Skip to main content

Arkansas State University

Polishing Your Writing Skills With These Tips

“Strong writing and editing skills” is becoming increasingly popular in job listings, right up there with “problem-solving” and “communication.” Plenty of us consider good writing to be the product of a slow and methodical process, and it can be — careful revision can turn mediocre writing into a powerful essay, an irresistible description or even a compelling call to action. However, skill in writing is not limited to the protracted and repetitive revision process; fields as diverse as education, government and marketing all need writers who can produce effective, error-free content in time-sensitive situations.

Students pursuing online degrees find themselves ideally suited to develop their skill with both types of writing. Most online courses require essays and case studies — often several per course — and instructors in graduate programs look for longer essays with more compelling arguments and thorough supporting research than students may have produced as undergraduates. Additionally, since online coursework requires a great deal of written interaction, successful students can communicate quickly and effectively via email, discussion boards, chat rooms and other online environments.

The following tips are some suggestions for putting your best writing foot forward. Whether you are emailing team members in a collaborative project or submitting a final article for the term, a solid foundation in writing fundamentals can be the deciding factor in effective networking and academic success.


Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is also the secret to informative articles, clear communication, effective copy and compelling discourse. Most writing implies an audience – at some point, someone else is going to read what we write, and how well our writing resonates with this supposed reader depends on several key factors, concision high among them. Good writing says as much as possible in as few words as possible; the longer you take to express an idea, the longer it takes your audience to get it. Fatiguing your reader with excessing language, protracted phrasing or unnecessary detail gives him or her the chance to become bored, confused or even simply unimpressed. Once your reader puts down what you have written, the game is over; the situation is even worse when your reader has to finish reading an overwritten article or report, like an employer or a professor.

To achieve concision in your writing, look for what writers and editors call “deadwood” — instances of several words appearing in place of only one. For example you can trim “is able to” to “can” or “a majority of” to “most.” While this may seem like a fussy way to approach every sentence, it pays off in the end when you can trim hundreds of words from a full essay, article, report or message.

Be Active

Passive voice is probably the most common writing weakness. It can be difficult to spot, and many writers are not aware of how it damages messaging, so the problem is particularly pervasive.
Passive constructions appear as a pairing of “to be” and the past participle of a verb, like so:

“Communication is very often taken for granted.”

The passive construction in this sentence is “is taken” (is [to be] + taken [past participle of “to take”]). Passive voice is rhetorically weak, meaning it damages messaging, communication and branding. Its primary weakness is that it displaces the subject of the sentence. In this sentence the subject performing the “taking” does not even appear. (Who is taking communication for granted?) Sometimes, passive constructions merely displace the subject to the end of the sentence, as in “Communication is taken for granted by Bob.” In these instances, not only does the writer displace Bob to the end of the sentence, the writer also introduces more words to say what he or she could have said in fewer, violating the concision rule. Compare:

“Communication was taken for granted by Bob.” (7 words)

“Bob took communication for granted.” (5 words)

Assert Yourself

Another writing weakness is the use of unassertive language. Sometimes, writers try to dodge accountability, displace blame or otherwise misdirect their readers. This usually occurs when the topic is controversial or adversarial, or when someone needs to take responsibility, accept blame or otherwise admit wrongdoing. Unassertive writing makes very few straightforward, informative statements; instead, it introduces additional words and phrases that talk around topics rather than engaging them directly. Writers and editors refer to these as weasel words, and they can take many forms, including vague subjects (“some people,” “many”), passive voice (see above), unassertive adverbs (“seemingly,” “probably,” “maybe,” “perhaps”), and euphemisms (“streamlining” for “laying off employees”).

As with concision and active voice, replacing unassertive writing with clear, confident and assertive language offers your readers a more informative message in fewer words.

Play by the Rules

English is a complicated language. It includes borrowed words and phrases from a number of different languages, and it follows rules of grammar and syntax that can seem contradictory. However, the fundamental rules behind things like commas or hyphens are easy to learn with a little practice; indeed, punctuation serves a very important role: it ensures that your readers interpret your sentence constructions exactly as you intended them. Missing or (worse) incorrect punctuation can create ambiguities of meaning that derail communication entirely. Spend some time with a guide like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style — the rulebook of choice for grammarians and writers for generations now. With only a little practice (and perhaps a few mistakes), anyone can master the rules of English punctuation, which will make your concise, active and assertive prose also error-free.

Learn about the Arkansas State online master’s in educational leadership program.


Related Articles

Request Information

Submit the form below, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 866-621-8096

Ready to go?

Start your application today!
Or call 866-621-8096 866-621-8096
for help with any questions you have.
  • Choose All That Apply