What is “good” writing?

What is “good” writing?

I think, at some point in our lives, we have all described our writing as “good” or “bad.” We analyze (and sometimes over analyze) the elements of our writing to determine whether the finished product is worthy of being deemed “good.”

Over the course of my academic career, I’ve had many readers, from professors to peers, offer “it was good” as the sole point of feedback on various projects I’ve shared. It led me down a path of judging my writing and the writing of others in a “good vs. bad” way. It wasn’t until I took a literary criticism course at Clark Atlanta University that I learned something that would change the way I absorbed and analyzed writing.

There is NO such thing as good writing. There is NO such thing as bad writing. Writing comes in many different forms and styles, but what they all have in common is there is a purpose, and as writers it our job to ensure that reader is able to find that purpose.

When people talk about “good” writing, what they are typically referring to is effective writing. Effective writing is writing that achieves the purpose that the author has in mind when their pen hits the paper. There are many ways to gauge effective writing, but there are a few things that I look for when reading my own work or the work of someone else.

Does this make sense? Effective writing is clear and unambiguous. It illustrates the point in a way that does not confuse the reader. 

How are the words being used? Effective writing is concise. It avoids verbose language. It speaks directly to the purpose without extraneous information. 

Does this tie together? Effective writing is cohesive. It’s not disjointed or choppy. It flows from one point to the next with meaningful connections and transitions.

Ultimately, my goal as a writer is to create content that effectively communicates my purpose to the reader. If I can nail those three things, everything else sort of comes second nature. There are so many other ways to measure the effectiveness of writing, and they may change depending on what you’re writing or your personal style as a writer. Experiment with styles and techniques. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t. And, above all else, erase the concept of good or bad writing from your mind. Be an effective writer instead.

2 Comments

  1. Ime

    You touch on something important when you identify good writing as a misnomer for effective writing. Changing the verbiage we use to discuss writing opens us up to ask reflective questions about our rhetorical choices. I think a lot of times when we think of writing in terms of good versus bad, that language invites to judge a work based on personal biases rather than how the writing is working on a technical level. However, it might still be useful to determine frequently used criteria when people are evaluating writing as good or bad and considering how some of those things may still speak to the effectiveness of the writing.

    1. W. Lawson

      I agree with you, Ime. Using specific criteria to determine the effectiveness of writing is important because it allows writers and readers to measure whether or not the writer has accomplished what they set out to do with their writing. It helps readers to articulate why a piece didn’t meet their expectations, and it helps writers to improve their processes.

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