It turns out that it takes more courage to submit a piece for writing to my ‘Improve Your Writing Skills Lab’ than I had counted on. Even my own ChurchMag co-authors were a little hesitant to submit something for me to critique. Kudos to Jeremy for being brave enough to give me permission to use any blog post of his I’d want.
I picked a blog post he wrote recently on being a digital native, mostly because it resonated with me, Now, the goal is not to critique every little thing he got wrong. My intention is to look at the bigger picture and give suggestions on how to improve your writing skills. With that in mind, let’s see how Jeremy did. Make sure to read the whole article here first, so you can get an impression before seeing my feedback.
The one thing you always want to start with, is ask what the main message of the writing is. Whether is fiction, or non-fiction, meant to entertain, inspire, or inform, there’s always a main message. It’s what the writer wants the readers to know, remember, or think about.
In this case, the main message is this: I don’t know what life without the internet is and that’s okay. It’s easy to spot, because Jeremy did not only write that literal line, he also made it bold so it stands out visually. That’s a smart move, because it helps readers find your key message, even if they tend to skip paragraphs.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably repeat it a few times throughout these posts, but paragraphs are of crucial importance. They not only help you create and communicate a structure (your line of reasoning), but they also aid readers in following your points and help them come to the conclusion. Plus, no one wants to start reading something that’s chock-a-block filled with words. Whitespace creates visual rest and makes even a long piece appear less intimidating.
Jeremy chose clear paragraphs and followed this structure:
Paragraph 1: Intro. “The Internet is my second home.”
Paragraph 2: Introduction of conflict. “It has been deemed a sin.”
Paragraph 3-5: Details. He explains why he considers himself a digital native.
Paragraph 6+7: First pushback. He explains why he’s not dependent and why going without internet is ridiculous.
Paragraph 8+9: Key message.
Paragraph 10: Second pushback. He offers a different perspective.
Paragraph 11: Encouragement. Food for thought for other digital natives.
Paragraph 12: Closing question.
As you can see, the post has a clear structure. My only feedback would be the subheading ‘The Shift in Perspective’. That title is vague and doesn’t refer to anything specific in the paragraphs following. I would have either chosen a different subheading, but more likely I wouldn’t have done one at all. Since the post is relatively short (481 words) and you have that one bold statement standing out (I don’t know what life without the internet is and that’s okay), you don’t really need it.
This is what Jeremy had to say about his use of structure:
“The structure is how I prepare the article itself. It creates the flow for writing but also allows for me to pivot within the article if it so dictates.”
I love how intentional he is with this!
Spelling and Grammar
The last aspect to look at is the spelling and grammar. This is where there’s still room for improvement. I’ve added some suggestions in red in the actual text of the post.
“As a millennial, the internet is my second home. It’s when [where?] I’ve found friends, journaled, reflected [there’s a missing comma here] and grown into myself, and entertained, learned, and developed my professional and spiritual self. I truly love that I was born in this generation and am a digital native. [grammatically, this is incorrect. Because ‘I’ has different functions in both sentences, it should be repeated: and that I am a digital native. But: it’s minor.]
But I have run into more than one person who are Christians and mostly from an older generation that tell me this “digital” part of my life is a bad thing. [incongruence between ‘more than one person’ and ‘are’, but also between ‘person’ and ‘that’. Better: ‘I have run into more than one Christian (mostly from an older generation), who told me…] In some conversations, it [what does ‘it’ refer to? To avoid being vague, repeating is better, so ‘being a digital native has…’] has even been deemed a sin.
Sometimes the Internet is where I go to hangout with friends. Where we once had mall rates [rats?], now we have World of Warcraft clans, LAN parties, and tweet chats. I’ve done Bible studies and discipleship as well as participated in online worship as well as watched sermons online [that’s a long sentence that’s missing a comma or two, but more importantly the repetitive ‘as well’ makes it hard to follow].
The internet is also where I do my Christmas shopping (Amazon is my best friend for presents). We hardly go into Walmart for full carts of shopping, instead using Walmart’s only grocery program. It’s also where I complete my budgeting and tithing.
People talk about what life is without the internet. I honestly cannot comprehend what pre-computers was like. [though we get what he means by ‘pre-computers’ this is not an actual noun. ‘Life pre-computers’ would have been better]
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dependent on it [what does ‘it’ refer to?] and I certainly need to monitor the amount of noise in my life due to these activities [what does ‘these’ refer to? What specific activities are we talking about?]. In fact, a week or two without it [again: what does ‘it’ refer to?] on vacation sounds intriguing. Yet, people make my generation out as complete slaves to the digital ecosystem.
How do I disprove them? Go without it for a month? A year? The rest of my life? I couldn’t do my job. I’d be a terrible church tech volunteer. My communication with my wife would suffer.
I wouldn’t be able to do what God intended of me for this life. I believe with my whole heart [it seems the word ‘that’ is missing from this sentence]. I don’t know what life without the internet is like and that’s okay.
I’m unapologetic about this.
To the person who complains and tries to shame me about the internet, you don’t know life without cold milk or electricity but you don’t see us complaining at [to] you or asking you to go without those luxuries. [another long sentence that’s in need of a few extra comma’s. Or better: split it up into two sentences!] Get off your high horse. Instead of seeing things as different and therefore evil, why not ask questions and see what we are actually doing for the Kingdom of God?
To those who have been shamed, take inventory to see if you are overusing it. If you are, make the appropriate corrections. If you aren’t, either show them how their suggestion actually is against the spirit of how God has created us or, if you need to avoid the confrontation, shake dust off your sandals and keep moving forward shame free. [and we close off with another long sentence :)]
If we look at the whole post in terms of spelling and grammar, there are two big takeaways for Jeremy (and perhaps for you as well!):
- Check each and every pronoun that supposedly refers to another word, to make sure it’s correct. Words like this, it, these, that, they, them, etc. seem to be obvious, but they can make your writing hard to follow if it’s not immediately clear to the reader what you are referring to. Be specific and crystal clear.
- Longer sentences can trip you up, so make sure to use commas. Or make it easier for yourself and simply split into multiple sentences.
That was our first edition of the Writing Skills Lab! Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two. If you want to submit a piece of writing for our Writing Skills Lab, just contact me at rachel(at)churchm.ag