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English / Writing
How to improve your English writing skills
Writing (c) Hemera Technologies Inc
  Language exchange
  Instant messenger
  Business letter
  Discussion group
Related pages:
Reading ; Speaking ; Listening


Try to write English frequently, in a wide range of formal and informal situations. Here are some tips:

Informal English
You might look for a penfriend or offer a language exchange with an English-speaking friend. Exchange letters or e-mails. Alternatively, use a Messenger service or a chatroom. Ask your friend to correct your mistakes, and try to use new vocabulary you learn so that you understand how to use it correctly.

Business English
When arranging to come to the UK or to travel, write business letters (or e-mails) in English. If it is important, ask an English-speaking friend or teacher to check it before you send it.

Academic English
Study how to write essays in English. Write about your opinions to discussion groups which interest you.

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Whether you are in your home country or in the UK, you may want to find an English-speaking friend to write to (perhaps someone with similar interests or who is interested in your culture). This sort of friend is known as a penfriend (American English: penpal). Some people prefer to correspond using letters (sometimes called "snail mail" because it is slower), while others prefer to use e-mail (sometimes this kind of penfriend is also called a key pal or an e-pal)

To find a penfriend website, you can type penfriend, pen friend, penpal, pen pal, key pal or e-pal into a search engine such as Google:

If you want to find a penfriend from a particular part of the UK, you could try the following links:
English friends:
Welsh friends:
Scottish friends:
Irish friends:

International Penpals is one of the larger penpal organisations:
Europa Pages have a penpal site for international students:

For your security, you should not give out your personal address or phone number to someone until you are sure you can trust the person. If you meet your penfriend, make sure that the first meeting is in a public place, and if possible take a friend with you.

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If you take part in a language exchange, you agree to help an English-speaker (your language partner) to learn your own language, and in exchange your partner helps you to learn English. You may use any media to do this, but if you are living in different places, an exchange using e-mail or a Messenger service is the most common.

One way to find a language exchange partner is to use the eTandem service. For details, see:
The most common languages learnt by British people are French, German, Spanish and Italian (in that order), so it may be easier for people speaking these languages to find an English language partner.

Another useful website is My Language Exchange:

For languages which are less commonly taught in the UK, you may be able to find an exchange partner by attending a social event attended by British people who are interested in your culture (see: English/Speaking), visiting a website for people who are interested in your culture, or by contacting a place (in your country or in the UK) where your language is taught to British people.

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Many people enjoy sending an receiving e-mail, especially if they share a common interest. Writing e-mails to a friend in English allows you as much time as you need to write the message and look up any words or grammar that you don't know. If you are paying for each minute that you are connected to the internet, you may want to write e-mails while you are not connected and then connect just to type the message and send it.

E-mails are usually written in a less formal style than letters. It is common to start an e-mail with the name of the person you are writing to, without starting with the word "Dear". The following are examples of some appropriate ways to start and end an e-mail:

(1) Writing to your partner
Start: Use the person's first name or nickname
Ending: "Take care", or "Love", or "Thinking of you"
Signature: Your first name, or nickname

(2) Writing to a friend
Start: Use the person's first name
Ending: "Best wishes", or "Yours", or "Take care"
Signature: Your first name

(3) Writing to someone in your own company
Start: Use the person's first name (in a few companies you might need to be more formal, but this is rare in the UK)
Ending: "Regards", or "Best wishes"
Signature: Your first name and last name, and below this your job title and department, and phone number (or extension)

(4) Writing to someone in another organisation or someone in a formal position of responsibility
Start: Use the person's title (eg: Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr) and surname (eg: Smith), or just "Sir/Madam" if you don't know the name
Ending: "Regards"
Signature: Your first name and last name (you might add your title after this in brackets if you want to make it clear if you are a man or woman). Below this your job title (if appropriate) and contact details (you may want to include your telephone number or address)

For further details about e-mail, see: Life/Computer

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A blog (an abbreviation of the word "weblog") is a website on which you can publish your messages and photos. If you are studying abroad in the UK, you might use a blog to create a diary about your life in the UK. Write in English (or both in English and in your home language), so that you can use this as a way of improving your writing skills. Note that the blog is not private, so do not write things there which you do not want others to read. A basic blog can be created for free, and is very easy to update. The most popular service is:

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Internet services such as MSN (Microsoft), Yahoo and AOL provide a service called an Instant Messenger. You download some software which shows you when a friend who is using the same service is online:

By clicking on a name, you can start a written conversation. Just type a message and press the return key to send it. There is no delay between the time you send a message and the time your friend receives it, so you can chat quite naturally. Chatting in this way is a good way of improving your writing skills. You can save the conversation (so that you can study it again afterwards) by choosing File and then Save.

