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Try these concrete ways to improve your writing

Renata Galiamov

For many of us, writing is second nature, a skill we employ almost subconsciously all the time.  But writing coherently, fluently and expressively, under exam or SAC pressure? Not so easy.  

Unfortunately, the vast majority of VCE subjects require writing of a higher standard than what you'd casually text to your friends. In fact, almost all of them ask you to put your thoughts clearly and concisely into words for assessors to pick apart. So no matter if you love your English subjects or are a Chemistry enthusiast, you'll likely need some serious writing chops to achieve the study score you want. 

So where do you start? How do you improve your ‘flow’? What does it mean to have more ‘links’? Let Renata Galiamov, one of our star English Language lecturers, guide your study with tips, explanations and more.

Leave a powerful first impression.

The writing you do in VCE (especially in exam conditions) will be relatively short, so it’s crucial to captivate the assessor from the very beginning. Try developing a unique introduction style and seek advice from your teacher and/or tutor about ways to add more ‘zing’ to it.

Consider opening with a thought-provoking quote (that hasn't already been overused) or comment about the prompt, rather than mechanically summarising the points you will address. While it’s important to outline the structure of your writing in the introduction, try not to simply list; instead, aim to offer the reader a taste of what’s to come so that they are compelled to continue reading.

To achieve flow, you need balance.

When we’re talking about making your writing ‘flow’, we’re talking about making it easy and interesting to read. If you’re ever unsure as to whether your writing ‘flows’, just try reading it out loud!

Problems with 'flow' usually arise when the balance between short, medium and longer sentences is off. If you find you’re stopping too much while reading, it’s a sign that your sentences are too short. To combat this, try combining some shorter sentences together using conjunctions, such as ‘since’, ‘although’, ‘however’, and ‘therefore’.

On the other hand, if you find you’re reading several lines of text without stopping, try breaking up the monotony of those long sentences with a few short and sharp ones. Use these short sentences to add gravity to important points. 

Simplicity is key.

Put yourself in the shoes of the examiner: with hundreds of written responses to read, would you enjoy being bogged down by complicated, over-embellished sentences? Probably not. 

A fantastic rule of thumb is to stick to the point and explain yourself clearly. If you know a fancy word, but are unsure as to whether it ‘works’ in your sentence, substitute it for something simpler! That said, make sure you still maintain a varied vocabulary so you can avoid the trap of underwriting (that is, creating a boring, stilted piece).

Remember that your aim is to try communicate your ideas to the examiner, not to attack them with every piece of sophisticated vocabulary, obtuse metaphor and syntactical patterning technique known to humankind.

Make yourself clear. 

Being unclear can be the result of poorly ordered sentences, vague or over-complicated language, or contradicting yourself (which unfortunately happens often in students' extended responses). There are two ways of avoiding this: planning and logical sentence structuring.

Planning your response prevents waffling, and in turn can stop you from going on tangents that may lead to you confusing your ideas.

In addition, presenting your ideas as cause and effect is a powerful way to create logical flow in a sentence or paragraph. If examiners read that one idea 'is shown to be the catalyst of', 'results in a change in' or 'negatively/positively impacts' another, they are likely to perceive your intentions more clearly. 

Always keep the prompt in sight. 

If you're creating an extended written response (which are commonly required for humanities subjects), always keep the prompt at the forefront of your mind. Always ask yourself, “In what ways does my writing address the question?”.

A great way to achieve this is to always include a sentence about how every major point raised answers or expands on the prompt. Often, this can be achieved with a ‘summative' sentence at the end of a paragraph, condensing the ideas presented in that paragraph and linking it back to the prompt. This ensures that every paragraph is linked to the same idea, giving your piece coherence.

Another way of making your writing more cohesive is to build a bridge between ideas: make your next paragraph link to your previous paragraph.

Our full guide to how to improve your writing.

Keen to learn more ways to take your writing to the next level? For a more comprehensive discussion of points raised in this article and more insider tips and tricks, download the full guide, 8 Big Ways to Improve Your Writing.


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