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Best Online Writing Courses Where You Can Improve Your Skills

Struggling to find where the best free online courses with certificates are? Well, we’ve compiled a list for you! We’ve detailed where they are available, and what Universities run them to help you!

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Writing, both creative and academic, is an intensely important and integral part of the political, social, cultural, and economic landscape. Writing skills enable us to communicate complex and unclear ideas and theories to each other easily and without fear or misinterpretation. A world without writing is almost unimaginable, as it is so interwoven with our daily lives. From reading a train timetable in the morning, to a judge reading intently through laws and legislation – reading informs us and enables us to complete tasks and activities. Just think about how many times you read something on a daily basis. You read the contents of your breakfast, what is going on around the world, messages from your loved ones, the adverts on the way to work, the minutes from the meeting you had missed, and your children’s homework when you get home. All these processes are important in helping you live life.

More than merely informing us, writing also serves to entertain us. Every book you have read that changed your life, every song that has touched you, every film that made you jump out of your seat, they all started with a few words on a page. Writing can help us to imagine worlds and situations which a spark of inspiration and magic. It can help us understand confusing and abstract concepts that are otherwise, impossible to grasp.

So, how does one master the art of writing? How does someone refine their skills to a point where they can express something beautiful or complex with a pen and some paper? As you can imagine, there are a plenty of ways to go about learning the tricks of the trade. One thing that people desperately need these days is flexibility. Sometimes you can’t put your life on hold just to learn something. Sometimes you require a course or learning process to adapt to your needs. A number of Universities and organisations structure and design online courses to meet these needs. Available through a number of websites, these courses deliver fantastic insights, info, and theories of best practice to your computer screen. This allows you to delve into this pool of information whenever you need. Online writing courses are increasingly popular as people acquire amazing writing skills from the comfort of their own home. The incentive of free online courses is strong, and many have signed up and completed theirs already.

Class Central

Class Central is a fantastic search engine that allows you to scour a multitude of courses in a matter of minutes. Fit with regular reports and blogs about free online courses, it’s a great tool for those looking to stay in the know when it comes to online education. They also compile tens of thousands of reviews of the courses, helping you make an informed decision. Established in 2011, it’s an integral location for those looking for fantastic online courses in a range of subjects, including writing!

Creative Writing for All: A 10-Day Journaling Challenge

Via SkillShare (self paced)

Let superstar author Emily Gould help you improve your creative writing! Amazing tricks and tips by a successful author, all delivered to you over the space of a succinct 10-day creative writing challenge. This is a great choice for those looking for a crash course, from a professional with knowledge and experience in the sector. The journaling challenge is perfect for rekindling creativity and energy in your writing.

Thinking Like a Writer

Via Michigan State University (9 weeks long)

Being a writer is a lot more than just putting pen to paper. It’s about inhabiting a creative mind set. This course revolves around the work of revising writing, learning, and engaging with language and community. You will explore who you are as a learner as you write about yourself and your language use, as well as consider who you are as a communicator as you critique texts, persuade audiences, and collaborate with others.

Introduction to Journalism

Via University of Strathclyde (6 weeks long)

The world of Journalism can be a scary place. With this course, you can get an amazing insight into what it means to report on events for a living. The course contains six topics - what makes a good news story; writing news; writing features; opinion writing; politics and journalism; and investigative journalism - and explores these in relation to a case study running throughout the six weeks. Although the scenario is entirely fictitious, participants will engage in tasks and discussions that reflect real-life situations in journalism.

Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest

Via Commonwealth Education Trust (5 weeks long)

Writing for a younger reader can be one of the most rewarding things. Creating a world of wonder and imagination can enable children to delve into the world of literature for the first time. During this course you will identify stories that matter to you, explore cultural significance and boundaries, and shape your identity as a writer. The course informs how to become familiar with the standard elements of a narrative (character, setting, plot, theme, language, dialogue, point of view) and reflect on your own work and practice essential self-editing skills. You will see the different ways in which words and art interact, and the possibilities of longer narrative forms and come away with practical insights into publishing options; and create a plan for pursuing your enthusiasm for writing.

