What is good writing?
A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday evening, I was sitting in a room full of self-proclaimed writers and grammar geeks. It was orientation day for the Communications – Professional Writing program. Our Program Coordinator, Kelly, broke the ice with a simple question, “What is good writing?” Glances were exchanged, and the silence that followed was unexpected. And embarrassing.
C’mon, what is good writing? Really? How hard is it to answer that question? Surprisingly, everyone’s views differed and the debate lead to a (ridiculous) discussion about how Jane Austen is not a good writer. The question came up several times during the rest of Bootcamp. How could it not? Professional writers have to know what good writing is! It was a healthy exercise as we analyzed the differences between various forms of writing for different industries. Good writing, in whatever form it may be, has specific traits that makes it good. So I’ve decided (with the help of some dear friends) to briefly sum them up to make everyone’s lives easier – the next time this question comes up.
Short sentences and simple language
Jack Kerouac in Dharma Bums said, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
I second that. Remember when we thought that using big words would make us look smart? Yeah, not the case. You don’t want to use words or language that will make your reader flip through the pages of a dictionary. Keep it simple and conversational. Replace phrases with words, wherever possible and slash anything that doesn’t support the main point or argument.
Audience driven/ Right tone or voice
“Writing is the painting of the voice!” Voltaire was so right.
You want to reassure your readers that you’re writing for them. It should come across as natural. Do a thorough audience analysis before you start writing. Get to know your audience and keep in mind what is important to them; this will help build a connection and trust among your readers. This is essential when it comes to web copywriting. Almost every successful blog or article is tailored towards their ideal reader and gives them valuable and relatable content.
Avoid redundancy and wordiness
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King speaks my mind.
Eliminate any unnecessary words; redundancy can only confuse your readers. Adjectives and adverbs have their place but don’t overuse them. Especially when it comes to technical writing – you’re trying to explain something so make the language as clear and concise as possible. You want your readers to focus on the content and not get distracted by the language.
Persuasive, empathetic & relatable
“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.” I feel you, Neil Gaiman.
This summarizes the elements that will make your writing stand out. You want to be empathetic and relatable in order to be persuasive. I know, easier said than done. Start by implementing little things like addressing the concerns and objections of your readers, and try to look at things from their perspective. Place yourself where they are, understand what’s important to them, and let that guide your writing.
“Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great,” Ratatouille’s Chef, Gustaeu.
This can’t be stressed enough. No great writer wrote while keeping his audience in mind (way to contradict myself, eh). Maybe to some extent, yes, but for the most part, you do you. Let your personality shine through your writing. It’s what will make it unique and truly relatable.