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On Writing Effectively

by Ahmed Sherief 12 months ago in how to
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Writing tips from a university course

On Writing Effectively
Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

On the first of May 2021, I started studying for a BA degree in Psychology. I have been passionate about the human mind and behavior for 10 years already but never pursued official studies in the field. Losing my job earlier in the year was the spark that sent me back into university.

One of the mandatory courses for the degree was an English course called Introductory Composition. I learned so many valuable writing tips and techniques in that course, and it reshaped me as a writer and transformed my writing. My last four articles have been published in two of Medium’s biggest publications, and if you are reading this, then I have managed to publish my fifth article in a prestigious Medium publication.

I love writing, but I must admit that I lacked some key qualities that make a good writer. I learned that it’s not enough to love writing to do it properly; some training is always useful to hone your skills and funnel your talent into producing well-written material.

If you too love writing but find that you struggle with getting your message through to your readers, or that your sentences drag for too long, or maybe that your paragraphs lack cohesion, read along because I will share with you all the tips and tricks I have learned in that course, so you too can improve your writing.

1. Identify your audience

Writing is a form of communication. You write words to communicate a specific message or idea to a specific audience. You might be the best writer out there when it comes to language mastery, but if you don’t carefully decide who you are writing for, you will not be able to get your message through. Identifying your audience will allow you to choose your expressions, the level of complexity, and the keywords to use to get your intended audience hooked and to continue reading. You will notice here that I am writing to you, aspiring writers, so I chose to pique your interest by asking if you were struggling with either of three common writing problems.

As Brundage and Lahey say in their book Acting on Words (2012):

Effective writers form a strong sense of their intended readers: What do the intended readers know about the subject already? What more should they know? What methods of expressing that information will be most comprehensible for them? . . . unless you consider your intended readers, you may not engage, inform, or persuade them, even though what you have written seems clear and successful to you. What words mean to you may not be what they mean to readers (p. 5).¹

2. Choose your persuasive appeal

To effectively communicate your message to your readers, you need to choose the most effective persuasive appeal. According to Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation², there are three appeals to work with: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos.

Logos² (means “word” in Greek) is a persuasive appeal that relies on the logical representation of information in an orderly and structured way to convince the readers that you, as a writer, understand the topic you are writing about, and to persuade them of the topic’s importance and significance.

Pathos² (means “suffering” in Greek) is an appeal that triggers your readers’ emotions, whether positive or negative. Passionate writing does not always rely on logical arguments nor facts; it mainly aims at evoking emotional responses in the readers. Pathos is seldom used alone in writing, except in such cases as political propaganda or religious indoctrination. It is a weak card to play alone; it’s usually combined with logos to produce texts that serve to both persuade readers logically and touch their feelings on a personal level. Can you identify where I used both appeals in this article until now?

Ethos² (means “character” in Greek) is simply the ethical value of your writing. By making sure you present all relevant facts, and by refraining from maliciously using pathos to evoke irrational feelings, you can safely say that you have included ethos in your writing. Ethos can be detected by seasoned readers from your tone of writing; it can also be examined through logical comparisons with the references you have provided to support your article.

3. Write concise sentences

Do not use sentences that drag for too long. Those, usually, lack cohesion, use unnecessary filler words and leave the reader confused rather than informed. Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean. If you are a fan of J.K. Rowling’s writings, you can make a statement about how amazing her writing is; your word choice and sentence structure either helps or hinders the reception of your message by the reader.

Too long and confusing: The absolute undebatable truth is that J. K. Rowling managed to write such a splendidly magnificent world full of magic and love and war that it can transfer the reader thousands of miles from the comfort of their homes into Hogwarts Castle to live and learn magic with Harry, Ron, and Hermione without even having to move a muscle. (1 sentence, 59 words, full of exaggeration, and hard to read).

Concise and clear: J.K. Rowling created a splendid fictional world. She managed to take her readers on a journey into the heart of the Wizarding world, where they lived, loved, and fought alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione. (2 sentences, 34 words, concise, clear, and easy to read).

Words like very, really, actually, literally, etc., are considered filler words that seldom serve any purpose in a sentence. Omit filler words when you can to make your writing more concise and easier to read. Similarly, expressions like ‘as a matter of fact,’ ‘interestingly enough,’ and ‘beyond any doubt,’ are also considered filler expressions and serve no real purpose in a sentence.

4. Properly structure your paragraphs

A paragraph is a complete piece of writing that should typically contain from five to ten sentences. It can be a part of a bigger text, like an article, an essay, or a book chapter, or it can stand alone. To properly structure your paragraphs, you need to keep in mind the message that you want to convey to your readers. The paragraph should start with a topic sentence to tell your readers what the paragraph is going to discuss.

“The most effective way to focus paragraphs is through the topic sentence. This sentence expresses the controlling idea of the paragraph. A unified purpose for your paragraph emerges: the goal of explaining and supporting the topic sentence’s central assertion.” (Brundage and Lahey, p. 34)¹

The next part of your paragraph consists of the body sentences. The body sentences typically range from three to nine sentences, and they work to explain your topic sentence and support it. They should contain reference-backed information that tells the readers why your claim is true. If you choose to imbue your writing with pathos, then you can also include words that will personally touch the readers’ feelings and help in establishing your case.

The last sentence of the paragraph serves as a conclusion that asserts your claim in the first sentence. If your paragraph is a part of a larger text, then the last sentence should only conclude the idea that you are discussing in that specific paragraph. The next paragraph should open with a transitional word or phrase.

Final words

There are many other tips I can share with you, but for the sake of your time, and the cohesion of this article, I will not share them now. If you manage to successfully implement the four pieces of advice I shared with you, you should see immediate positive results in the quality of your articles, the quality of the publications you can write for, the number of your readers, and hopefully your income as well.

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About the author

Ahmed Sherief

Welcome to my profile.

Here, I write a bit of fiction, psychology, and other things that interest me. If you like what you read, please tip. It helps to keep me going as a writer.

P.S. Some content is just here for Vocal challenges.

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