With so many rules to remember, writing can seem like a daunting task. However, the most effective writers follow a few simple principles: They write with a purpose, know their audience and put themselves in their readers' shoes.
Know Your Purpose
Writers write because they have something to say. Students often struggle with this concept, protesting that their only purpose when they write is to complete an assignment. However, composition instructors today assign many different forms of writing, such as school newspaper editorials or even blogs. These forms of writing have a variety of purposes, some aiming to persuade, while others simply inform or entertain. Although the purpose of your assignment might be to support a traditional academic argument or thesis, writing instructors often give students other options. Choosing what to write may take longer in the beginning, but it's easiest to write if you know your purpose.
Know Your Audience
Regardless of whether the assignment is to write an academic essay to be read only by the instructor or an editorial for the school newspaper that many people will see, first think about your target audience. Understanding where they stand on your chosen topic is essential if you hope to persuade them to see things your way. A person reading an editorial asking for a change in campus policies is more likely to consider your position if the argument sounds respectful, not accusatory, while a professor is more likely to give you high marks if your essay is well-researched and presented -- and not just hastily thrown together.
Include Relevant Details
Regardless of what you write, making sure that your work is organized and includes interesting details and examples is another way of showing respect for your readers. Writing that demonstrates an organized progression of thought lets readers follow what you're saying without becoming lost. For example, if you're arguing that online gaming is educational, state that point at the beginning and then use subsequent paragraphs to explain one piece of supporting evidence at a time. Including interesting details and specific examples also makes your writing easy to follow. Instead of just saying that a policy needs improvement, demonstrate by giving a detailed example of how current rules negatively affect you personally.
Write Conversationally and Proofread
Effective writing uses a conversational tone, such as one friend speaking to another. Avoid condescending to or patronizing the reader. Instead, come right out and state your point clearly, in a conversational tone, addressing the reader directly. No first draft is perfect, so leave plenty of time to reread, revising organization and details as needed. Look for sentences that sound robotic and fail to read smoothly. Read your writing out loud, then have someone review your work and give feedback. Be honest with yourself, and edit out or revise awkward phrases or sentences. After revising, carefully proofread for careless errors that could annoy or distract readers.
Elizabeth Ewe Weaver earned her MFA in writing from Columbia and has studied composition-rhetoric at the graduate level. She has presented at the NCTE's annual Conference on College Composition and Communication convention and served as full-time writing faculty at several universities. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review and elsewhere.