There are many characteristics of good writing, no matter what type, and in this article, you will learn some of the elements of good writing. By offering you some strategies for making your writing more effective, helping you to write with accuracy and clarity.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD WRITING
- Knowing the characteristics of good writing is important if you need to explain a variety of topics. Use KISS
- Keep it clear – it avoids unnecessary detail;
- Impartial – it avoids making assumptions (Everyone knows that …) and unproven statements (It can never be proved that …). It presents how and where data were collected and supports its conclusions with evidence;
- Simple – it uses direct language, avoiding vague or complicated sentences. Technical terms and jargon are used only when they are necessary for accuracy;
- Structured logically – ideas and processes are expressed in a logical order. The text is divided into sections with clear headings;
Developing good writing!
To reflect the characteristics of good writing in your own work, you need to think about the way that you write and the language that you use. A good author will have given consideration to the following choices in writing, making decisions that improve the effectiveness of the writing.
Choosing the words
To make your writing clear, accurate and concise you should consider carefully the words that you use, and the ways in which you use them.
In most scientific writing you will need to use some scientific or technical terms in order to be clear and unambiguous. However, use such terms only when you need to do so and do not try to impress the reader by using unnecessary technical jargon or lengthy words.
Abbreviations can be a very useful way of saving time and avoiding repetition, but they can be confusing and might not be understood by everyone. Use standard abbreviations where these exist, and reduce your use of abbreviations to an absolute minimum; they are rarely essential.
Choosing a ‘voice’
Scientific writers have a tendency to use passive rather than active expressions; stating that a was affected by b uses the passive voice while stating that b did something to a uses the active voice. The following example shows a sentence written in both the passive and active voices.
The experiment was designed by the research officer
The research officer designed the experiment
The passive voice is particularly useful when you wish your writing to be formal and depersonalised:
It was agreed that the experiment should be…
We agreed that the experiment should be…
information about the agent is obvious or unimportant:
Extra solvent was added to the flask
The technician added extra solvent to the flask;
you do not know the identity of the agent:
The water pipe was broken in three places
Something/someone had broken the water pipe in three places
However, the use of the passive voice can lead to clumsy and overcomplicated sentences.
Difficulty was experienced in obtaining the product in a high state of purity
is rather convoluted way of saying
The product was difficult to purify
which is a much clearer and more straightforward statement.
In general, the active voice is clearer, more direct and easier to read, but the passive voice can be more appropriate in particular circumstances. What is most important is for you to be aware of how you are writing, and how the voice that you choose affects the tone and the meaning of your words.
Personal or impersonal?
Writers often try to avoid the use of personal expressions or statements in order to make their writing seem more impartial and formal. The following sentence has been written with both personal and impersonal expressions to highlight the contrast between the two writing styles.
- impersonal & passive
- personal & active
- impersonal & active
- The data were analysed.
- The solution was decanted.
- The temperature was recorded.
- cutting out unnecessary words
- dividing complex sentences into separate phrases or sentences.
- can be re-written thus:
- Substantive process (the steps of the writing process, such as taking notes to use while
writing or creating a story map to plan it out)
- Irrrelevant information (information offered by the authors that didn’t relate to the
questions; unsurprisingly, this was found to have no impact on their writing skill)
- Motivation (the role of effort in strong writing and ways to maintain effort in the face of
- