Are You Having These Problems With Your English Writing? Here's How to Fix Them
It can be easy to forget about problems in your English writing because improving your speaking and listening can feel more important. When you’re writing in English, whether you’re writing an an email, a report, or a job application, you know that you usually have more time to fix your mistakes.
So, why should you take the time to work on problems in your English writing? Because, as managers and employers will tell you, writing is probably the most important skill in the professional world.
Think about it: How much reading do you usually do in a day? When you add up all those texts, social media posts, emails, subtitles, advertisements, product descriptions, or articles, you probably do a lot more reading than you think!
“Okay!” you might be thinking right now, “so, how can I improve my writing in English?”
Well, today, we’re going to focus on the most common problems that English learners encounter when they’re writing. Here’s what we’ll cover
Logic and organization problems in English writing
Grammar problems in English writing
Spelling and vocabulary problems in English writing
Word order problems in English writing
Once we go through these issues one by one, you’ll see that you can absolutely improve your writing in English if you take it slowly and practice.
So, get a pen and paper to take notes, and let’s get started!
1. Logic and organizational problems in English writing
Depending on your native language, you might have noticed that the structure of sentences in English is completely different. That maybe causing problems in your writing.
As an SVO (Subject + Verb + Object) language, English differs from many other languages. In fact, 43% of the world’s languages, including Japanese, Korean, German, and Turkish, follow the SOV order. Others follow VSO, VOS, and even OVS or OSV.
And, while the language may not directly affect how you think, it can affect how you see the world around you. This is one reason why it’s so important to avoid translating in your head.
This is not to say that other languages aren’t logical. But most English writing is about communicating effectively and simply, so it’s good to keep this in mind if your mother tongue follows a completely different structure from English.
Basically, when you write, ask yourself: How can I make my point clearly in English?
Organizing your sentences when writing in English
Stay away from run-on sentences
A run-on sentence is when two sentences are incorrectly combined into one sentence without the right punctuation or conjunction that you need to combine them.
Once you understand that every sentence in English needs a subject and a verb, you’ll know how to identify a run-on sentence, such as this one:
We met in a bar in Paris and I’ll never forget him.
We have two ideas here joined together by the word and, but because this is a compound sentence, we need a comma before and.
Just remember this: if a sentence after a conjunction like and, but, or, or so can work as its own sentence (which means it has a subject and a verb), you’ll always need a comma before the conjunction.
And if you’ve been wondering how to use the semicolon, you can use it in place of a conjunction like or, so, and, or but.
We met in a bar in Paris; I’ll never forget him.
Keep your verbs close to your nouns
It’s not that it’s grammatically wrong to put too many words or phrases between your nouns and verbs. But it’s hard for English speakers to read because we’re used to seeing subjects and verbs close together. Keeping your verbs close to your nouns will help you fix a common problem when writing in English.
Notice how the first sentence below is a bit more awkward:
My mom, when she calls me, always wants to complain.
My mom always wants to complain when she calls me.
Avoid the passive voice if you can
It’s not the passive voice isn’t logical, but in a passive sentence, the focus is on the object, not on the subject, which can be confusing in English.
Every task has always been completed on time by me. (passive voice)
I have always completed every task on time. (active voice)
Organizing your ideas in paragraphs when writing in English
This can be an issue for anyone writing in any language, and it’s one of the most common problems in English writing.
To write effectively and make yourself clear to the writer, your ideas should be logically connected. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be organized in your head! But if you’re like me, and you like to let words flow out of you, you’ll have to organize your writing in the editing process.
So how can you organized your writing in English?
Use transitional words and phrases
If you want to put your information in order of importance, use transition words like, most importantly, secondly, in addition, or ultimately.
When you’re organizing according to cause and effect, use phrases like as a result, because of this, or in order to.
If you want to follow a chronological order, especially in history or recounting events or stories, use words like initially, before, since, finally, or at the time.
And if you’re comparing and contrasting, you can use expressions such as while, in contrast, on the other hand, or from another perspective.
2. Grammar problems in English writing
English grammar is one of the most difficult things to master, especially in writing.
And I’m specifically talking about tenses, such as past simple, present perfect, or past continuous. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to use which ones, and sometimes we use multiple tenses in one paragraph. So, I’m going to focus on a few common tenses that can often be confusing to English learners in the process of writing.
Present simple vs. present continuous
Remember that we usually use the present simple to talk about characteristics, habits, or routines. We often use adverbs of frequency with the present simple, such as usually, often, sometimes, always, or never.
