How to write better English
If it takes you twice as long to write something in English as it does in your own language, then try these tips.
Before you start
Ask yourself "Why am I writing?" By thinking about the purpose of your text (perhaps you want to explain something, or ask something etc) you can choose the most appropriate vocabulary and level of formality.
Who are you writing to? Who is your reader, and what is their level of knowledge or English? Choose your language carefully and avoid words and expressions that are too technical or complicated.
Plan before you write. Prepare for writing by making a plan, and looking up all the words you need before you start writing.
A plan helps you keep a clear focus and helps you avoid repetition. Just jot down the points you want to make and order them into logical paragraphs. Remember that paragraphs shouldn't be too long. In fact, in certain types of writing, such as emails, your paragraphs can be one sentence long.
It's quicker to look up all the words you need before you write so you don't interrupt your "flow" of writing.
What to write
Say why you are writing in the first sentence. Use phrases such as "I am writing to enquire about…" so that your reader understands why you are writing. If you're replying to someone, you can write "Thank you for your email."
Use standard greetings and endings. Most letters begin with "Dear Mr X" or "Dear Ms X" and should end "Yours sincerely" (or in American English, "Sincerely yours"). If you know your reader quite well, you can be less formal with "Dear (first name)" and end "Best wishes" or "Best regards". If you absolutely have to write "Dear Sir" end with "Yours faithfully" rather than "Yours sincerely".
In emails you can start with the first name "Jane", or precede it with "Hi". If you are writing to a number of people, you can leave out the greeting. To end an email you can write "Best wishes", "Kind regards", "Thanks" or in British English "Cheers".
Use a closing expression in letters such as "Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance." In emails you can write, for example, "Many thanks for your help."
In letters, write the date out in full: 7 June 2006 or June 7, 2006. Avoid using abbreviated dates such as (7/6/2006) as although British speakers will understand this as 7 June, Americans will understand it to be July 6.
Use linking expressions to connect ideas and sentences. Words such as 'and', 'but', 'therefore', 'however', guide your reader through your ideas and make your writing easier to read. See also Linking Words in our Grammar section.
Be careful of referring words such as 'this' and 'it'. Make sure they refer to the right word or phrase.
Write as concisely as possible. Don't make your sentences too long, as they might become difficult to read. Avoid more than two ideas in any sentence.
Follow this word order principle to keep your sentences concise:
Subject – Verb – Object – Manner – Place – Time
(Who — Does—What— How— Where- When)
"Please could you send us the confirmation as quickly as possible."
"The Managing Director will visit the factory on Monday 10 July at 10 am."
Edit what you write. Use your computer spell-check, but check for grammatical mistakes yourself.
Edit out unnecessary words and phrases and avoid old-fashioned words such as "hereby", "herewith" and above-mentioned". Rather than writing "We hereby enclose a brochure", get to the point with "We are enclosing a brochure."
Read what you have written out aloud. Is it easy to read, or are the sentences too long? Have you put in enough punctuation?
Get someone else to check what you have written. Another person may see something that is unclear or a mistake.
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