Five Ways to Improve Your Writing in Five Minutes


After reading 35ish papers from music majors, I saw common factors that apparently students are not taught anymore. They are glaring examples of lack of proper writing education or just sheer laziness. But I realized, there are about five things you can do when proof-reading your own writing that immediately makes your words look infinitely better.

1. Eliminate any word and/or sentence structure redundancies.

Students will use the same words over and over again without thinking 'hey I could check a thesaurus for another word that means "similar." ' Same thing happens with certain sentence structures (which are usually idiosyncratic or convoluted on their part. ex: "rather than...., x composer....." which then reappears two sentences later with a slightly different intent).

2. Learn how to use integrated quotes.

My freshman year of high school was spent learning how to integrate quotes into sentences, rather than blocking and pasting entire sentences without any forward or backward matter. It makes for an easier read if you utilize mostly your prose and insert a few choice words from others. It also makes it look like you spent more time crafting and editing.

3. Standardize formatting

If you're going to italicize a piece of music, do it throughout. If you are going to capitalize the phenomenon of Impressionism, do so all the time. If you are going to cite something, use footnotes (properly) in the same fashion. This is really a proof reading thing that should be self evident.

4. Standardize tenses

I'm still having trouble with this one. But start out knowing in what tense you'll be writing, and then stick with it!

5. "Formalize" it

If you would say a phrase to your friends in a text message or on facebook, it probably does not belong in a scholarly piece of writing. Just make one pass through in proofreading to ensure all colloquial phrases are removed (another thing I struggle with sometimes but am working on it.)

Bonus!! Learn how to use commas properly.

I saw way too many commas in these papers. Not saying my sentence structures are always the greatest, but run-ons were rampant with commas thrown in for dramatic effect.

Overall, I think the lesson here is: don't wait until 2 am to finish your paper and then immediately hit submit. If that happens, go to bed for a couple of hours, get up a little earlier than you would have liked, and just read through your paper once. One read through makes all the difference, in my opinion.