Most professional authors will agree that there is no single correct way improving writing skills, and that doing so is an individual process that is different for everyone. Even so, they consistently mention a few tips as being especially helpful, including looking at grammar and punctuation, paying attention to the audience, getting peer evaluation and reading personal drafts aloud. Reading the works of others, taking the time to identify what the reader needs to know and organize the piece, writing frequently and reworking drafts are additional techniques. Many people also find that consciously looking for details in surroundings is a good practice strategy that can be done anywhere, anytime.
Grammar and Punctuation
Some linguists consider grammar and punctuation rules to be the most vital element in written communication, because they have such a major effect on both the flow and meaning of what a person is trying to say. Getting better at these two aspects of writing starts with studying language and style manuals, which explain where basic elements belong and how they function. Once a person knows these guidelines, he can practice applying them. A commonly used way to do this is to complete hard copy or online editing tests. Through this process, it's a good idea to identify the rules that prompt any changes — any doubt should motivate a person to take a second look at a manual.
A common refrain among professional writers is that, to really connect with the members of an audience, a person has to speak in a way that they'll understand. The two sentences "About whom are you speaking?" and "Who are you talking to?" get the same idea across, for example, but they have a dramatically different feel. An exercise to practice audience connection is to take a single work and rewrite it several times for several different groups. It's worth noting that, although grammar and punctuation rules generally shouldn't go totally out the window, it's fine to bend or break them somewhat and lean toward vernacular speech if it actually improves how well someone will follow meaning.
Related to the idea of audience is the concept of having someone else take a look at one or more drafts. Many authors are not completely objective about their work, and they aren't always aware of it when something in a piece is confusing or contradictory. Getting peer evaluation, whether from a friend, family member or group, provides an opportunity to see how accurate a person's assessment of their own writing is, and the constructive criticism found in feedback lets someone get very specific about what and how to change.
If a writer has paid attention to both audience and grammar and punctuation rules, the connections between ideas generally will be very smooth, making the content easier to understand and remember. Peer evaluation can help alert someone to problems in flow, but when this option isn't available, or when a person wants to polish a draft before others review it, the next best choice usually is to read the piece aloud. The general rule is that awkward to say and awkward to read essentially are the same thing. Changes to sentence structure and word choice are common with this technique.
Reading the Works of Others
Reading is a way to improve writing skills because it exposes a person to many different communication styles. It also is a key way to get information, not only about writing, but also about a wide range of other topics that could inspire new works. Many individuals also find that it provides a starting point for developing good habits, serving as a visual way to internalize elements of structure, punctuation, grammar and even plot.
Problem Identification and Organization
One of the biggest problems in "poor" writing is that the point isn't clear, which usually is because the author hasn't absolutely identified the problem or information they need to give to the reader and organized themselves around it first. A simple method for solving the identification issue is to create a headline for the piece — it should be concise but complete enough that, even if someone read nothing else, he'd have an idea of what the work is about. After a person gets his headline, he can use the same strategy to pinpoint each of the main points he wants to make and organize them according to importance and what flows best. Many people say that it's simply a matter of filling in the gaps from there.
Some experts suggest that practicing as often as possible is the best way to improve writing skills — this is not the same thing as cranking out a lot of pages. The idea here is that consistently coming back to the computer keyboard or traditional pen and paper develops discipline, providing focus and keeping rules at the front of the mind. It also produces a larger portfolio a person can use to get feedback. Prompts are good sources of topics or guidelines for each session, and keeping a journal works, as well.
As a person tries to increase the amount of time he spends putting his ideas to paper, a specific technique that sometimes produces big benefits is to rewrite something that already exists. It can be the author's own previous work, or it can be from someone else. Doing this teaches an individual to look at the same concept from a different angle, and it gives him a chance to explore what changing major elements such as sentence length or voice would do to the work. Another benefit is that it reminds the author that there is not necessarily a "right" way to present something, which goes a long way into reducing anxiety and breaking through writer's block.
Looking for Details
An easy way for a writer to develop even when he isn't at his work desk is to look at whatever is around him and mentally identify as many details as he can. Being able to say that there's a man's voice in a coffee shop is good, for example, but being able to say that it is deep and rumbling with a tremor of exhaustion is better. The point with this exercise is that details are the heart of description, and good description is essential to holding reader interest and making scenes and characters come alive. Even when a work is nonfiction, specificity makes the author look professional and as though he has been thorough in his research and preparation.