- Books, Literature, and Writing
Qualities of Good Writing: A Checklist
Yes, writing well is a talent, but everyone can learn to be a better writer by learning the basic qualities of good writing. this piece will introduce you to those qualities of good writing. Hopefully, you will learn something from this article and use it to your advantage. Writing is both a craft and an art. Some of our writing abilities are natural~we are born with those talents~but, it is also possible to learn how to be a good writer. By paying attention to certain writing qualities, anyone can learn to improve his writing and be succussful in the basics. This article is designed as a guide, a checklist, of the basic qualities of writing that anyone can verify is correct in order to make his or her writing better.
All great written pieces begin with a great idea. Think of ideas like a tee shirt. You want your tee shirt to fit just right. You don't want it to be too large or too small. The same goes for your idea. You want your idea to be narrowed and focused. If your idea is too broad, like the Civil War, it will require extensive research and thousands of pages to write. After all, there are entire books written on the Civil War. But, writers don't want to make their topic so narrowed or focused that researching information is hard to come by. Writers need to strike a balance. Writers will need to ask questions like "I wonder why the battle of Stones River was so important to the North winning the Civil War." This is a great way to narrow your topic and to try to find researchable information that you can write about.
Development of a piece includes all of the supporting details that back up your thesis or claim. In middle school, I teach this as "Bing, Bang, and Bong." I teach my students to use the power of three to support their idea--three specific points that support the thesis. Good topic sentences fall into this category as they give the reader an idea of where the writer is going with each paragraph. I tell my middle schoolers that the paragraph's topic sentences should relate to the "bing, bang, and bong" in the introductory paragraph. I always teach beginning writers the basic structure of a three-point essay because it is a formula that really does work. Students can use the basic outline to structure a well-developed and organized piece of writing.
Organization is just that--the way that a piece is organized on the paper. Depending on your idea and its development will depend on the organization of the piece. There are many different ways to organize a piece of writing:
- Chronological~time order
- Cause and effect~something happens as a result of something else.
- Compare and contrast~how are items or issues alike or different.
- Most important to least important~like a newspaper article.
- Least important to most important~like a top ten list.
- Sequential~a logical organization like this Hub's organization.
Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of the language, the sound of word patterns, the way in which the writing plays to the ear. How does it sound? Fluent writing has cadence, power, rhythm, and movement. When we write, we write in sentences. Readers read the same way. your sentences need to have the following:
- Variety in sentnce beginnings.
- Variety in sentence length and structure.
- Sounds great when read aloud.
- Rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and other sound effects.
- Sentences are structured so they're easy to understand.
Word choice is determined by a number of qualities and cannot be thoroughly explored in this post. Remember, writing is a series of choices. Word choice is a major one. Here are some things to avoid in word choice:
- misused words~the words don't mean what you think they do.
- words with unwanted connotations
- using a pronoun when readers can't tell to whom or what it refers
- jargon or technical terms
- loaded language
Whatever you want to say, there is only one word that will express it, one verb to make it move, one adjective to qualify it. You must seek that word, that verb, that adjective, and never be satisfied with approximations, never resort to tricks, even clever ones, or to verbal pirouettes to escape the difficulty.
(letter to Guy de Maupassant)
Voice is how well your express yourself and your feelings to the reader. Voice is your sparkle, your distinct personality, style, or point of view. Voice is extremely important because you want your writing to have as much personality as you do. How can I write with voice? The best way to write with voice is to write the way that you speak (without all of the imperfections). I try to write in a style that I think my readers will like. Ask yourself: Is this something that I would read?
For years as an English teach I used a GUM workbook to teach conventions. GUM stands for grammar, usage, and mechanics. Let me break it down for you.
Conventions are the spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. Using correct conventions is a courtesy to your reader. It means that you are polite and want your reader ot understand what you read.
Mechanics are the conventions of print that don't exist in oral language. Mechanics has to be consciously taught.
Usage refers to conventions of both written and spoken language that includes word order, verb tense, and subject-verb agreement.
In middle school, students should have a basic understanding of conventions and be able to use them correctly.
Why is it important? It's important because for the most part, we write to be read. Bad writing confuses people. Good writing can help you get a job. Bad writing makes you look stupid.