Note: Examples of good writing (and bad writing) abound in the digital age. This post, however, includes only examples of good writing from mass media. This post doesn’t give any examples from fiction. (In fiction writing, subjectivity is the norm, so far fewer “rules” apply.)
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. In fact, 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. (If you use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, you can easily keep your sentences short.)
- 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.
5 Examples of Good Writing
The following are examples of good writing at the sentence level.
Note: I’ve omitted material both before and after the quoted sentences. I’ve added words in brackets in certain places to give context.
- 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
- Source: Klosterman, Chuck. “Kanye and LeBron: Preview Chuck Klosterman’s ‘I Wear the Black Hat’.” Rolling Stone. 16 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
- Why it’s an example of good writing: the vocabulary is easy, but what I like most about this example is the short sentences; a great example of the “just-the-facts-ma’am” approach to writing; extremely easy to understand
- Source: Rymer, Russ. “Vanishing Voices.” National Geographic. The National Geographic Society, Jul. 2012. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.
- Why it’s an example of good writing: the vocabulary is very accessible; two short sentences bookend a longer sentence, creating variety; the paragraph ends with a rhetorical question, a useful writing device that asks the reader to pause and reflect
- Source: Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “How Breitbart Conquered the Media.” The Atlantic, 12 Sep. 2016. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
- Why it’s an example of good writing: the word choice is strong; the author makes his opinions very clear with adjectives such as ugly, lethal, greatest and nouns such as racism, aversion, and sins
- Source: “Twtr: Which tongues work best for microblogs?” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 31 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.
- Why it’s an example of good writing: the most important part of the sentence appears early (before the first comma); the information contained in the who-clause rightly follows the proper name Shuo Tang instead of appearing in a new sentence; proper punctuation allows for easier reading
Are These the Only Examples of Good Writing That You Have?
This post could never contain a complete list of examples of good writing. Of course, you may not agree with my definition of good writing.
But I think “good” is a function of a text’s purpose. Good writing imparts information, persuades, defends, and so on.
Good Writing Has Been Edited!
There is often (but not always) a positive correlation between the quality of a text and its lifespan. In short, a printed newspaper (published daily) usually has more typos than a bound volume (published once).
A newspaper is read and then thrown out. But a book may be read again and again.
This doesn’t always hold true, of course. One daily may have relatively error-free copy, for example. (I’m looking at you, New York Times).
By contrast, a book by a well-known author could be rife with typos. For example, NYT columnist David Brooks’s The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement is a book with a fascinating premise.
The problem? It’s riddled with typos. But it’s not entirely Mr. Brooks’s fault. The book production team was asleep at the wheel.
(Speaking of typos, don’t leave out the l in public.)
In general, then, the text in monthlies contains fewer errors than that in weeklies. In addition, the writing in certain well-known publications is superb. The copy has been edited by professionals but, more importantly, the text is compelling.
National Geographic is a joy to read not just because the stories take the reader to distant lands. The articles are extremely well written. The transitions are good; the clichés are few. In addition, the word choice is precise and the level of detail serves the first-rate photography.
The site copyblogger.com also has an archive of tip-filled articles to help readers improve their copywriting skills.
If you have your own blog, then check out these 8 easy steps to writing better web content or read about good word choice. Once you finish with those posts, download our free digital editing checklist.