Characteristics Of Good Writing
We've said writing conveys detail and complexity more effectively than talking, but that's true only of good writing, the kind you'll learn to do in this course. What is good writing, and how does it differ from bad? Good business writing has six characteristics: It is (1) clear, (2) concise, (3) conversational, (4) centered, (5) compensating, and (6) coherent. Think of these as the "six C's." They distinguish good writing from all other kinds, ranging from not-so-good to incomprehensible. All six C's must be present before a piece of writing can be considered good. If even one characteristic is missing, the writing may not be bad, but it certainly won't be as good as it should be.
Writing is clear when the intended reader understands it, accurately and completely, in one reading. That means the intended reader, the person you've aimed your message to, must read it through one time only, set it aside, and say "I get it." If that doesn't happen, if the intended reader has to reread what you've written, or puzzle over it, or ask someone else to interpret it, or call you on the phone to find out exactly what you meant, the writing isn't clear.
Writing is concise when it contains no unnecessary words. In everyday parlance, concise is frequently used as a synonym for short or brief. Strictly speaking, however, concise means direct or to-the-point. The American Heritage Dictionary defines concise as "expressing much in a few words." That's a good definition. Writers write concisely when they say as much as they need to in the fewest words. A 5O-page report would be concise if it contained only necessary words; a five-line report would not be concise if it contained unnecessary words. Brevity is not what matters; necessity is.
Writing is conversational when it sounds like informed, intelligent talk. Writing is much more than visual it's also audial. When you read, you obviously look at whatever you're reading. But you also listen to it. You not only see sentences on paper, you hear them in your head. The sound of those sentences helps you figure out what they mean. If they sound natural, if they have the ring and the rhythm of speech, they're usually easy to understand. If they sound unnatural - stilted, wooden, awkward-they're more difficult to understand.
Whatever you write must have a point, a central idea. If it doesn't, why bother writing? After all, the whole purpose of writing anything is to convey a central idea, to share a core message. If you have no core message, you'll be better off doing something else with your time; don't waste it on writing.
A point sentence also helps to keep your writing centered. Everything in a document should be there for one reason: to clarify or strengthen the point of the document. As you write-and later, as you edit-ask yourself these questions: "Does this or that information (or idea or opinion) have anything to do with my point? Does it help to make the point? Will it help the reader understand or accept my point? Is it relevant to what I'm trying to get across?" If you answer yes to these questions, include the information; if you answer no, delete it. You're trying to write a centered document, in which everything focuses on your main point.
A message cannot get through unless the other person allows it to. But why should the other person let your message get through? Why should anyone pay attention to you? Why should anyone make the effort to read something you've written? To understand how important these questions are, you have to see things from the reader's viewpoint, not your own. From your viewpoint, anything you write is important; if it weren't, you wouldn't bother to write it. But that doesn't mean it's important to your reader. And if your reader doesn't think it's important, he may not bother to read it. Think of all the mail you've thrown away over the years, unopened and unread, because you told yourself "This isn't important" or "This isn't worth my while."
What makes a document worthwhile? What makes people willing to devote time and attention to something in print? Compensation. People read things because they expect to be compensated, to be rewarded in some way, for doing so. Your job, as a writer, is to make sure your writing compensates the reader, and lets the reader know she's being compensated. You must include a reward for the reader in everything you write, and you must tell her about it.
Coherent writing is connected, unified; its parts coalesce to form a whole. There are no loose ends, odds and ends, or dead ends. Every sentence belongs, every sentence is in the right place, and every sentence strengthens or reinforces the central point. How do you make a document coherent? By making sure it has a logical beginning, middle, and end, all of which are linked by transitions.