Writing skills for online students
Depending on your online program, you may face assignments that require writing composition. This is a difficult subject to learn on your own as feedback is needed in order to make progress. If you can afford it, find a tutor. Your future school may provide help and resources on improving writing skills. You could take a writing course at your closest community college, you can do this one semester before you actually enroll into the program. Do not underestimate the need for writing skills, you will need it later for your next employment where you will be expected to express your ideas clearly in written form.
You may try to assess your skills by writing a paper on any subject, the article needs to be longer than seven hundred words. Put it away and come back next week and read it. Does it make sense to you? Do you find grammar errors, run-ins, ideas poorly expressed? Below you will find four recommendations you can follow to improve your writing, you need to avoid procrastination and practice these suggestions as much as you can.
Don’t set unreasonable expectations
While it is true you need to deliver the best writing you can for an assignment, nobody expects you to come up with a thesis or research paper. If the assignment is indeed a research paper, then you will follow a different approach. When you are submitting a report or an essay by all means do your best, just don’t waste time trying to make it perfect.
In that regard, communicate with your instructor and determine what are the expectations for the assignment. Not all written documents follow the same literary style, you wouldn’t use the same language and structure for a report on an issue in the news than for a report on a scientific subject. You can identify the difference in styles by reading on any topic. For example, find an article in a major news outlet on the Zika virus. Then find a research article on the same subject, can you find the differences?
Schedule your writing time, find a time of the day that works for you. Before you start with your assignment shut down web browsers and turn off your smart phone (or leave it in silence mode). You have to concentrate on the screen for the next hour or so, avoid switching screens unless the assignment requires this. Switching screens between your assignment window and the web browser, which has your social media accounts open, will distract you and make you unproductive.
You can take breaks after an hour of work, take a snack, go to the restroom, exercise, and avoid social media. It’s a temptation few can avoid since it is so easy to get on it. It steals your concentration by engaging you in non-cognitive tasks, it may be more productive to read a magazine, which does engage your attention and it may provide you with more inspiration.
Use peer review as much as you can
Find a classmate that would review and proof read your writing, offer to do the same for them. This will help you find major holes in your writing, typos, run-ins, and inconsistencies. Don’t get offended by the critique, they mean well, your writing is not a reflection of your personality but an avenue to express your ideas, which you can improve through these reviews.
You will need to stay on schedule to take advantage of this technique. If you finish an assignment one night before it is due, you shouldn’t expect your classmates to help you, you have not given enough time for they to review nor will you have the time to go over their suggestions and comments. It is important you finish written assignments at least one week before the due date. To achieve this, you need to stay on task and on schedule, this is where many students in online programs fall behind and their grades suffer consequently.
Read regularly on other subjects
This last recommendation is more of a long term goal for you. By reading different forms of literature you will understand how authors develop writing for different contexts. This will increase your vocabulary as well, keep a dictionary handy when reading. When you find an unknown word, write it down on a card and write the word definition on the other side. You can use the cards later to memorize those words, your vocabulary will increase significantly if you follow this exercise.
Read on different subjects, you can allow yourself to read magazines that many would not consider literature. However, they go through a rigorous review process and they contain words and sentences that you have not seen before. Science fiction is another area you can explore, authors tend to develop their stories using a sophisticated vocabulary, being opposite of what you will find in romance novels.
You will go through a development process where you will have the impression that you are not making any progress, that is just in appearance. In reality, your brain is developing the right connections and the process will become easier as you move along. Do not give up or get discouraged if your first assignments come back with lots of reviews from your peers, you will get assignments returned to you from your instructor with comments and corrections. Suggest a meeting with your instructor to go over these, if you are remote from campus, arrange a virtual meeting. Do not let time pass, you need to know so you can improve your work next time. There are many other things you could do but these are the basic you can start on, don’t try to cover as much as you can, you already have enough work. Take one step at a time and happy writing.