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By choosing good example texts and using the techniques described in my posts “Refining Your Writing with Double Translations” and “Building Your Writing Skills,” you can improve your writing independently.  Choose sample documents or texts that you enjoy or admire.

Below are just a few examples of short texts that native and advanced non-native English speakers might study, some with links to the original material online.

REPORTING: Journalistic reports, feature stories

Well-written news reports are widely available: again, I suggest you work with an article you enjoyed reading or admired for some reason.  Here’s a sample article that I admired for its content — a compelling story of Afghan girls persevering in their effort to attend school despite violent antagonism from those who would like to prevent them from getting an education:

“Afghan Girls, Scarred by Acid, Defy Terror, Embracing School”  by Dexter Filkins

Obituaries — brief biographies of people who have recently died — can be interesting.  Here’s one I enjoyed about the unusual life of a performer who had a special relationship with elephants (and one elephant, in particular):

“Ben Williams, Half of an Elephant Act, Dies at 56” by Douglas Martin

Here’s a humorous report on ethnic joke-telling traditions in a remote region of Russia:

“In Dagestan, Laugh Track Echoes Across Mountains” by Ellen Barry

Here’s a well-worded article on the natural world from National Geographic magazine, profiling two neighboring national parks — Glacier (in the U.S.), and Waterton Lakes (in Canada):

“Crown of the Continent” by Douglas H. Chadwick

ESSAYS: Opinion pieces, editorials, reviews

The op-ed (opinion-editorial) pages of a publication can be worth studying.  Many newspapers reserve the last two pages of the front section for editorials (pieces written by the editorial staff of the publication), letters to the editor (readers’ responses to previously published pieces — selected by the editors), columns (opinion pieces by syndicated columnists or regular contributors to the publication), and opinion pieces (essays by various contributors).  And of course, reviews of books, movies, museum exhibitions, and nearly any cultural artifact or event are ubiquitous!

Here’s a short essay that effectively weaves narrative elements into a persuasive commentary on common prejudices about aging and older people:

“Old Age, From Youth’s Narrow Prism” by Marc E. Agronin, M.D.

SHORT FICTION: Short stories

Short stories offer many of the insights and pleasures of novels, with a much-reduced time investment.  Below is a very short list of some stories by American writers that I enjoyed reading or re-reading recently.

Again, I recommend focusing on stories you enjoy or admire.  However, a private student of mine recently committed to studying a story she didn’t like in order to explore certain cultural aspects and understand why it’s so well regarded.  In the end … she still didn’t like it, but she appreciated its cultural content.

Here’s a story with a high-octane narrator (link below to full text at nytimes.com) — it’s from a collection of stories entitled Wild Child by T. Coraghessan Boyle:

“La Conchita” by T. C. Boyle

T. C. Boyle is versatile; the settings and characters in his stories are diverse.  Here’s one more of his pieces available online:

“Modern Love” by T. C. Boyle

I’ll just list a few more authors and stories for your interest.  Visit your local library and read the first few paragraphs of some of these (and other) stories; maybe you’ll find one you particularly like!

Stories by Richard Yates: “A Really Good Jazz Piano”; “The B.A.R. Man”; “Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern” (ESL note: Be prepared for a particular New York City accent represented in written dialog in “Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern”)

Stories by Alice Munro: “Fiction”; “Face”; “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”; and many others

Stories by Tobias Wolff: “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs”; “The Night in Question”; “The Other Miller”; “Sanity”; “The Missing Person”

Stories by Sam Shepard: “The Remedy Man”; “Living the Sign”; “Dust”; “A Man’s Man”; “Cruising Paradise”; “A Small Circle of Friends”; “Wild to the Wild”

Stories by Ernest Hemingway: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”; “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”; and many others

(photo by Bonnie Yoon Bishop)