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As a CS major I've learned that knowing how to write is critically important, but, I'm not really sure how to improve my writing skills. I'm currently trying to write a tech blog in English, but, whenever I sit down to write, it just reminds me of the fact that my English sucks...

So, my question is; how can I develop a better understanding of the language?

P.S. The book "The Elements of Style" wasn't particularly useful...

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@John - Maybe I missed something, but how did you puzzle "Elements" out of this? –  Neil Fein Apr 7 '13 at 6:03
    
@Neil, it's magic and called "edit button" ;) Hint to OP: everything in angled brackets is interpreted as meta-data and not displayed. –  John Smithers Apr 7 '13 at 16:00
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@JohnSmithers - Ah, now I can see it in the original post source code. (It's not visible in the version tracking, where I first looked.) And I know how the edit button works, thank you. :P –  Neil Fein Apr 7 '13 at 16:26
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I've learned that the more you write, the better you write. Reading also improves writing skills. –  K124ST Jun 7 '13 at 18:29

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In addition to reading (as suggested by others), practice writing in contexts that are already available to you. (Starting a blog is good too, but if you can't build a reader base that can be discouraging.) You're a CS major; that presumably means you are designing and implementing software. There is more to software documentation than inline comments in the code; go beyond that, even if it's not part of the assigned work, and you will both practice writing and develop skills that will help you in a software career. A lot of programmers can't write a coherent design document or technical specification; if you can, you're a step ahead.

Practicing writing is good, but how do you know how well you're doing? If your professors aren't able/willing to review documentation as part of grading your code homework/projects, see if your university has advisors who can help with that. Some schools have people whose job includes helping students improve their writing; usually (from what I understand) this means graduate students working on theses, but ask your curriculum advisor, any professor, or someone in the careers center if your school has such services. If it does, any of those should be able to connect you.

Finally, if your school has classes in technical writing (which will probably be offered by the English department), see if there's a low-level course that's open to non-majors. Such a class is likely to focus less on "literary" writing and more on explanatory "nuts and bolts", which might be an easier introduction than, say, a creative-writing class.

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Thanks a lot. I read your answer again and again, then stored to my Evernote. –  Wilbeibi Apr 7 '13 at 14:42
    
Glad to help! Do also consider the other answers; reading helps you get a feel for the language, and what I suggested helps you put it into practice. –  Monica Cellio Apr 7 '13 at 14:47

Well, from my experience, I've always heard that reading helps on improving writing, and that worked for me! I hence would suggest you read a lot. This will help you expand your vocabulary, get more at ease with sentence structures, spelling and grammar and if you read specific things coming from newspapers, magazines and other articles relevant to what you are studying, it can definitely help you both in your English and in your own knowledge and awareness in your field!

You might also want to hang around chatrooms where they are people who share your interests. Those are often more dynamic but less formal English, which also helps. I'm sure you can find ones which can be at the same time interesting (even if you don't participate in the conversation) and help you with your own English. Now, those people shouldn't be the type who 'txt spk', I wouldn't advise to hang around that chatroom if they speak like that. I'm myself chatrooms where people discuss about programming languages and they don't text speak, so I'm pretty sure you can find some decent ones too.

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thank you kindly –  Wilbeibi Apr 7 '13 at 13:52
    
@Wilbeibi I wish you good luck with your learning :) –  Jerry Apr 7 '13 at 14:40

Writing critically is all about having a sound logical structure, backing up our statements and making explicit what was otherwise implicit. This last characteristic is the most important as this is the one that makes what we say clear or not.

Writing critically is what we do when we do analytical writing but all forms of writing can be said to be a subset of analytical writing as all kind of writing seem to put forward some argument or thesis about how the world is, or how people act, or advocate some sort of philosophy about how we should think about a topic or life in general.

One of he best book I found about critical writing is called "smart thinking: skills for critical understanding and writing", a little known gem available here -> http://www.amazon.com/Smart-Thinking-Critical-Understanding-Writing/dp/0195517334 (The used version is cheaper and I think there is an ebook version available somewhere too.)

The book was made from a very successful critical thinking and writing course taught in an university in Australia so it's not like it's some random rambling from an armchair amateur or something :-)

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@Wilbeibi To improve my writing skills, I join on line writing communities. That way I also learn more about writing by reading others' work. The internet gives me so much advantages because I only need to sit in front of my computer then reach many ways to many spots. Definitely every one has their own unique style for their writing, it is linked to their background of life. When I am involved in the field of micro-organism, of course I have more vocabulary of micro-biology, so when I write my poem I could be inspired by that experience. People work in army would gain another way to look at things, so it would influence either their way or their style of writing. Good luck for you!

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Can you please recommend some good online writing communities? –  ajantrik Apr 8 '13 at 13:32

The other answers are correct to say that you need to read a lot. But it's not enough just to read. You have to read like a writer. Anytime you read a passage that is particularly clear or compelling, stop and try to figure out what made it so. Later, try to mimic that style in your own work.

When choosing what to read, look for writers who are masters of their craft. You won't learn good technique from bad writers. (Best-selling authors and popular bloggers tend to be excellent writers.)

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There are two simple answers to this question: read and write. Considering you are a CS major this powerpoint that I read recently might help.

Try writing like a computer scientist. Read books about computer programming (technical, fictional, or nonfictional) and observe the way that the author writes. Try to implement their styles into your own writing and, with enough time and practice, you will eventually develop a style of your own.

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