How to Improve Your Writing Skills Before You Head Back to College

A young woman writes as she sits at her laptop.
Category: Going Back to School

Posted on

“I’m not a good writer.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to write anything. I can’t remember all of the rules!”

“I don’t even know what to write. This is so frustrating.”

If any of these statements sound familiar, you aren’t alone. Many students who are returning to school after an absence are concerned about the writing aspect of it. When it’s been a few years – or longer – since you’ve written anything more than a grocery list, the idea of writing research papers can be enough to give you hives.

While writing skills are a priority for many college degree programs – and employers – the good news is that you can improve, even before you receive your first writing assignment. You might never become the next great American novelist – or even learn what a dangling participle is – but with a little hard work and some useful resources, you can become a more confident writer and better overall communicator.

1. Use What is Available to You

Because writing is so important, most schools offer a writing center where you can get help on your trickiest assignments. Columbia Southern University has a writing center, for instance, that will provide you with all of the help and resources you need to tackle your assignments. Many colleges also offer subscriptions to online grammar and plagiarism checkers, so you can check your own work to get help before you turn in your papers. Websites like the Purdue Writing Lab, Grammar Girl and Grammarly also offer free and paid resources to help you improve your work.

2. Consider Remedial Writing

If your writing skills are really rusty or you have struggled with writing in the past, consider taking a remedial writing course before you enroll in college. Many adult education and community colleges offer basic writing and refresher courses, which can help give you the skills you’ll need to do well in college. From grammar reviews to how to structure a research paper and conduct research, a remedial course will get you back up to speed and ready for college.

3. Practice

The only way to improve at anything is to practice, and writing is no different. Set aside some time each day to work on your writing. What you write about isn’t important; the fact that you spend time practicing is. Experiment with different types of writing. Write about your opinions on current affairs, a response to something that you read or saw, or a how-to about something you know well. This writing doesn’t have to be perfect, as the idea is simply to get comfortable getting your thoughts down on paper.

4. Learn to Proofread

Even the most profound writing loses impact when it’s riddled with grammatical and typographical errors. Therefore, it’s worth learning to proofread beyond spellcheck. Learn to read your work slowly – reading out loud is also effective – and to ask for a second set of eyes to look over your work. Try some unique methods of proofreading, like reading each sentence backwards, so you can learn to spot errors. And again, the more practice you do, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll learn to identify your own patterns and common mistakes.

5. Read

One of the best ways to improve your writing skills – and your life – is to read. By reading other writers, you can learn about style, structure, vocabulary and voice, all important parts of your college writing assignments. Not to mention, the more you read, the more you learn and the more interesting and informed you’ll be when you contribute to class discussions.

6. Commit to Dropping Bad Habits

If the only writing you do on a regular basis is sending text messages, you might be tempted to fall into “text speak” in your formal work. If you have military experience, acronyms are probably second nature to you, even if no one else knows what you’re talking about. Or maybe you just fall into bad habits when it comes to capitalization, using clichés or not paying attention to spelling. As you practice your writing, watch for some of these bad habits and make a commitment to avoiding them.

7. Learn to Cite Sources

Academic writing requires you to cite anything you use from another source, so it’s good to get in that habit as soon as possible. Before you begin your college career, learn which citation format your college uses – Chicago, APA, MLA, etc. – and brush up on the correct usage and formatting. You will most likely receive instruction in your introductory writing course, but reviewing the basics will put you ahead of the curve.

Not everyone loves to write, but if you start early and use the resources available to you, it doesn’t have to be a painful and frustrating experience. In fact, once you get over the initial hurdles, you might even find that you enjoy it.

Topics in This Article