We usually use the present continuous to talk about things that are happening now (in this particular moment), and we usually use active verbs in the continuous. We can also use it to talk about things we are doing currently (in this particular period). We use time expressions like right now, at the moment, or currently.
I work in London (normally), but I’m working in Bangkok at the moment (in this period).
It usually doesn’t snow here, but it’s snowing right now.
We typically have lunch at that taco stand, but today we’re having lunch at the Japanese restaurant.
Present perfect vs. past simple
We’ve written about the present perfect vs. the past simple before on this blog because so many English learners have problems with it and because teachers and textbooks often have a difficult time making it simple.
We use the past simple to talk about finished time periods, and we use the present perfect to talk about unfinished time periods.
Another big difference is that we often use the time expressions for and since with the present perfect, but we usually use ago with the past simple.
That’s also why we use the present simple to talk about people who have passed away, but we use the present simple to talk about our accomplishments and life experiences because, in English, we view our life experience as part of an unfinished period of time.
I have been to Munich before. I went in 2009.
She was hired two years ago, so she has been our manager for two years.
There is one exception to this, though. We can use the present perfect to talk about events that have recently finished. This is because the present perfect allows us to focus more on the results of the action than on the time period:
He has just moved here from South Africa.
A hurricane has reached the Gulf of Mexico.
If you don’t use the present perfect to talk about recently finished events, don’t worry! Americans don’t really follow this rule, either.
3. Spelling and vocabulary problems in English writing
I’ve grouped spelling and vocabulary issues together because these two writing issues have the same solution: reading.
Well, reading and writing.
Read and take notes
Collect all the new English vocabulary words and phrases you encounter in any books, articles, social media posts, television shows, or podcasts. Write them down by hand. The act of writing them down by hand will help you memorize the words even better.
And if you’re someone who learns from typing, try typing the word a few times when you first learn it. This will help you memorize the spelling. It works for kids, and it still works for adults!
Of course, unlike the way children learn spelling, try putting the same word in a few different sentences. The more writing you do, the better.
Learn about language roots
Many different languages have influenced the English language, but the most influential are Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Greek.
So, why does that matter when it comes to spelling?
Well, have you ever seen those competitions of the young Spelling Bee champions? One of the methods that those incredibly gifted children use to spell any word is to understand how the word's language root can affect the spelling.
I’m not saying you have to memorize long lists of complicated words that you’ll never use in conversation. Here’s what I mean:
|Language||Prefixes and suffixes|
|Latin and Romance||con-; leg-; rep-; dom- super-; sub-; -ige; -ique; -ence; -tive; -ion; -ology; -our; -ite|
|Anglo-Saxon||Un-; under-; fore-; mid-; -ful; -ship; -hood; -like; -ly|
|Greek||Macro-; micro-; para-; dys-; syn-; hypo-; meta-; -sis; -phor; -y|
4. Word order problems in English writing
As an English learner, have you ever struggled with how to put multiple adjectives together? How about adverb order?
Adjectives and adverbs can be problematic in English writing, so let’s talk about it!
Adjective order in English
Which of these sound correct to you: “Scary old house” or “old scary house?”
When we use multiple adjectives before a noun, they’re actually supposed to follow a specific order, which goes like this:
opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose.
So, with this in mind, how would you put these three words together: “massive,” “wooden,” and “chair.”
Now, it’s not necessarily a mistake if you say, “wooden, massive chair.” But it does sound strange to English speakers.
Adverb order in English
Learning where to put adverbs in a sentence can be tricky because they can go at the beginning. They can go at the beginning of the sentence, as in:
Sometimes we see him walking his dog.
Or in the middle, before the verb, as in:
I rarely go to yoga these days.
We can also put them at the end, as in:
Let’s meet there tomorrow.
But, if you’re ever in doubt about where to put your adverb, here are some essential things to remember:
Always put them after a “be” verb. So, we say:
I am always on time.
I always am on time.
She was obviously angry with us.
She obviously was angry with us.
Always put them before other kinds of verbs:
She never talks about you.
They already ate dinner.
Always put them between the auxiliary verbs and the second part of the verb.
They have never mentioned it to me.
I can’t always tell if you’re joking.
Don’t forget to practice writing in English!
I know that it can be hard to practice your English writing on your own, but it’s an important skill and the only way to solve English writing problems. It doesn’t just benefit your English; it can benefit you personally and professionally as well.
Just start with keeping a journal in English and write five minutes a day. Just five minutes. That’s it!
And if you need ideas for things to write about, download our free worksheets and check out the writing practice section in them. Our free lessons can help you come up with lots of things to write about.
Worksheets to Improve Your English
About the Writer
Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.