What is Good Writing?
Good writing fulfills a purpose. It communicates clearly. It’s easy to understand. It flows logically from one point to another. Writing can be entertaining, moving, even upsetting. Good writing creates an emotion.
Readers know good writing when they see it. They may not be able to say what makes a piece of writing “good,” but they know what reading a well-written piece feels like.
The act of writing is an exercise in faith. To write well, the writer needs faith in their ideas and words. They need to believe they can impart information with clarity. The writer also needs to place trust in the audience, to know that the readers will put a certain amount of effort into receiving (trying to understand) what’s being said.
When the reader is satisfied that their efforts have been worthwhile, they will believe what they just read was “good writing.”
Practice as a Learning Process
So how does the writer go about creating that satisfying experience for the reader? You’ve heard that joke about getting to Carnegie Hall, right? It’s about practice, practice, practice.
Writing is a skill that develops with time and repetition. Like any skill—whether musical, emotional, athletic, or academic—writing requires attention, perseverance, and specific knowledge.
We’re not born knowing how to play the clarinet, cook a gourmet dinner, or make a three-point shot in basketball. But we can learn the basic skills, build upon them, practice, advance through trial and error, and eventually perform the skill. We may be just adequate at first, but with more practice and continued learning, we become proficient, and often we excel.
A critical component of this type of growth is the need to be fearless in the face of mistakes. If a writer fears the judgment of his audience, he will hold back on the free flow of words and ideas that form the basis of good writing.
How WriteLab Can Help
Enter WriteLab. The web-based writing software analyzes student essays using an algorithm that identifies the characteristics one normally finds in “good” writing: active verbs, varied sentence length, lack of repetition, or the appearance of too many adverbs.
After a student submits an essay, they receive a response with questions and suggestions about the choices they have made. Students can accept or reject suggestions, act on them if they wish, and submit the essay for another review. Not only are they practicing their writing with each revision, they’re doing so without the fear of judgment.
It’s important to note that WriteLab does not grade or score a student’s writing. In addition to questions or suggestions about things a student might do differently, WriteLab’s software is crafted to notice beneficial patterns in student writing—and to point them out. And let’s be honest: Few things motivate a writer more than some positive reinforcement.
For students who say writing is “boring,” WriteLab provides the opportunity to try different ways of writing the same piece to see which works best—before a teacher ever sees the work. In the same vein, WriteLab’s suggestions are just that: suggestions. Students are not required to act on them. In fact, they are able to dismiss them outright. This puts control of the piece back in the writer’s hands, and that’s a powerful motivator for some students, who can be put off by the rules and structure of formal, academic writing.
Students who use WriteLab say they create as many as ten drafts of one essay before they submit it for a grade. This self-directed practice time is invaluable for improving writing skill.
Teachers can take a page from WriteLab’s book in order to help students develop as good writers by doing these five things:
- Respect the process. Praise improvement from one revision to the next.
- Find something good to say and point it out.
- Give students options. Writing has subjective elements. Allow room for self-expression.
- Ask why. Make students think about the writing choices they make.
- Give students permission to make mistakes. Call them opportunities to improve.