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An Editor’s Five Criteria for Assessing Writing Skill

As an Editor, I see a lot of other people’s written work in the course of an average day and it’s my job, quite often, to improve it. This is not something everybody on the planet gets to do, or is even qualified to do. So I’m often asked, “What makes good writing?”

What do I look for when I complete a sample edit of a book manuscript, for example? And if I’m editing website copy, what are the kinds of things I’m scanning for in order to make improvements? The short answer is that there is a lot of discernment that goes into assessing someone else’s writing. Before we go anywhere with that topic, please remember that we are each on our own writing continuum. We’ve all had different teachers and mentors. Some of them were fabulous at communicating the delight of writing to their students and followers, and others didn’t like their jobs. Some of us are interested in writing well, and some of us are not. Some of us love to read, while some of us love to play with numbers. All of that and more have an impact on our writing skill level. So if you feel that you are poor writer, or you are, for any reason, embarrassed by your skills, take heart. There are answers out there for you.

Here are the language errors I most commonly see:

Sentence structure. Properly formed sentences promote clarity but it’s common to see sentences, even those written by well-educated, articulate people, that were put together like the House that Jack Built. There are rules around sentence structure—if you use them you will get your point across so much more powerfully!

Tenses. A surprising number of people arbitrarily insert tense forms into their sentences as though they were decorating a cake with a wild variety of sugar flowers.  Nothing matches up! If you’re guessing or, even worse, if you’re blithely selecting the wrong tense form of a verb, you will confuse your reader and appear uneducated. You are so much more brilliant than that!

Random capitalization. Germans capitalize all of their nouns but English-speaking people do it rarely. Often, however, I’ll edit a document where the writer has unleashed their inner Capitalization Monster and I have to do put that monster back in its cage!

Noun-verb agreement. When your nouns and verbs do not agree you create a scenario for your reader that is something akin to watching an ostrich dance with a water buffalo. They just don’t match up. And although that might be an interesting scenario, it does not enhance your reputation for clarity and effectiveness.

Punctuation. Commas, colons, semi-colons and periods each have an important job to do in a sentence but many people sprinkle them into their sentences like so much candy at a parade. Using punctuation properly will help you communicate clearly and powerfully for results.

There are no shortcuts to great writing. You need to learn the conventions and practice them in order to write skillfully and powerfully. Reading helps. And here is a resource that might also be of assistance: Grammar Exercises for ESL Beginners. Although it targets English-as-a-Second-Language learners, I think it is also helpful for anyone who is not confident in their English writing skills.

Of course, if you would like to speak with me directly about how I might assist with a writing, editing or other content project, please email me at and let’s have a conversation about it!


  • This is great Susan. I wonder if you would give an example of noun-verb agreement. Is it like ‘sliding on a ball’ or ‘throwing a sled’ type issue?

    • Actually, an example of a noun-verb disagreement would be:

      The brown dog run fast.

      To make the noun and verb agree, we would have to say:

      The brown dog runs fast.


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