5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing in Academic and Professional Contexts

Nov 19, 2020

By Jonathan Cantarero

Your writing is the first thing employers see when they read a cover letter or resume. It’s also something you showcase on the job on a daily basis in every email, memo, and assignment. Since writing is so central to everything we do, thinking of ways to improve that skill is one of the best investments you can make in your career. And the good news is that you can always be a better writer! In this article I’ll talk about 5 easy ways to do that. 

1. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Okay, this is an obvious tip but one that often gets overlooked when we’re pressed against a deadline or juggling multiple responsibilities. Clearly, a poorly written report sends a bad message to others that you’re not taking your work seriously. Emails are especially prone to spelling errors and poor grammar since we usually don’t think of them as “writing assignments.” To avoid these pitfalls remember to: (1) proofread everything more than once; (2) proofread by reading out loud and not just in your head; and (3) ask someone else to proofread your work whenever possible.  

2. Use a “read-aloud” feature. 

As a graduate student, the read-aloud feature on my word documents has been a life saver. No matter how much I edit my assignments, I always end up missing something when double-checking my own work. This shouldn’t be a total surprise, however, since our brains like to take shortcuts when we re-read the same material over and over again. Eventually, our brains start to read what they know should be there instead of what’s actually written. As a result we end up making silly mistakes like using “their” instead of “they’re” or “there” or misspelling words like “ackward” as “awkward.” 

If you have the latest version of Microsoft Word, you can fight against this impulse by using the read-aloud feature when reviewing a document. You can find it under the “review” tab on the toolbar and you can even change the speed and speaking voice to your preferred settings. Following along with the read-aloud function will usually help you catch a few more spelling errors along with unwanted or just plain sloppy language. Other programs such as Pages for Mac computers have a similar feature.

3. Print out a copy of your work. 

I picked this tip from my first job out of law school, and it’s helped me catch more typos than I care to admit. In a largely digital world we sometimes forget that we can print out documents when proofreading. Taking the time to do this so you can read your work on physical paper can help you catch mistakes in a way that reading off a screen just can’t. 

Now, I have no idea why we proofread better on paper, but it’s worked for everyone I know of who’s ever tried it, and I’m sure it will work for you too. In my own case, I like to print out whatever work I’ve finished for the day and leave it on my desk to read first thing the next morning. That way not only am I reading on a different medium but also my brain is refreshed and ready to proofread. In fact, I would encourage you to proofread everything on paper, just remember to recycle afterwards!

4. Use free tools like Grammarly. 

This is not a product plug since I use only the free version of Grammarly, but I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the helpful suggestions this program has made to improve my writing. Grammarly doesn’t just catch common spelling errors; it also looks at comma placement, excess verbiage, and other grammatical issues. You really have nothing to lose by just trying it and seeing whether it can help you with your writing. To use this program, just download the application and you’re ready to go. You can also add an extension to your browser in Google Chrome to review emails and other e-based writings such as blog posts.    

5. Step away from your work and review it later.

A common thread in all these tips is the need to proofread your work more than once. The more time you can give yourself between proofreads, the better chance you have of catching something new or figuring out a better way to express your ideas. To be sure, this may be easier said than done depending on your schedule and deadlines. But that just shows you the importance of getting a head start on your work. The more time you give yourself the more chances you’ll have to put your best product forward. 

Writing is a skill as well as an art. Some people enjoy that challenge, others think of it as a fun pastime, and still others just want to get it out of the way. Whatever the case, being able to express yourself clearly and convincingly in writing will undoubtedly make you a more attractive employee, fellow, or student. Keeping these simple tips in mind will go a long way in helping you get there. 

Jonathan Cantarero is an attorney based in New York City. He is a former Graduate Fellow at the City University of New York School of Law (2013-16) and Schulte, Roth, and Zabel Fellow for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (2014-15). Whenever he is not reading legal briefs or posting on ProFellow, Jonathan, who is also a seminary student, enjoys writing on the intersection of law and religion.

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