Anybody can write. It takes time and discipline, however, to become a good writer.
In school you were taught that good writing meant there weren’t any “bad” mistakes. There were no errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation.
Truth is good writing is more than simply writing “correctly.” It’s writing that satisfies your reader’s needs and interests.
Good writing has:
- Interesting and important ideas. Your ideas are the heart of your piece. It’s what you’re writing about.
- Organization that’s logical and effective. Organization is the way you move from one idea to another.
- Voice that is individual and appropriate. Voice is the expression of your personality through words. It’s how your writing feels to someone who’s reading it. Is yours casual of formal? Friendly and inviting or reserved and standoffish?
- Word choice that is specific and memorable. Good writing uses just the right words to say just the right things.
- Conventions that are correct and communicative. Conventions are how we use punctuation, spelling, grammar and other things that gives your writing consistency and makes it easy to read.
- Correct spelling and grammar. Strong grammatical skills lend credibility to your writing. They also enhance the readability of your work. Common grammatical errors include:
- Comma splices or independent clauses joined by a comma. The manager hired Susan for the position, Ben was transferred to the main office. You can correct the mistake by changing the comma to a semicolon; add a coordinating conjunction after the comma, (e.g., and or but); or change the comma to a period.
- Run-on sentences or independent clauses joined together without punctuation or a coordinating conjunction. The manager hired Susan for the position Ben was transferred to the main office. They can be fixed the same way as a comma splice.
- Sentence fragments or incomplete sentences. To be complete it must have a subject and a verb and make sense. For example, Because Human Resources hired twenty people. Because Human Resources hired twenty people, new office furniture had to be ordered would be a complete sentence.
- Parallel structure. Use parallel or consistent structure when writing sentences and paragraphs. Avoid mixing verb forms in the same sentence. If you use the –ing form of a verb in a list use it for all verbs in that list. Poor example: Mrs. Jones is trustworthy, dependable and she pays close attention to details. Improved: Mrs. Jones is trustworthy, dependable and detail-oriented. Use parallel structure when formatting bulleted and numbered lists. If listing skills on your resume don’t switch from verbs to adjectives as shown in this formatted list formatted list of skills.
- Pay close attention to detail
- I am hard working.
- I can type fast.
- Instead, use parallel formatting to construct your bulleted list:
- Hard worker
- Proficient typist
- Sentences should be written concisely. Adding needless words and fillers distracts readers from your message or story. Too wordy: This is to inform you that health insurance rates will increase effective next month. Improved: Health insurance rates will increase effective next month.
- Effective paragraphing. There should be one subject per paragraph. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence telling your reader what the subject is. Link ideas by repeating words in sentences. John suggested an aggressive marketing campaign for the new product. The campaign will involve direct mailings to all households in the target market. Use transitional expressions to help your reader understand where your message is going. The Human Resources department is developing a plan to increase employee retention. After three employees resigned from the payroll department we had to hire temporary staff.
- Sentence variety. Add interest to your writing by using all four sentence types: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex.
- A simple sentence contains one independent clause: John fixed the computer.
- A compound sentence contains two independent clauses: John loaded the software and Mary installed the hard drive.
- A complex sentence contains an independent and dependent clause: After the installation was complete, the computer was rebooted.
- And a complex-compound sentence contains at least two independent clauses and one dependent: After the installation was complete, the computer was rebooted and the IT department successfully completed the upgrade.
- Don’t be afraid to use contractions. Doing so gives a more informal tone to your writing and sounds more like the way you talk.
- The reader in mind. Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It anticipates a reader’s questions and then answers them.
- The ability to startle, provoke or make the reader wonder. It makes you stop, think and laugh and, most of all, keep reading.
Don’t be discouraged if writing doesn’t come easy to you. As you sharpen your skills, you’ll have more confidence, your writing will improve and you’ll become a better writer.