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Around the WebWriting Task 2

Write to express, not to impress.

When writing essays for official language tests, such as the IELTS or TEOFL,  or for cover letters, students think they need complicated sentences to make a good impression on the reader.   When you write to impress, you often use words that are sophisticated but usually uncommon and unnecessary.

Did you ever notice or hear that US President Obama–whether you like him or not–is such a good speaker?  That’s because he uses simple language that is understood by most Americans, and this has a big impact on the point he’s trying to get across.

Obama sounds like he’s speaking directly to you in a personal conversation.  His choice of words and manner of speaking is very dynamic  (powerful) and persuasive; this is why he’s such a popular speaker.  Here’s part of his speech on the 30th of September, 2013, when the Republicans shut down the operation of US government because they opposed Obama’s health insurance reform law.  This is a very complicated issue, but Obama (representing the Democrats) put it into a very easy way to understand:

At midnight last night for the first time in 17 years the Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government,” Mr. Obama said. “Let me be more specific: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government, all because they did not like one law.”

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As an EFL student, you would be very wise to copy Mr. Obama’s style of speaking and use it in your writing.

How students think they should write

When writing essays for official language tests, such as the IELTS or TEOFL,  or for cover letters, students think they need complicated sentences to make a good impression on the reader.   When you write to impress, you often use words that are sophisticated but usually uncommon and unnecessary.

Here’s an example from a student’s cover letter (some words changed):

My diverse experience highlights my ability to adapt to different environments and work with various international teams and clients, it includes  solid experience working cross-functionally with more than 50 nationalities and major professional profiles. I also offer excellent creative vision, design direction and design management skills; a sharp sensibility for political and cross-cultural design and a keen eye for details, all of which would enable me to make an excellent contribution to your company’s success.

How students should write

Let’s take a look at the example above and see how we could simplify it:

1.  The first sentence is actually two combined into one–too complicated.

2.  The word cross-functionally does not exist in English and, therefore, is more distracting than it is meaningful.

3.  We don’t need all the fancy adjectives (sharp sensitivity, excellent creative vision) in describing our experiences.  Just the facts of our skills, experience and achievements are enough for someone reading the cover letter.

Here is the suggested revision:

I have worked with more than 50 nationalities and numerous international teams and professional clients.  My services, which include creative vision,  design direction and design management, will enable me to contribute to your company’s success.  I pride myself on my political awareness and sensitivity and attention to detail.

Even in academic writing, the writing should be formal but still easy to understand. One of my students who needed to get a score of seven on the writing part of IELTS kept ending up with only a six, although he got over a seven on the speaking, reading and listening parts.  After analyzing his writing, we found that his sentences were too complex and he used words that were just too “big.”

Tips on how to make your English writing more effective:

1.  Don’t look up words in the thesaurus to get a bigger word.  For example, if you want to use the word mysterious, don’t look it up and use the word enigmatic just because it seems more impressive.

2.  You can use a word more than once.  Don’t try to come up with new words all the time.  For example, we use the word said  (as in “he said”) over and over in articles.  We use it so often we don’t even notice it. But, you would notice if you started saying, “she responded, he exclaimed, she reacted, she answered,” etc.

3.  Read your writing out loud to yourself.  If you yourself can’t understand it, ask yourself:  what am I trying to say?  Answer that question and those are the words you should write down.

4.  Finally, ask another student or English speaker to read your writing and see if he or she understands it.  If not, you’ve got some editing to do to make it more understandable.


This article is adapted from www.italki.com.Visit the website for detail.

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