For further details about Messenger services, see: Life/Computer

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A chatroom is similar to the Instant Messenger described above. However, anyone can visit such a site so you should be careful about giving out your personal details when you visit one. The common area of a chatroom can be confusing if there are many people chatting at the same time: most chatrooms will allow you to start a private discussion with one person in a separate window if you prefer.

If you want to chat with another user of this site about one of the topics covered by this website, you can try using the chatroom on this site at: Chat.

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Keep business letters which you receive in English (for example from a school or company) and try to learn from heir style. Note that there are some differences in style between letters written in American English and British English. For example, the way of writing dates is different (the order is day, month, year in Britain, eg 1/2/2002 or 1 Feb 2002 or 1st February 2002; month, day, year in the US, eg 2/1/2002 or Feb 1 2002 or February 1st 2002), and the way of starting and ending the letter may also be different.

You should normally type a business letter, but a letter which is written neatly by hand is also acceptable. Writing the letter by hand may be better to write by hand in some less formal situations, for example if you are applying for a part-time job in a shop or if you want to be an au pair and are writing to the children's parents.

At the top of the letter, write your address (using English letters) on the right hand side. You do not need to put your name at the top of this address, because it will already be written at the bottom of the letter (see below). As well as your postal address, you may want to include your telephone or fax number (if you are not in the same country as the person to whom you are writing, you should use the international way of writing this, including the country code: see Life/Telephone). You may also want to include your e-mail address.

Write the full name and address of the person to whom you are writing on the top left hand side of the letter.

On the right hand side, underneath your own address, write the date on which you wrote the letter. To avoid any possible confusion, it may be better to write the address in full (for example: 1st February 2002).

In Britain, when you do not know the name of the person to whom you are writing (or if you know the name but you want to write in a very formal style), you normally start a business letter with the words "Dear Sir". "Sir" is a word for a man, but it is understood that it is just a convention to use this and that the letter may be read by either a man or a woman. You can write "Dear Sir/Madam" instead if you prefer, but it is not common to write "Dear Madam" unless you are certain that the letter will be read by a woman. You should end the letter with "Yours faithfully" ("Faithfully yours" is only used in American English).

If you know the person's name (for example, Mr Green), you should normally start a business letter with "Dear Mr Green". If you are writing to a woman who is married (for example, Mrs Green) you should start the letter "Dear Mrs Green". If you are writing to a woman who is not married and refers to herself as Miss Green, you should start the letter "Dear Miss Green". If you are not sure if the woman is married or not, it is more polite to write "Dear Ms Green" (Ms can be an abbreviation for either Mrs or Miss). You should end the letter with "Yours sincerely".

Note that you shouldn't add a full stop at the end of abbreviated words if the last letter of the abbreviation is the same as the last letter of the full word. For example, you should write Mr Smith (short for Mister) or Dr Smith (short for Doctor), but Prof. Smith (short for Professor) - there is a full stop in the last example because "f" is not the last letter of the word "professor".

When you start the letter, you may want to put a special heading to make the subject of the letter clear, especially if your letter is quite long. It is common to start this "Re: " ("re" introduces the subject: it means "about") and then give a one-line summary of the subject (for example: "Re: application for place on Business English course"). You should mention the last letter you have received, including the date written on the letter and the reference number if there is one (for example: "Thank you for your letter of 2nd February, reference MC/0275"). If you are sending some documents with your letter, you should mention this (for example: "Please find enclosed my completed application form", or "Please find attached a copy of my CV"), and you should write "Enc:" and a list of these documents at the bottom of the page (after your signature).

It is better to sign the letter personally as well as typing your name underneath. Your signature proves that you wrote the letter, and also makes it a little bit more personal. You can sign using your own language, but do remember to write your name clearly underneath your signature using English letters.

If you are writing about business in an e-mail, the style used is often less formal, although you can follow the formal rules above if you wish. For example, it is common to start the message without the word "Dear", or to use the person's first name (if someone writes to you in this way, it is normally alright to reply in the same style). A less formal ending would be just "Yours", or something like "Regards" or "Best wishes". As a signature, it is common just to type your name.

For information about exams in business English (for example: BEC, Pitman and LCCI exams), see: English/Exams.

Model Business Letters, E-Mails and Other Business Documents
Author: Shirley Taylor
Publisher: Financial Times Prentice Hall
Date: September 2003
E-mail @nd Business Letter Writing
Author: Lynn Brittney
Publisher: Foulsham
Date: June 2000

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Essays and Dissertations
Author: Chris Mounsey
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: July 2002
The Student's Guide to Preparing Dissertations and Theses
Author: Brian Allison
Publisher: Kogan Page
Date: January 1997

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Usenet discussion groups are available on Google:
The BBC organise a moderated e-mail discussion group:
There are discussion boards for a range of subjects for students learning English at Dave's ESL Cafe:

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Write a British CV (resumé): Work/CV

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