Last week, I was lucky enough to go on a writing skills course. If you read this blog, you will know that I started this to give me an opportunity to practise writing more often and I hoped this course would help me focus and get to an end product for an article I’ve been trying to write for the past year or so.  The tutor was Trevor Day, who is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow here at Bath, and he has a lot of experience in writing and education, and was one of the best prepared trainers I’ve seen.

The course was very creative, despite being aimed at work-related writing, but Trevor assured us that scientists and engineers also found the techniques useful, and encouraged us to try them out.  I find I don’t have too much trouble producing words, but for me, the research and planning stage is troublesome, as I’m a very poor planner of writing, but I love researching, so I tend to read far too much and then ramble about it.   Some of the exercises looked at the purpose and aims of my writing, while others looked at problems and barriers.

Writing to a prompt

This exercise gave the beginning of a sentence, which we were to complete.  This technique gets over the problem of the first sentence, and helps to explore what you want to achieve with your writing.  I found the exercise positive, as I was able to state quite clearly why I wanted to complete this particular piece of writing, whereas when I am trying to write it, I often feel I am going off topic.

Free Writing

Although useful, I found this task quite difficult, as I very quickly tapped into strong negative emotions.  However, it did make external my inner dialogue, and I could quickly see why it has taken so long to get going.

Space

Trevor provided us with a framework to plan a writing project, called Space (Self, Purpose, Audience, Code, Experience).  We filled in the first three sections in the session, and I found this very well suited to identifying exactly what I did and didn’t want to write about.  Certainly the purpose section was able to help me identify some aspects that may not be suitable for the project at hand, and could be written separately.  The Code section talks about the way the writing will be structured and styled, while the Experience section gives you space to explore what you still need to do to be able to begin writing.

The second part of the morning provided us with practical ways of improving our writing.  Many of these were fairly classic, such as checking appropriate use of the passive and active voices, and keeping relevant items together in a sentence.  It was helpful to have these brought together for reference.  There were also hints and tips on how to write reports and proposals, and how to write persuasively.  Finally, the different kinds of editing (e.g. for content, for style, for errors) were explained, and the information was summarized, with a little hint about using readability scores in Microsoft Word.  As most of us write for users, readability is always of high importance, and most did not know about this feature.*

Overall, I found this workshop both practical and stimulating, and I came away with a range of tools I felt able to apply to my writing.  I was immediately able to start work on my article again, and this time with a much better idea of what I want to write about and how I want to do it.  I was particularly impressed that the techniques were so flexible and applied equally well to personal writing projects as they did to professional ones.  I am also planning to try some of the techniques for my academic writing, as the research proposal in particular is somewhat intimidating.

* Incidentally, this post  has 8% passive sentences and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of 11.7.

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