The Future of Storytelling

Via University of Applied Science Potsdam (8 weeks long)

What will happen to storytelling in the decades to come? Will it look the same as it does now? This course helps students understand how media will be absorbed and understood in the years to come. The teacher's goal is to inspire and help students understand and broaden their horizons of what is and might be possible. Students will learn about what has already been attempted, and what has succeeded or even failed - and why.

John Fox

John Fox takes an explicitly more personal approach to supplying fantastic writing courses. John Fox is a successful writer, with a published book and a number of published articles. He takes a blog approach to inform about available online courses. The blog was established around 2006 and John supplies some of the courses himself, so you know they come from a special personal place! Feedback on the site definitely confirms that people are happy with the courses John suggests.

The Triangle Method of Character Creation

Via John Fox (2 hours long)

By the time you finish the Triangle Method of Character Creation, you will have created an addictive character — one that readers will want to see in book after book. John approaches character creation and description using a revolutionary triangle method, comprised of the basic groundwork, initial character introduction, and advanced characteristics as well.

Writing what you know

Via The Open University (8 hours long)

This course includes reading and writing activities that are geared to develop the use of memory, observation, and the senses. The aim is to develop your perceptual abilities and hone your capacity to see detail in the world. You will be encouraged to see what’s familiar in a new way and to make good use of your own personal history. A must-take course for those looking to pull from personal experience.

Endless Story Ideas

Via Creative Writing Now (3 days long)

Ever wonder how authors like Stephen King and James Patterson have such an endless stream of amazing premises at their disposal? It can be hard to get the creative ball rolling, but once you do, you won’t have time to look back! In this course, you'll generate lots of story ideas you can develop in the weeks and months ahead. Most importantly, you'll learn how to generate new writing ideas whenever you need them.

Adventures in Writing

Via Stanford University (4-6 hours long)

This is more of an academic course, but you’ll gain knowledge of how to communicate through writing. Designed by professionals from Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, this graphic-style course is comprised of five modules. Each contains an interactive exercise that is customized to a specific writing theme. Upon completion of the Adventures in Writing course, you will achieve a clearer understanding of tone, voice, and word choice. You will also master the style of an argumentative piece while dishing out a polished piece free of grammar and punctuation flubs. 

Writing For New Writers

Via Taylor’s University (Flexible duration)

This course will take students through the process of writing from simple paragraphs to more complex writing structures and eventually research writing. Writing is often seen as something we do to remember grammatical forms and words to learn. However, I'd argue we need grammar and words in order to write. Writing is becoming increasingly important as we communicate even more online. We also are increasingly communicating with people from other countries. This means we have to be able to express our ideas clearly and in a way people can understand. If you want to get more information on writing, this is the course for you. 

The Crafty Writer

Via Fiona Veitch Smith (Flexible duration)

Are you a beginner writer? Do you know you want to put pen to paper but don’t know where to start? This eight-session online creative writing course will give an introduction to the basic elements of creative writing – from prose fiction to poetry. The course is entirely free and you can work through it at your own pace. The exercises are designed to help you start writing and self-analyze your work. Feedback from a tutor will not be provided. However, you may post a question in the comments box if there is something you don’t understand about how the course is put together. If you have any questions about how the course operates please check out the FAQ on the menu which covers pretty much everything – and that includes how to get started and whether or not it’s really free!

Pro Writing Aid

Pro Writing Aid is first and foremost, a service to help your editing process. Luckily for us, Dorothy Hunter wrote a list of amazing online courses to take and put them on the Pro Writing Aid blog in 2014! So, just as Pro Writing Aid provides writers with support through their computer, so too do these course! They provide insight and potential for amazing exploration.

Writing and Reading the Essay

Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology (36 hours long)

This is a course focused on the literary genre of the essay. A wide-ranging, elastic, and popular form that attracts not only nonfiction writers, but also fiction writers, poets, scientists, physicians, and others to write in this form, and readers of every stripe to read it. This reading will, inspire students in writing essays of their own, which will be the central element of your collaboration. Writing skills emerge from practice – that is, we become able writers both by writing ourselves and by reading and reflecting on the writing others have done. Reading other’s work along with frequent writing practice is what inspires us to write and helps us have something to say.

