Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Views on Good Writing...

This post is written by Sonali Malik

Tony’s article took me back to my school days when we used to write essays as part of the English subject. In school, we learned about the basic grammar rules - using correct grammar, not making any grammatical errors, and everything around it. However, I do not remember any of our English teachers teaching us any ground rules about “good writing” or “how to write good English”. While writing, our only focus was to write “correct English”; not necessarily “write well”. In fact, we never formally learned the rules of good writing. I remember that I always used to write very long sentences, though grammatically correct; however, I was never taught about ‘brevity’ or its importance in writing.

I learned new rules about “good writing” while learning about instructional designing at the workplace. Here, I learned more about how to write short yet effective sentences - that which also conveyed the correct meaning and the context. I believe one of the reasons of this change was also because:

  • we were now “in business” (i.e. writing for a business purpose),

  • writing for an American audience (unlike in school when we only learned British English and simply used to write correct English to pass exams),

  • we had competition (with peers) to write better

  • we were trained on the rules of how to write better (through various training/workshops in instructional designing)

Our Comfort Zones

I think for “writing good”, one has to constantly be in practice and try to write better. If you stop writing, you lose touch and may not be able to improvise on your writing or do better. One of the reasons we do not strive hard to better our writing is to remain in our comfort zones.

I recall one of the effective workshops on instructional designing that I attended in my initial days at the workplace. The workshop was conducted by one of our senior instructional analysts. She gave us a small piece of writing and asked us to rewrite it using the instructional designing principles. When the participants got back with their work, about 90% of them had not done many changes to it except making it “slightly” better or change the way it was organized. This is simply because everyone wanted to remain in their comfort zones of not making too many changes to the given writing.

“I write this way, it’s understandable, so its fine!” one may think. But this doesn’t work too well. We need to constantly learn and practice ways of writing better.

Writing for Skimming

I liked Tony’s ideas about writing for skimming; however, I am not completely sure about whether or not we, as writers, should always write for skimming. Not all reading is “Skim, dive, skim” type. There is information that sometimes needs to be read at length. We should be clearly able to demarcate “when” and “when not” to write for skimming. And when we are writing for skimming, the pointers that Tony mentioned in his writing are worth pondering over.

Rubrics for Good Writing

Now the bigger question is, “what are the rubrics of good writing”. The rubrics for good writing are not easy to define. Every writer has his or her own style. The way one writer writes may be liked by many people while the writing of some other writer may not be liked even though both the writings are grammatically correct. There are no set rules to say “yes, this is good writing”. In my view, while writing, if we at least take care of the following points, we’ll be close to writing well:

  • Be clear about the objective of your writing

  • Organize your ideas before you start writing

  • Write one idea per paragraph; do not clutter too many ideas in one paragraph

  • Brevity: see if you can make your sentences short while still conveying the meaning

  • Take care of grammatical issues (missing commas, subject verb agreement, pronouns, punctuation, and so on)

  • Most important: proof read your work before finalizing

Am sure there would be several other rubrics that could be identified and defined for writing better; here I have presented what I thought were one of the most important ones.


Georgiy Ratomskiy on January 8, 2010 at 1:47 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/03/13 at 2:11am

Great post!

Very interesting theme and your advices about “good writing” is simply and very usefull. I’m working in russian company providing e-learning called “Center eLearning” and i have to say that your advices usefull absolutely everywhere. It’s amazing

Thank you.

Ken Allen on January 8, 2010 at 1:47 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/03/21 at 3:08pm

Kia ora SonaliM

One thing a writer MUST keep in the mind is who s going to read the writing. If this is unknown, it might as well be written in any random foreign language - and I’m not talking about ethnicity here.

The ‘target audience’ is a term that’s often been used to describe this nebulous group of readers. Its composition MUST be estimated before the writer writes. Knowledge of this composition, and the taking of it into account, are of paramount importance.

Then and only then can the writer begin to consider the points you bring forward in your rubrics.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Sonali Malik said...

Submitted on 2009/03/25 at 10:27am

Thank You Georgiy. It was good that you found it useful!

Sonali Malik said...

Submitted on 2009/03/25 at 10:30am

I agree Ken! My writing was more towards “general” rubrics of good writing. If you know your audience and then write about something, it certainly adds much more value to your wriiting. Thanks for mentioning about it.

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