Whether they like it or not, aspirants heading for graduate school have a lot of writing to do during the application stage, and even more so during their studies. Applicants need to write essays for admissions’ tests such as the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL and IELTS, as well as motivation letters and statements of purpose. Students’ writing ability in English is mercilessly tested throughout their studies. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of useful tools to help you improve your writing skills.
Life has changed so much over the past two decades that it is almost impossible for today’s applicants to imagine having to write a piece of text without some software automatically checking it for (at least) correct spelling and grammar. Luckily, many web tools are currently at our disposal to help us write texts characterized by clarity, brevity, and coherence.
Listed below is a selection of some of the best online tools designed to improve your writing skills:
Grammarly is a free writing assistant that automatically detects grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and stylistic mistakes in your writing. It is fairly easy to use. You can copy and paste any English text into Grammarly’s Editor, or install Grammarly’s free browser extension for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge.
The tool uses algorithms that flag potential errors in the text and suggest context-specific corrections for grammar, spelling, wordiness, style, and punctuation. There is also a plagiarism check tool. One of Grammarly’s most useful features is the reasoning provided for each suggested change, so you can make an informed decision about whether, and how, to correct a problem.
Named after novelist Ernest Hemingway, who was known for his short, succinct, simplistic style, this tool is designed to tighten up your prose by highlighting “wordy sentences, adverbs, passive voices, and other lexical atrocities as you type”. The creators of the Hemingway Editor claim that the tool “makes your writing bold and clear”.
The Hemingway Editor cuts the dead weight – in other words any superfluous content – from your writing by highlighting long-winded sentences in yellow and more blatant ones in red. The New Yorker magazine describes the tool thus:
Hemingway Editor is, like a good editor, attuned to the places where vanity seems to be getting the better of things.
Readability Score, as the name suggests, is a computer-calculated index which can tell you the level of education someone will require to read a piece of text easily. The tool uses tried and tested readability algorithms, as well as its own proprietary scoring systems, to analyze the readability of a website or text, and recommend ways to improve it.
To ensure your content is readable by 85% of the general public, you should aim for a readability score of Grade 8 or better.
The Cliché Finder tool underlines overused words, phrases, and expressions in your writing. The cliché checker uses a unique algorithm and overused phrases dictionary to find results. In addition to clichés and hackneyed phrases, the tool also flags possible spelling mistakes. It also offers replacement options for some words.
The Economist Style Guide
Clear writing, the Economist states, is the key to clear thinking.
So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.
This guide is not an online tool per se; but you can buy the book on Amazon or the Economist’s online store if you like. Luckily, it is available online in PDF format. It would be useful for anyone wanting to communicate with the clarity, style, and precision for which The Economist is famous. It offers all kinds of advice, including on the use of punctuation, abbreviations, and capital letters, identifies common errors and clichés, and contains a wide range of reference material. The creators of the guide make a point of clarifying that this is not just a dull book full of writing rules:
This is no ordinary guide to English usage. It has a wit, verve, and flair which make it much more than a simple work of reference.
Mignon Fogarty, former chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism (US), is the Grammar Girl. The website provides short tips to improve your writing. If you don’t want to read long explanations about grammar rules, Grammar Girl is the tool you need. Ms. Fogarty makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules.
Writing Mentor is a relatively new Google Docs add-on designed as a revision tool for academic writing. The tool provides automatic feedback about a user’s writing. A writing guide (named Sam) provides suggestions and feedback designed to make the user’s writing convincing, well-developed, coherent and well-edited. Within these larger categories, there are several sub-categories users can select in order to refine the advice given and obtain more specific writing feedback for which they feel they may need further assistance.
Written communication is an essential part of the academic, professional, and personal routine today. It can be a challenge for native English speakers, just as for speakers of English as a foreign language. Make sure you master it and it will reap dividends.