What Is “Good Writing”?
Defining what good writing is like defining what good wine is. People can usually tell the very bad from the very good. But it’s hard to identify a formula that works every time for all audiences.
Still, examples of good writing have certain features that set them apart from examples of mediocre or bad writing:
- Good writing is clear. The effectiveness of a message is only as good as its clarity. After all, if a reader is confused by a text, then what good is the piece of writing? Clear writing has no vagueness in meaning (what linguists call semantic ambiguity). Clear writing is also accessible writing—that is, the text is understandable to most readers. Big words and industry jargon often obscure a message. They make readers work harder to understand a text. The examples of good writing below use clear language.
- Good writing is concise. It takes less processing power to understand a sentence with 10 words than one with 30 words. But concise doesn’t mean “simplistic.” It just means saying what you need to say efficiently.
- Good writing is correct. Good mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization) make your writing easier to understand. Sentences that are properly punctuated are easier to read than those that are not. Good spelling and grammar help gain a reader’s trust.
Examples of Good Writing
The following are examples of good writing at the sentence level. Note: I have omitted material both before and after the quoted sentences. I have added words in brackets in certain places to give context.
We can teach people which forms of English are acceptable without thinking of the more colloquial phrases and words as errors. Rather, what is considered proper English is, like so much else, a matter of fashion.
- Source: McWhorter, John. “A Matter of Fashion.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 12 Jul. 2012. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.
- Why it’s an example of good writing: the vocabulary is accessible (except for colloquial); proper punctuation in the second sentence breaks the idea up into digestible pieces; the writer compares the abstract (proper English) to the concrete (fashion), which improves understanding