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August 09, 2021

Writing Essentials for Beginners: How to Get Started

Writing is everywhere. Crammed between the covers of books, popping up in text messages, and overflowing on the internet, writing is critical to how we communicate and make connections. And from the classroom to the office, it’s also a crucial skill in how we get ahead.

Whether you’re looking to pen the next Great American Novel or just get your homework in on time, we’ve compiled a guide to writing basics to help you take your writing to the next level. Find definitions to essential writing concepts as well as links to further resources to explore and deepen your writing knowledge.

Tiny people writing using a pencil.

The Basic Elements of Writing

From individual words to their place in sentences, paragraphs, pages, and beyond, brushing up on or building an expertise in the basic building blocks of writing can help you improve the way you communicate.

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  • Spelling: Coming up with the correct spelling of a wide range of words take practice. But this practice pays off: spelling helps convey that a writer cares about the quality of their work and has taken the time to ensure that it’s error-free. Of course, even with practice you won’t be able to catch everything. To help, built-in spellcheck capabilities in a word processor like Microsoft Word and a digital writing assistant like Microsoft Editor can both serve as backup for even the best of spellers.
  • Vocabulary: At the level of the individual word, there’s more than just spelling to consider. A broad vocabulary can provide any writer with the toolset they need to pick the right word for the right moment and add extra precision to their arguments and descriptions. Studying aids like flash cards are can help you memorize the definition of new and useful words.
  • Grammar: Beyond choosing single words, understanding the basic rules of grammar can help you deliver writing that clearly expresses your ideas. To learn the basics of grammar or get a little refresher before moving on to more advanced concepts, explore our Grammar 101 guide.
  • Structure: Whether you’re building suspense in a story or building a sound argument, knowing how to marshal your sentences into paragraphs and organize your paragraphs into a larger piece can make all the difference in the success of your writing.

Types of Writing

While you may be looking to improve your skills in a certain type of writing, the good news is that those skills often transfer easily to different purposes. Here is a list of common types of writing, along with some related resources where you can explore these topics in depth.

  • Academic and research writing: From basic book reports and college essays to doctoral dissertations, academic writing encompasses a range of formal writing that primarily serves to present the results of close study and analysis.
  • Business and professional writing: Even in a business world driven by conference calls and video chats, written communication still holds a crucial role. Whether you’re writing resumes and cover letters to get a job; business plans to start a new enterprise; or letters, emails, and reports during the work day, writing skills play a vital part in getting any job done.
  • Creative writing: Expressive writing in the form of fiction (novels and short stories), creative non-fiction (memoir, literary journalism, and personal essays), and poetry uses story and description to tackle big ideas and tell important stories.
  • Personal writing: The kinds of writing that we might do mostly for our own sake—daily diaries, travel journals, and freewriting—can help us better understand our feelings, expand on our ideas, and preserve our memories.

Styles of Writing

Writing is regularly broken down into four main styles: expository, persuasive, descriptive, and narrative. By learning about these styles of writing and knowing where to find them, you can better understand the things that you can accomplish in your own writing.

  • Expository: Expository writing, taking its name from the word exposition, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a setting forth of the meaning or purpose,” is all about information. Expository writing, in contrast to, say, creative writing, conveys facts and seeks to provide readers with an understanding of specific concepts. It’s typically found in academic writing, newspaper articles, business reports, or works of non-fiction.
  • Persuasive: Also known as argumentative writing, persuasive writing strives to prove a particular point or point of view. Using evidence and anecdotes to support their position, the persuasive writer tries to convince a reader to agree with them. Persuasive and argumentative writing can be found in newspaper and magazines’ opinion columns, academic essays, political speeches, and even advertisements.
  • Descriptive: Descriptive writing attempts to describe a person, place, thing, or event using sensory language. It’s often described as writing that tries to “paint a picture” for the reader, but descriptive writing can appeal to all five senses. While you may most closely associate this type of description with creative works like novels and poems, descriptive writing can be found in virtually any kind of writing.
  • Narrative: Narrative writing is any writing that tells a story. These stories can be based in reality or entirely fictional, but they will depict characters in action. Most commonly found in fiction, readers can also see narrative writing in use in biographies, memoirs, and anecdotes employed in other types of non-fiction.

Getting Started and Improving Your Writing Practice

Once you’ve spent some time getting to know the basics, one of the best ways to continue improving your writing is to simply keep on writing, as often as you can. While you might not have a school paper or a business report to write, finding enjoyment in other kinds of writing can offer a fun and rewarding way to get some practice in. Explore writing templates, and find pre-made templates for everything from screenplays to mindfulness journals that can help you get on your way.

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