Raised arms, a sea of hands, particularly in GCSE and A Level English: “How can I become a better writer?”

There’s no simple answer to this, but there are obvious cues I taught back then which are still sellotaped in my mind: let’s start the lesson with a mnemonic: FLAP.





What is the form – is it a letter? A review? An article? A poem?

What language does the audience expect – if it’s a letter to a headteacher or MP, it will be formal; more informal if your letter is being sent to a friend (who writes letters to friends nowadays, I know!)

Audience – who’s reading it? Private? Public? And in this day of FOI and Subject Access Requests, remember your private audience may become a whole lot wider!

Purpose – is it to entertain, argue, inform, persuade etc?
All four need to be thought of (initially) in isolation but to avoid a mechanistic response and learn how to become a better writer, it’s best to try to think of them holistically, as a whole, not four parts, once these 4 aspects are grasped.

So FLAP is sorted, now consider various aspects so you develop talents in how to become a better writer.

  • The opening is vital: scroll up to mine – there’s a human story there we can all relate to – schooldays. It’s got credibility too as I’m not writing it to tap into psyches, I’ve taught writing since 1987 (and Drama to Anna Friel – giving it the big I am).
  • Link the opening to the ending – try to make the story tie up with Freytag’s triangle or pyramid. Always good practice to reference the beginning at the end.
  • Try to develop a voice, a narrative persona in your post. Writing is often personal – so imbue it with personality – if the audience and purpose demand it.

One final thing is to innovate: a quotation that always grabs me is one of many from Arthur Scargill (President of the National Union of Miners, and Margaret Thatcher’s nemesis):

“My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.”