17 Writing Skills

Writing Skills

Emilie Jackson

Learning Objectives

After reading this page, you will be able to:

  • use prewriting strategies to produce effective writing;
  • identify elements of effective writing;
  • review, reflect, and revise your writing;
  • develop your writing skills.

Why Is This Important?

In college, whenever you sit down to write you will have a goal in mind, such as emailing your instructor a question about an upcoming class or writing the first draft of an assignment. Just as you need a recipe, ingredients, and proper tools to cook a delicious meal, you also need a plan, resources, and adequate time to create a strong piece of writing. In other words, writing is a process that requires following steps and using strategies to accomplish your goals.


Focused student sits at a desk and writes in a notebook.
A focused student sits at a desk and writes in a notebook. Image source: Pexels

Prewriting Strategies

Create an Outline

An outline is a framework that helps the writer to organize ideas.[1] 

Preview the example outline below:


Overall main idea


I. Main idea: Point 1

      I.1 Specific information 1

      I.2 Specific information 2

II. Main idea: Point 2

      II.1 Specific information 1

      II.2 Specific information 2

III. Main idea: Point 3

      III.1 Specific information 1

      III.2 Specific information 2


Summary of main points 1-3

In the example outline, the left column includes the three main structural elements of an informative writing task: introduction, body, conclusion. The right column represents a generic outline. When creating an outline, you can fill in the right column of the outline with the actual ideas and points you are making in your writing task. Adapt the outline to your needs, depending on the specifics of your task.[2]

In addition, when organizing your ideas, determine the organizational pattern, such as chronological, comparison, cause and effect, and so on. Similar to organizing your information for an oral presentation, choose an organizational pattern that suits the purpose and topic of your writing.

Identify the Audience and Purpose

Before you write an opening paragraph, or even the first sentence, it is important to consider the audience and purpose of the writing task. You may read the instructions and try to put them in your own words to make sense of the assignment. Be careful, however, not to lose sight of what the instructions say versus what you think they say. Ask your instructor to clarify any points you find confusing in order to better meet the expectations.[3]


When you receive an assignment from an instructor, paying close attention to the assignment description and expectations can help you determine what will be most effective for your writing.

Test your knowledge of these common purpose key words that you could see on a writing assignment.[4]

Elements of Effective Writing

There are a few common elements that can be found in any writing task. When used successfully, focused paragraphs, accurate and varied sentence structures, and effective transitions will contribute to strong and successful writing.

Focused Paragraphs

Paragraphs separate writing into logical, manageable chunks. Each paragraph focuses on one central idea. It can be as long or as short as it needs to be to get the message across, but remember your audience and avoid long, drawn-out paragraphs that may lose your reader’s attention.

Just as a document generally has an introduction, body, and conclusion, so does a paragraph. Each paragraph has one idea, thought, or purpose that is stated in an introductory sentence. This is followed by one or more supporting sentences and concluded with a summary statement and transition or link to the next idea or paragraph.

  • The topic sentence states the main thesis, purpose, or topic of the paragraph; it defines the subject matter to be addressed in that paragraph.
  • Body sentences support the topic sentence and relate clearly to the subject matter of the paragraph and overall document.
  • The conclusion sentence brings the paragraph to a close; it may do this in any of several ways. It may reinforce the paragraph’s main point, summarize the relationships among the body sentences, and/or serve as a transition to the next paragraph.[5]

Accurate and Varied Sentence Structures

The ability to write complete, correct sentences is like any other skill — it comes with practice. The more writing you do using correct grammar, the easier it will become.

Effective sentences are complete, containing a subject and a verb. Incomplete sentences — also known as sentence fragments — are a group of words that are written out as a sentence but that lack a subject or verb.[6]

  • Sentence fragments: Although taking notes in class can be challenging. Helps when studying for tests.
  • Complete sentence: Although taking notes in class can be challenging, it helps when studying for tests.

In addition, there are different sentence structures, including simple, compound, and complex. It is important to use varied sentence structures in your writing.

  • Simple sentences have one subject and one verb: The student studies every evening.
  • Compound sentences have two independent phrases and one linking word such as “and”: The student studies every evening and the study group gets together Friday mornings. 
  • Complex sentences have one independent phrase and one dependent phrase with one linking word such as “so”: The student studies every evening, so they are prepared for the exam next week.


Watch the YouTube video “Simple, Compound and Complex Sentences” by EasyTeaching to learn how to use a variety of sentence structures in your writing.

If you would like to access the lesson worksheet to follow along with the video lesson, open the video in YouTube and find the lesson worksheet in the video description.

Effective Transitions

Transitions are words and phrases that help the reader follow the writer’s ideas, connect the main points to each other, and see the relationships in the information. Transitions are often described as bridges between ideas, thought or concepts, providing some sense of where you’ve been and where you are going with your writing. Transitions guide the audience in the progression from one significant idea, concept, or point to the next. They can also show the relationships between the main point and the support you are using to illustrate your point, provide examples for it, or refer to outside sources.[7]

For a list of transitions, see the previous chapter: Presentation Skills.

Review, Reflect, and Revise

Do you review what you write? Do you reflect on whether it serves its purpose? Where does it miss the mark? If you can recognize it, then you have the opportunity to review, reflect, and revise.

Reflection means reviewing your work and considering if it meets the expectations. Reflection also allows for another opportunity to consider the key elements and their relationship to each other.

