The basics of good writing skills
Experiences in school leave some people with the impression that good writing simply means writing that contains no bad mistakes—that is, no errors of grammar, punctuation, or spelling. In fact, good writing is much more than just correct writing. It's writing that responds to the interests and needs of our readers.
Briefly, here are the basic characteristics of good, effective writing:
- It makes a definite point.
- It supports that point with specific information.
- The information is clearly connected and arranged.
- The words are appropriate, and the sentences are concise, emphatic, and correct.
You'll find that the guidelines, examples, and exercises throughout this Grammar and Composition site are based on these fundamental traits.
Good writing is the result of a lot of practice and hard work. This fact should encourage you: it means that the ability to write well is not a gift that some people are born with, not a privilege extended to only a few. If you're willing to work, you can improve your writing.
As seen in Advice From One Writer to Another, professional writers—the ones who make writing look easy—will be the first ones to tell you that often it's not easy at all:
"There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges."
"If I have anything to say to young writers, it's stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work. It's hard physical work. You keep saying, 'No, that's wrong, I can do
(Paddy Chayefsky, interviewed by John Brady in The Craft of the Screenwriter. Simon & Schuster, 1981)
"One is never happy. If a writer is too happy with his writing, something is wrong with him. A real writer always feels as if he hasn't done enough. This is the reason he has
the ambition to rewrite, to publish things, and so on. The bad writers are very happy with what they do. They always seem surprised about how good they are. I would say that a real
writer sees that he missed a lot of opportunities."
(Isaac Bashevis Singer, quoted by Valerie Wells in "Isaac B. Singer on Writing, Life, Love and Death." [Miami] Sun-Sentinel, August 4, 1991)
- "Writing is just work—there's no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type or write with your toes—it's still just work."(Sinclair Lewis)
Don't be discouraged by the thought that writing rarely comes easily to anyone. Instead, keep in mind that regular practice will make you a better writer. As you sharpen your skills, you'll gain confidence and enjoy writing more than you did before. As discussed in The Write Attitude and Your Writing Goals, your attitude toward writing will improve as you grow more satisfied with your work.