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Seven Key Criteria for Assessing Writing Skill

When I burst out of university and into a writing career some decades ago I was filled with the passionate idealism of the young and – more to the point – I was grateful for a job. Especially one at a newspaper. It was the height of the 1982 recession and the economy was unkindly dumping experienced journalists at the side of a road marked “Unemployed.” Because I was young, my expectations were low: income and future commitments were not as important as experience and the priceless opportunity to drink the terrible coffee that dribbled out of the newsroom beverage machine

While I joyfully crafted articles about kerosene heaters and apartment insurance I was completely oblivious to the finer points of writing with clarity unless my editor was feeling especially outraged over a misplaced comma or a boring lead.

As the years went on and I moved through jobs in government communications and marketing, I rarely gave much thought to “how” to write well – you just knitted the words together and somehow a coherent document was born. With the patina of experience, however, has come the realization that for many people, good writing is far from automatic. As a writing coach I’ve seen the same mistakes show up time and again.

Writing is a discipline and it responds to process. With that in mind I’ve put together a checklist for communication and other business pros to use in assessing the writing of people who write on behalf of their organizations. It might be helpful for others as well. The list takes a pretty general swipe at the topic since writing a speech is different from developing web content – but these are general suggestions to help get an idea of how to help someone else improve:

  1. Is the title interesting and is it relevant to the subject matter?
  2. Is the lead sentence compelling?
  3. Is the writing well organized? Just like back in high school, we still need to start with an introductory paragraph, build the case with as many paragraphs as is appropriate for the subject matter, and finish with some concluding remarks or comments
  4. Do sentences flow smoothly into each other?
  5. Do paragraphs flow smoothly into each other?
  6. Is the writing grammatically correct? Our school system has been spotty on the teaching of grammar over the past few decades and it’s a foundational skill we absolutely must acquire in order to write well.
  7. Is the writing lean? Unnecessary words and sentences must go!

Writing is a skill that improves with practice, strong editing and the simple pleasure of reading coherent work by other people. If structure is a recurring issue, you might benefit from my editing services.

Have I left anything off the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts on key criteria for judging writing – please leave your comments below!

Want to learn more about how I can help you? Contact me today.


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