When you revise your document, you change one word for another, make subtle changes, and improve it. However, don’t revise simply to change the good work you’ve completed, but instead look at it from the perspective of the reader — for example, how could this be made clearer to them? If you are limited to words only, then does each word communicate the desired message?[8]

Revision Points to Consider

When revising your document, it can be helpful to focus on specific points. When you consider each point in turn, you will be able to break down the revision process into manageable steps. When you have examined each point, you can be confident that you have avoided many possible errors. Specific revision requires attention to:

  • clarity;
  • conciseness;
  • grammar;
  • punctuation;
  • spelling;
  • format.


Revising requires that you look at your content closely at the paragraph level. It’s now time to examine each paragraph, on its own, to see where you might need to revise. Check for a logical flow of ideas, eliminate unnecessary or repetitive information, and consider reorganizing to improve clarity. 


Review the paragraph below and select the most important revision that Sophie, the student writer, should focus on at this stage in her revisions.


It is essential to write concisely. One way to accomplish this is to refrain from using wordy language that can distract the reader from your meaning. The more complex a sentence becomes, the easier it is to lose track of its meaning. When we consider that it may read by someone for whom English is a additional language, the complex sentence becomes even more problematic. If we consider its translation, we add another layer of complexity that can lead to miscommunication.[9]


This activity includes ten examples of wordy phrases that you should avoid in your writing. Match the wordy phrase with the more concise version.


Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and articles are the building blocks you will use when composing written documents. Grammatical errors can create confusion and have a negative impact on the reception of your document. Errors themselves are not inherently bad, but failure to recognize and fix them will reflect poorly on you. Self-correction is part of the writing process.[10]

Editing Tips

It’s important to remember that a good editing process takes time. You can’t edit well in one big editing session. You should be prepared to spend the time it will take to edit in several passes and use strategies to slow yourself down and edit thoroughly.

Tip #1: Try reading your writing aloud. Reading aloud gives you the opportunity to both see and hear what you have written — and it slows your eyes down so you’re more likely to catch errors and see what you have actually written, not what you think you wrote. It’s also helpful to have someone else read your paper aloud so you can listen to how well it flows.

Tip #2: Read your writing backwards. Start with the last sentence. Read it first. Then, read the second-to-the-last sentence. Continue this process for your whole essay. This strategy really slows you down and helps you see each sentence on its own, which is key to effective editing.

Tip #3: Use the resources available to you for feedback and help. If you’re on a campus with a writing centre, take advantage of it. If your online college offers an online writing tutorial service, submit your essay to that service for feedback. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of in-class peer reviews. Your peers understand the writing assignment you’re working on and can provide helpful reader feedback. Seek help when you need it and ask your instructor questions. A good revision and editing process involves using all of the resources available to you.[11]

Develop Your Writing Skills

Becoming a strong writer takes time. If you feel anxious about writing tasks, try using the following strategies to develop your writing skills. 

Read Before You Write

Reading is one step many writers point to as an integral step in learning to write effectively. You may like to read mystery novels, but if you want to write effectively in a particular field, you need to read documents related to that field. For example, if you are studying business, you should read examples of business letters, reports, and proposals. You may find these in your college’s writing centre, business department, or library; there are also many websites that provide sample business documents of all kinds. Reading is one of the most useful lifelong habits you can practice to boost your writing skills.


Learning to be a successful writer comes with practice. Targeted practice, which involves identifying your weak areas and specifically working to improve them, is especially valuable. In addition to reading, make it a habit to write, even if it is not for a specific assignment. The more you practice writing the kinds of materials that are used in your field of study, the more writing will come naturally and become an easier task — even on occasions when you need to write under pressure.[12]

Think Critically

Thinking critically means becoming aware of your thinking process.[13] When you receive your writing assignment from your instructor, it’s important to stop and think. Ask yourself: What are the requirements? What is the purpose of this assignment? What is your instructor asking you to write? Who are you writing for?

Thinking critically about your writing task requirements means that you’re considering the purpose of the assignment, the audience for the assignment, the voice you might want to use when you write, and how you will approach the assignment overall.

With each writing assignment, you’re being presented with a particular situation for writing. Learning about assignment requirements and expectations can help you learn to make good decisions about your writing. Every writing assignment has different expectations. There is no such thing as right when it comes to writing; instead, try to think about good writing as being writing that is effective in that particular situation.[14]


Reflect on how confident you are with writing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Which of the strategies for developing writing skills would I like to try? Possible answers could include the list of three strategies discussed above, as well as connecting with the writing skills supports at your college to get help with your writing tasks.
  • How could I prioritize developing my writing skills? Possible answers could include scheduling time in your day to write, focusing on expanding your vocabulary, or thoroughly reading and reflecting on the feedback you receive about your writing tasks.

Key Takeaway

Writing can be a challenging part of college; however, using prewriting strategies, keeping the elements of strong writing in mind, and learning to revise your writing can help you achieve your writing goals.

  1. Business Communication for Success by University of Minnesota, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/12-4-sample-speech-outlines/
  2. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/6-1-organization/
  3. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/4-2-how-is-writing-learned/
  4. Academic Writing Basics by Megan Robertson, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/academicwritingbasics/chapter/keyword-clues/
  5. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/6-1-organization/
  6. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/6-1-organization/
  7. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/6-1-organization/
  8. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/4-6-overcoming-barriers-to-effective-written-communication/
  9. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/6-1-organization/
  10. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/4-4-style-in-written-communication/
  11. The Writing Process by Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://owl.excelsior.edu/writing-process/revising-and-editing/revising-and-editing-tips/
  12. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/4-2-how-is-writing-learned/
  13. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/chapter/4-2-how-is-writing-learned/
  14. https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/academicwritingbasics/chapter/thinking-about-your-assignment/

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