Let’s face it–most of us were never taught how to write well. Either we somehow absorbed good style from hours of reading for pleasure, or we managed to get by with a “shotgun” approach: If I throw enough words at the idea some of them will be close enough! For many purposes this really is good enough. But when we begin to reflect theologically on our world, and to communicate those reflections to other people, suddenly we realize that getting “close enough” doesn’t cut it. Although we may not all be asked to write articles or books, the way we write is related to the way we speak. And since we think (to a large extent) in language, we need to write and speak precisely if we are going to think clearly.
So how do we learn now how to use language precisely? Isn’t it too late to become a better writer in my 30’s or 40’s or 70’s? No, it’s not, and fortunately there are some great resources available to help.
Your Writing Centre
Ok, this isn’t really an online resource, but the first line of support for students is your campus writing centre. Tyndale’s writing centre has a web-site at https://www.tyndale.ca/writingcentre, where you can find information on their hours and services as well as several links to useful online resources. It’s certainly not just for undergraduates, so do check it out!
Blogs about Grammar and Writing
There are some excellent blogs that publish regular, bite-sized bits of writing and grammar advice. Following one of these (by email notification or in a feed reader) is a great way to absorb better writing habits at a manageable pace. Two that I follow are:
- Grammar Girl’s “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/).
- Mark Nichol’s “Daily Writing Tips” (http://www.dailywritingtips.com/).
Sometimes we need more intensive help for a specific piece of writing. The grammar checker in your word processing program can be a good place to start, but it can miss a lot and can’t always tell you why something is wrong. There are now some truly remarkable web apps, though, that can often tell you more than a human proofreader:
- Grammarly (http://www.grammarly.com).
- This is a really astonishing service. Although there is a free 7-day trial, it costs after that. But if you know that grammar and style is a weak point this tool can do wonders. It can even help you catch accidental plagiarism.
- PaperRater (http://www.paperrater.com/).
- If tuition payments just emptied your wallet, you can also try the free service PaperRater. Some reviewers have reported that it isn’t as smart as Grammarly, but it can still be a big help.
Help from a Real Live Human Being
Looking for a living, breathing human being to answer a specific writing-related question?
- Grammarly Answers (http://www.grammarly.com/answers/).
- Grammarly Answers is a free question-and-answer page where live writing experts will give specific help.
Grammar and Style Guides
These require that you do the searching yourself, but many online reference sources offer reliable, clear and (best of all) free explanations of English grammar and style.
- Grammarly Handbook (http://www.grammarly.com/handbook/).
This is just a sampling of the tools that are available. If you want even more help, head over to Smashing Magazine for Vitaly Friedman’s article “50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills.”