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On perfecting writing skills – what has worked for me§

By Ms. Kuyang Harriet Logo Mulukwat

As a teacher of law, for both Law students at the college of law, Prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice and other rule of law institutions, it is always important that I write and communicate efficiently with my students. I would like to share my insights on how I have improved my English proficiency over the years. I might not be as elaborate as Stephen King in articulating my writing, but I will highlight basic areas, which have improved my English language skills. The English Language is nearly my first language, because I speak it fluently and over the years I have also been able to improve my writing significantly.

For one to be very good at any language, practice makes perfect. Read a variety of books, journals and other texts. When one reads extensively, one might not realize it, but gradually one begins to comprehend the basics of a language even better. Many people hate to read and think that their English will improve automatically. Just like any other skill, your English language proficiency will only improve when you read widely. I read anything and everything that comes my way, yet every time, I learn something new as I read. I have made myself a copycat – that means that, whenever I speak the English language, I emulate others who speak it well and before pronouncing a new word, I ask for the exact pronunciation from those that are familiar with the word. Many times people pronounce words wrongly, as if they are the first to use it. Instead of asking other colleagues, peers and friends who know the word, they go about pronouncing the word wrongly. If you must perfect your language skills you must learn from others and not just the books and journals that you read.

I have been a columnist for The Nation Mirror for over a year now and I have received nearly 100 emails and messages of people appreciating my work. Writing as I see it is not a skill that is acquired overnight. It is a skill which is perfected over a period of time and by writing regularly and accepting people to critic your work. Without criticism, a writer cannot grow. For instance, I write scholarly articles for Law Journals and those are peer reviewed. After the first submission, should the editor agree to proceed with publication, it is sent to reviewers. The comments from the reviewers are compiled and sent back to me to incorporate in the article. These comments are usually very harsh, but as an author I would be required to take ample time to review the comments, incorporate the changes asked of me and resubmit. The review process is so tedious, that the whole process of publishing an article takes over two years.

I have noticed that in South Sudan, many writers have weak sentence construction skills. It is a very common habit for authors and columnists to write a poorly constructed paragraph and expect their readers to applaud their work. I have read such articles, whose meanings are lost due to poor sentence construction. One particular aspect of writing that has worked for me is to ensure that my sentences are not too long. They are usually precise, short and I make sure that they make sense to me first before I send it out to the editor. Great writing is not just about ensuring that the issues are articulated clearly, but it means that the writer should also take the time to revise and edit their works – in the process the writer will realize that some of the sentences do not make sense, and also, usually, the punctuation is perfected at this time. For a short newspaper article of 800 worlds, it is revised more than three times so that marginal errors are minimized. Sometimes when I am extremely busy, I would inform my editor well in advance of time that he should peruse through the article before publishing it.

I do supervise research students at the College of Law and these are some of the tips I give to them. Some of them have been trained to use excessive legalese (legal terms) so often, that they throw it all over their writing and in the end their research papers are full of big worlds making the paper loose its meaning. I always advise them to limit the use of legalese and write precise short sentences and avoid very long ones which do not make sense. Writing excellent pieces is about having an excellent command of the English language and understanding the little important details, but above all, it is about training oneself to write better each day. It is also essential that writers accept criticism because that is the best way for a writer to improve their writing.

 

The Writer is a South Sudanese Lawyer and a senior Consultant on Democratic Governance and the Rule of Law and teaches on a part time basis at the College of Law of the University of Juba. She can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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