conversation in English.  You can interact with international colleagues socially and professionally, attend meetings in English, and you can even do research in English.  Great.

But now you need to write.

 

Here are three tricks to improve your English writing right away:

Let’s take this example:

If you want to improve your writing in English it’s always good to start with the basics. Even if you can already write professionally you can return to the groundwork to find simple things you can do to work on your problems.  It’s not so hard, but it does take some awareness.  If you rely on these simple tips, your writing will become a lot better.

1. Vary your sentence structure.

Let’s take that example and whittle it down to its basic structures:

If A [then] B. Even if A [then] B to C.  A, but B.  If A, [then] B.

Now that we look at it this way, it’s not so interesting.  We thought that ‘A but B’ would be a new trend in this paragraph, but it’s not.  We can restructure our sentences to make it more engaging:

So A? Try B. You might say, “A!” You might be surprised, though, by how easy B is — it only takes awareness. A, then B.

Filling it in:

So you want to improve your writing in English? Try going back to the basics. You might think “I can already write professionally! I don’t need this” You might be surprised though how easy it is to find simple things to work on your writing problems — it only takes some awareness. Rely on these tricks, and your writing will be a lot better.

The variation of sentence structures makes the whole paragraph a lot more engaging.

Pro tip: Take a look at my other blog posts about meta-language and learn some sentence diagramming to be able to recognize sentence structures. It’s worth the investment of a couple of hours.

2. Fix your punctuation

Let’s go back to the example and highlight some places where punctuation either already is or where it should be:

If you want to improve your writing in English it’s always good to start with the basics. Even if you can already write professionally you can return to the groundwork to find simple things you can do to work on your problems.  Its not so hard, but it does take some awareness.  If you rely on these simple tips, your writing will become a lot better.

Even take my first revision:

So you want to improve your writing in English? Try going back to the basics. You might think “I can already write professionally! I don’t need this” You might be surprised though how easy it is to find simple things to work on your writing problems — it only takes some awareness. Rely on these tricks, and your writing will be a lot better.

Punctuation rules in English can be a bit difficult to master, but there are plenty of cheat sheets available online. I will note a few things:

  • COMMAS (,) are mainly used to show pauses and natural changes in pronunciation.  They also mark phrases that function in specific ways
    • Anything before your subject and verb should usually have a comma after it. ex: Today, we went to the store.
    • If you’re combining two sentences together, you should use a comma + conjunction (like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so): ex. Today, we went to the store, but it was closed.
  • SEMICOLONS (;) are used to make logical transitions.  These are not conversational-tone punctuation marks.  It’s a bit elite.  You can either use a transition word or not:
    • ex: The store was closed; therefore, no purchases could be made today.
      • ***Even as I write this, my Grammarly extension thinks my language is formal and professional!***
    • ex: Studies show that men are generally less likely to wear shoes in the house than women; this data is also correlated to higher rates of foot disease in men than in women.
  • THE DASH (–) is used for sudden changes in thought patterns, long pauses, etc.  — in fact, it’s what you use when nothing else seems to cut it and in between or after the dash, all bets are off (– just like in that example).
    • The dash was really made famous by Emily Dickinson, a famous American poet. Here’s an example of her poetry that uses dashes:
        • I’m Nobody! Who are you?
          Are you – Nobody – too?
          Then there’s a pair of us!
          Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

          How dreary – to be – Somebody!
          How public – like a Frog –
          To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
          To an admiring Bog!

    • The dashes act like shifts in ideas or uncategorized bits of text; for example, “I was talking to Joey about the old store we used to go to — by the way, we went there today, and it was totally closed. Like, forever! Can you believe it?! — anyway, he said he had never heard of it.”

Using punctuation effectively can increase the enjoyment the reader gets from your text. Let’s fix our latest revision:

So you want to improve your writing in English? Try going back to the basics! You might think, “I can already write professionally! I don’t need this…” You might be surprised, though, just how easy it is to find solutions to your writing problems — it only takes some awareness. Rely on these tricks, and your writing will be a lot better.

3. Use some different words

Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled. The rain fell in sheets. The ghosts and ghouls came out of the windows of the haunted house where the lady died a hundred years ago.

BORING.

This is something we call diction, which is really just a word for ‘words’.  If you use cliches, like “it was a dark and stormy night,” your text will not be unpredictable and, therefore, not as engaging.

But perhaps your vocabulary is just too limited. Here’s a simple trick…

  1. Go through your text and highlight words that are: (A) Closely related to Dutch, or (B) seeming a little boring.

So you want to improve your writing in English? Try going back to the basics! You might think, “I can already write professionally! I don’t need this” You might be surprised, though, just how easy it is to find simple things to work on your writing problems — it only takes some awareness. Rely on these tricks, and your writing will be a lot better.

2. Pick up a Thesaurus or use Thesaurus.com

Search for one of those words, and you’ll get a list of synonyms. Let’s take ‘problem’.

3. Find one that you think better or one that doesn’t have a close relation to a Dutch word.

4. Insert into your text.

So you want to boost your writing in English? Try going back to the basics! You might think, “I can already write professionally! Is this really necessary” You might be shocked, though, just how little effort it takes to fix your writing dillemmas  — it only takes some awareness. Count on these tricks, and your writing will be a lot more engaging!

Why would we replace Dutch words in English if they’re also English words? Why do that?

Well, generally, Dutch- and German-rooted words are older words in English, meaning that they were generally words used by peasants from the early middle ages until even after the Norman invasion in 1066.  This means they were very simple, easy-to-understand words, and that’s still the case now.  Unfortunately, the up-scaled vocabulary in English, since 1066, has usually come from French.  So, if you want a simple, perhaps direct and blunt solution, you can use a Germanic word (like “stool” “bench”); if you want something fancy or impressive, try one you don’t recognize (“chair” “Chaise lounge” “sofa”).  Consider if I said, “cow breast flesh” or “Brisket”; ‘cow breast flesh’ is very easy to understand if you don’t know what Brisket is, but it ain’t pretty.

 

So, there you have it. Use these three tips to help you improve writing right away.  If this has worked for you, know that BabbleOn has taught several courses and individuals how to overcome their fear of writing in English.  If you liked this and perhaps want more help, contact us right away and end the anxiety!

 

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