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Written by Michele Wheat
Writing might consist much more of typing than actually writing things out by hand these days, but it's still an important part of all of our lives every day. Everyone from executives to students needs to have good writing skills to be able to effectively communicate their ideas and complete daily tasks. But writing doesn't have to be merely a practical skill. Plenty of people write as a hobby as well. No matter why we write, it's important for everyone to be able to write in a clear and understandable way, and just about anyone can improve this skill with a bit of practice.
Inspiration is the spark that makes you write. For some, it's as simple as the need to remember something by jotting down a note or the need to please their boss by writing something as part of their job. For others, inspiration comes in the form of a creative idea that pushes them to create a work of fiction. No matter what type of writing you're doing, the first step is knowing what to write. For those who write creatively, writer's block can be a frequent obstacle, but finding a few regular sources of inspiration can help you come up with new ideas quickly so you can continue to improve your craft.
Brainstorming takes a simple idea and fleshes it out, and outlining helps you organize these concepts in writing. For instance, if you're inspired by an image of a photographer working underwater with a humpback whale, you next need to brainstorm how you can expand that image into a full article, essay, story, or poem. You might wonder who the diving photographer is, how common or safe it is to come so close to whales, or what specialized photography gear divers use. All of these ideas can help you figure out what to write about.
Once you have an idea what you want to explore in more depth, the outlining phase begins. What is the ultimate purpose of this writing project? What points expand on or support this idea? The outline you build serves as your project's bones, helping you to organize your ideas.
Your work is only as reliable as the sources you get your information from. If you're doing online research, look for .gov, .edu, and even .org sources. The most notable exception to this rule is Wikipedia. However, while you should never cite Wikipedia directly, you can use the links and references at the bottom of a Wikipedia page to find more trustworthy sources. Whenever possible, work backward to find the original source of a quote, image, or idea, and make sure to give credit to other authors and researchers as needed.
Almost no one has perfect grammar and spelling, especially right away. Mastering the most technical aspects of writing requires time, patience, and practice. Even then, the best writers still submit their work to be edited for a reason. To reduce stress down the line, use the tools at your disposal, whether they be a dictionary and grammar guide if you're writing by hand or the spell-checker and grammar-checker in your word-processing program. Never forget that a great idea will never reach your audience if they can't understand what you really mean to say. Proper grammar and spelling makes your writing clearer.
Professional authors sometimes spend more time revising and editing their novels than they do writing the first drafts. You may not need to spend as much time revising a short analysis for a business meeting, but it's still a critical step in the writing process. Read over your work and challenge everything you've written. Does your argument make sense? Do all of your paragraphs serve your ultimate goal? Try reading everything out loud. Any sentence you struggle to say is too complex and likely needs revision. The revision process is all about streamlining your first draft. Focus on ideas, broad concepts, arguments, and phrasing. You'll have time to worry about the minor details later.
Editing and proofreading is the last step in the writing process. It's your last chance to catch errors and leave your work looking professional. There are plenty of online tools to help with proofreading, but none of them are as good as a human editor. Before sending off finished work, always pause to change the size and typeface of your work in a word processor; then, read it over one last time. This trick helps to change how your brain perceives the words on the page, assisting you in catching mistakes you would otherwise skim over.
The more you write, the better your work becomes. Remember that proofreading is only the end of a single project. Once you submit your work, it's time to go back to the beginning and hunt for some fresh inspiration.