Sunday, February 15, 2009

What is Good Writing? - My View...

Tony Karrer blogs about Good Writing here. Tony has interesting views on the topic and I agree with many points. The question, 'What is good writing?' often comes up in many of my discussions with budding writers and seasoned instructional designers. There are multiple rubrics that are used to grade writing. I designed one in my current organization and used it to assess and calibrate the writing skills of all authors and designers. Automated systems are also making their presence felt. And we have rolled out a certain application too. However, if you notice the criteria across writing rubrics - many items in the list don't match. Sometimes, items contradict. Therefore, there are no fixed 'rules' about good writing. But we all recognize good writing when we see it!

In this situation, how do I define 'good writing’? I say that a piece is well-written if it meets its objective. For example, if I need to write an essay about the role of media in the world today – it should have an introduction, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion to do justice to the nature of content. But if I need to write an ad copy about the same thing – shorter is always better!

I agree with Tony on writing for skimming. But skimming is nothing new. Since the inception of web, editors and reviewers have been stressing about brevity. And not only the web, we almost always skim through much of other material including newspapers, journals, books, and manuals. Do you remember the last time you read the manual that came with your digital camera, word-by-word? Guess not.

Therefore, if your writing is aligned to its purpose, to meet the objective, it is good. I would just look at some of the traditional principles of instructional design and use those as factors to be considered when writing anything! Two things that help me define how I want to write include:
1) who is my audience (audience analysis)
2) why should they read the piece of information/what do they want to achieve out of it? (task analysis)
When I align my writing to the specifics received by answering the questions above, I am likely to write well. Applying principles and rules of grammar and punctuation and an ability to write using Global English are things that further add clarity to my writing. But I don't believe that a grammatically-correct piece of writing is 'good' until it helps the reader achieve what it meant to! So there's my story.

But if you are interested in’s an interesting link to explore on what makes good writing. This is by ‘Teaching That Makes Sense’.
What is good writing (HTML)?
What is good writing (PDF)?