Writing on Contemporary Issues: Culture Shock! Writing, Editing, and Publishing in Cyberspace

Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology (36 hours long)

This course is an introduction to writing prose for a public audience—specifically, prose that is critical and personal, that features your ideas, your perspective, and your voice to engage readers. The focus of your reading and your writing will be American popular culture broadly defined. That is, you will write essays that critically engage elements and aspects of contemporary American popular culture and do so via a vivid personal voice and presence. In the coming weeks we will read a number of pieces that address current issues in popular culture. These readings will address a great many subjects from the contemporary world to launch and elaborate an argument or position or refined observation. You will write a great deal, attending to your purpose in writing and your intended audience to shape what and how you write.

Writing for the Web

Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology (One month long)

Understanding the difference between writing for print versus writing for the Internet starts with learning about how readers behave differently online. This course brings to light how to accommodate the needs of online readers through web design, writing style, structure, and search engine optimisation. Find out how content can impact the reader's experience, as well as how the reader's experience can impact the way they interpret online content.

Planning your Novel: Starting from Scratch

Via Stanford University (2 months long)

This course will help you make a map of your ideas. In week one, you will turn your idea into a premise, which you can use as a blueprint to guide you as you continue to plan and eventually write a book. In week two, you’ll make character worksheets for your protagonist and at least one antagonist, figuring out what they both want and how they will change over the course of the novel. In week three, you’ll draft an incident that will launch your novel’s plot, and use this incident to pinpoint what the climax might be, which you’ll sketch more fully in week four. In the final week, you’ll outline a structure for your novel, using it to draft a complete story synopsis that you can use to guide you throughout the writing process. This is not a traditional writing course. You will not be generating pages of your actual novel but once you do sit down to write, this critical planning work will allow you to make that writing purposeful and meaningful.

What is good writing?

Via The Open University (12 hours long)

When you write an account of your ideas for other people to read, you have to explain yourself particularly carefully. You cannot make the mental leaps you do when you talk with others or think about things yourself. This makes writing one of the most challenging aspect of studying. This free course, What Is good writing?, will help you develop the basic skills and confidence required for writing by explaining what is involved in good writing and why it is so important.

Targetting new audiences: Finding your niche

Via Poynter’s News University (1 hour long)

So you want to create a new publication for a specific audience, but how do you know if a website or a print product would be more successful? What kind of content does your audience want? This course will help you get to know your audience. You'll find out what data you need, where to get it, and how to use it. Learn from some niche youth publications' successes and failures and brainstorm your own ideas and goals. The course even helps you learn how to get ideas accepted by your boss with a simulation game that lets you pitch ideas – and get feedback.

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The Creative Spark

Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Flexible duration)

Creativity – "The mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams" (Hirschberg) – is much prized in the arts, science, business, and the classroom. What does the creative process look like? Under what conditions does it flourish and what ignites the creative spark? Attempting to answer these questions, this class explores ways creativity has been understood in western culture: what we prize and fear about creativity and its wellsprings; how writers, artists, scientists and inventors have described their own creative processes; how psychologists and philosophers have theorized it; ways in which creativity has been represented in western culture, particularly in 20th century films; and creativity in everyday life, including our own lives. Readings include portions of psychologist Rollo May's The Courage To Create, and essays by Joan Didion, John Updike, Alice Walker, Oliver Sacks, and others. In addition, we'll watch video profiles of choreographer Paul Taylor, architect Maya Lin, and jazz musician Dave Brubeck. With this course you’ll keep a journal which you’ll note your observations and reflections on the creative process. The course will also feature a film the class watches together on an evening early in the term.

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Writing and Experience

Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2 months long)

MIT students bring rich cultural backgrounds to their college experience. This course explores the splits, costs, confusions, insights, and opportunities of living in two traditions, without feeling completely at home in either. Course readings include accounts of growing up Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, and South-East Asian-American, and of mixed race. The texts include selections from Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Kesaya E. Noda's "Growing Up Asian in America," Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek, Gary Soto's "Like Mexicans," Sherman Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, the movies Smoke Signals and Mississippi Masala, Danzy Senna's Caucasia, and others. Student writings will also be used as ways to investigate our multiple identities, exploring the constraints and contributions of cultural and ethnic traditions. Students need not carry two passports in order to enroll; an interest in reading and writing about being shaped by multiple influences suffices.

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