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.
- 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 of: “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.”
- 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.”
- 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).
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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’.