Most students know that a quality education includes learning how to produce a polished piece of good writing. And improving your writing process—and product—will help more than just your grades; writing is a foundational workplace skill in nearly every industry.
But what is “good writing”? Is it subjective, or can students learn how to consistently write better with practice? At Ecree, we think this is possible. We also understand how hard it can be to tell if what you’ve written is any good. So what’s a writer to do?
Read on for more insight into the 5 key characteristics of good writing. Once you better understand what defines good writing, you can work to improve your own writing with a more concrete vision in mind.
Feedback is so important, we had to list it at the top! The drafting process can be hard. One step in particular is essential: you’ve got to solicit feedback on your drafts in order to improve. Seeking and implementing good feedback is one of those “can’t miss” steps that good writers know to take.
If you’ve got some ideas down and aren’t quite sure where to go next, quality, objective feedback can help you take it to the next level. Good feedback will be actionable and clear. It will help you understand what is and is not getting through when you put your words down on paper.
Maybe there’s a major point you want to make that’s clear in your head, but it’s not getting captured in the written word. Quality feedback will help you use those blind spots so that you can improve. Good writing is not vague, and it’s also not based on empty opinions. Using real-time and unlimited feedback in your process will help ensure that you are articulating ideas, conveying your meaning, and providing support for the focus of your piece, whether that’s an essay, a persuasive argument, literary criticism, or even your latest blog post. In short: feedback is the total MVP of all writing tools. Start finding actionable feedback every time you write to see a major difference in your writing, and your grades.
Practice makes perfect. Even great writers are rarely satisfied with the first thing they commit to the page. Revision is another incredibly important piece of the writing puzzle. It’s a step that comes naturally after getting high-quality feedback.
Different writers have different approaches to revision. Reviewing all the notes and comments that have been provided and making changes to everything from word choice to sentence structure to overall structure and flow of the piece can all improve your writing.
Revision can also be a powerful tool in your overall student tool box. Revising a previous piece of work can be a great opportunity to improve your grade in a class, and also get some real time practice with your critical thinking skills. Submitting revisions can teach you a lot about your growing skills. It demonstrates your commitment to improvement to your instructors.
Revision is also an applicable skill in the workplace. While professionals rarely have papers due by a certain date, projects often require polished written content. Mastering this key characteristic of good writing as early as possible will help you build a strong foundation as a writer in any academic or professional setting.
This key characteristic actually offers two awesome writing tips in one. “Focus” has multiple meanings. For starters, good writing simply can’t be produced in an environment of distraction. If you want to write well, then get yourself in a good physical and mental space to focus. This can mean different things for different writers. It’s almost always helpful to have a clean, quiet workspace, and no immediate distractions close by—that includes phone notifications, or other students or family members who want your attention.
If quiet, sustained focus is hard to come by, start small. Set a timer for a short block of time, and work for as long as you can without interruption. This can be a great way to get your initial ideas out before you start the process of feedback and revision.
Next, it’s important to consider the importance of focus in your actual writing. Your writing should be guided by a clear purpose, which is articulated in your thesis statement. Your thesis statement often comes from answering a writing prompt given by your instructor. The rest of your paper should all be organized to support your thesis.
Pay close attention to how you structure and build your points. Instead of listing all of your arguments or pieces of evidence in one long paragraph, structure each paragraph to fully explain and support one aspect of your argument at a time. And don’t forget about this characteristic when you come to your conclusion!
Staying focused means that your text will flow smoothly and logically, and will not feel “choppy” to the reader. Your conclusion should be brief, but should also summarize your writing in total as a way to conclude your final points and achieve your overall purpose.
In its essence, good writing is not only well organized and logical, it’s also interesting and authentic. But “authenticity” can be hard to quantify or even identify. In some ways, it’s easier to advise against what not to do—the most extreme example, of course, being plagiarism. But when it comes to academic writing, even if you don’t directly copy the words of another, it can be all too easy to adopt a tone that sounds like someone else’s voice.
As you revise your work, try to strike a balance between meeting the requirements of the assignment and bringing a bit of your unique personality and voice to the writing. Notice if you find yourself relying too heavily on dry phrasing, like “therefore” or repetitive use of transitional words like “however” or “nevertheless.” While transitional words are necessary to help readers move through writing, you will not sound like a unique individual if every single sentence begins with one of these words.
Remember, you are the only person who has your unique voice and perspective on the world, and that perspective can definitely improve a reader’s experience of your writing. And if you’re worried about going overboard, remember that you can also cut back on unnecessary details when you revise. Try to inject your writing with some of your own authentic observation as appropriate, and you might find that writing can actually be kind of fun!
There’s nothing worse than taking the time to read an article and find yourself shaking your head at the end, still unsure what the writer was trying to get across. Reading requires an investment of time, and so your writing should make every reader’s time worth it! What’s the best way to make your work more readable, enjoyable, and more apt to get a high grade?
In a word: clarity. For the most part, academic writing will provide students with a pretty straightforward assignment or prompt. Your writing should address this prompt without confusion or cloudiness. Get to the point, and then provide examples to support your point. While it’s normal to not know exactly what you think about a topic or prompt at first, the process of brainstorming and drafting can help you clarify your ideas so you end up with a clear sense of what you want to say. Then (and only then) can you shape how you want to say it! Without a strong, clear center, any piece of writing will end up being a little mushy and confused, which makes for a much less pleasurable experience for the reader.
Provide the reader with clear ideas, and your writing will become more interesting, more compelling, and ultimately, more fun to read. The result? A happy reader is a happy grader, so more tightly crafted writing always ends up getting higher grades.
And grades aren’t the end of it; clarity in written communication is a highly desirable skill in the workplace. From sending a pitch perfect email to getting a new idea across in a memo to a supervisor, clarity will not only help you contribute meaningfully in your first job, it will also help you get your ideas noticed and implemented across the span of your career.
Becoming a lifelong writer takes time, but the first step can happen right now! Pay attention to these 5 key characteristics, and tackle your next writing project like a pro. Need a little support? Transforming rough drafts into good writing often requires some additional perspective on your work. Ecree’s unique writing software helps students improve their writing with objective, immediate, and teacher-quality writing feedback. Sign up today to try it out, or check out our FAQ to learn more and get additional tips on how to improve your writing.