Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Writing is an important skill to have as an architect, landscape architect and designer. Often our visual skills are top-notch, but we can sometimes underestimate how important it is also to have great writing skills. Great writing can be the difference between being understood compared to dealing with misunderstandings, a client saying yes or no to work, a prospective employer hiring you, or winning prospective projects.
Yes, a picture can tell a thousand words, but our words can be the key ingredient to success.
Many architects and landscape architects I talk to who speak English as a second language often know that their writing needs some work, but speaking is their priority, so they focus more on that. The good thing about writing; however, is it's an active skill in which you have many tools and resources available to help you to improve your writing.
I've compiled a list of the ones I have found to be the most useful for myself, my students and my colleagues in landscape architecture and architecture.
Grammarly is something I recommend to all my students. You can use it in the free-to-use browser application or the free-to-download plugin to use with Chrome. You can also use it with browser applications such as writing blogs or on your phone for any writing you do. The free version functions as a writing assistant and will ensure that everything you write is free of grammatical mistakes as well as check your punctuation and conciseness.
The paid version offers a few more features such as reminding you about the active and passive voice, making suggestions for appropriate word usage and synonyms and you can also personalise it to tell Grammarly what your native language so it can provide tailored support for some languages. I also like the tone detector, which tells me if I've hit the mark according to my writing goals. For me, the pro version has skyrocketed my writing confidence, so it's been well worth the investment.
Best of all, Grammarly will also thoroughly explain why certain things are incorrect, so you'll also be getting a mini grammar lesson, and over time you'll become used to these corrections and what they mean.
The one thing that Grammarly cannot correct is helping you with structure, which is why I still suggest showing your work to a teacher or mentor if you want to improve your writing skills. They will be able to point out the subtle things that Grammarly can't always pick up.
When you're checking through your work, I also suggest reading it out loud to yourself. I often do this as I find I pick up more mistakes this way because I can hear if it sounds awkward.
Is it okay to use google translate?
I don't see a problem with using google translate as long as you don't just copy and paste it straight into what you're writing. The software is becoming much smarter, but sometimes I see some translations that don't make sense and could have at least been picked up with Grammarly. Google translate can help you to start to put your words together, but it does also require some checking over. At least use the free version of Grammarly to help you find some of the mistakes.
2 Online Dictionaries with language pairs
Linguee, Word Reference and Reverso Context are all examples of online dictionaries that contain several language pairs. If you're unsure about a certain expression or a certain way to say something you can put it into any of these search engines and it will search hundreds of examples on the internet. If you see common examples of what you're trying to say you'll know it's commonly used. If you're still not sure, you can use the WordReference language forum.
The WordReference language forum is also the largest library of knowledge and advice about the English language, as well as several other languages. If you have a question about language usage, you can search hundreds of several previous questions already asked by other language learners.
3 The little black book of business writing by Mark Tredinnick and Geoff Whyte
This book by Mark Tredinnick and Geoff Whyte sits on my desk for my daily use. I always go back to it when I have a question about anything to do with writing and writing styles.
It's hard to believe how much useful information you'll find in such a small book about writing letters, emails, reports, executive summaries, website copy, proposals, instructional writing and specifications, speeches and so much more. What I love about this book is how much he encourages writers to reduce and rationalise how much they use technical jargon. The passive voice and technical jargon show up sometimes necessarily in architectural writing, and I'm on a mission to persuade others to reconsider the usage of writing that can exclude people, especially those who speak English as a second language. I also believe it's important to improve the way we communicate with people outside the profession such as clients and other consultants and of course people who speak English as a second language.
This is a book of good habits to get, bad habits to lose and good copy to copy. -- Mark Tredinnick
Essentially, if you write anything - YOU NEED THIS BOOK!
4 30 - Second Architecture
My mentor recommended 30 - Second Architecture to me when I was completing my professional landscape architecture registration. He said it would help me to see how architectural writing can be simplified, and boy was he right. I became more aware of how exclusive language can be if you don't take the time to think about what each word and phrase really means and what it communicates.
It also made me see that technical language can be simplified if we really take the time to notice.
This book provides a great overview of techniques, styles and descriptions written in simple, plain English, and it will give you some clues as to how you can improve and simplify your own writing style.
5 The Little Red Writing Book, The Little Green Grammar Book, and Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick
These might not be about architecture writing specifically, but many of the lessons in these books would benefit anyone who writes anything about anything. I'm a big fan of Mark Treddinick's writing style, so it's no surprise his other books end up on my top 7 list. The Little Red Writing Book is a manual which addresses composition, sentence craft, paragraph design, structure and planning. It's also a delightful book to read, and you get the sense of having a conversation with the writer.
In The Little Green Grammar Book, Mark asks and answers the tough grammar questions such as how to REALLY use correct punctuation and how to use verbs more efficiently and effectively.
Finally, Writing Well is a fantastic guide to creative writing and effective writing in a professional setting. There is one fantastic little quote I have taken from this book:
Every sentence names something and says something about it. This is the secret of the sentence — the short story it tells. If that story is clearly told, the sentence will work; if not, it will not. -- Mark Tredinnick
6 Writing Architecture by Carter Wiseman
This book does exactly what it says on the cover. It's a manual for both architectural students and practitioners who want to improve their writing. It provides relevant advice for organising ideas, expressing opinions, and defending arguments and, in the last two chapters, focuses on ways professionals can secure commissions and communicate better with clients.
For me, one of the best parts of this book is the section of defending your arguments because developing the skill of diplomacy and being able to defend your ideas is a vital skill to master.
7 Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
If you're interested in architectural criticism, then Alexandra Lange's book offers some excellent examples. She analyses existing architectural criticism and explains how to write your own effectively. Not only does this book help the readers to write more clearly about architecture, but also it helps us to understand the viewpoints of different writers and their writing style.
Through different pieces of writing, Alexandra Lange illustrates her own ways of seeing the architecture and the urban environment and effective ways to structure the argument, set
the tone and select the right vocabulary.
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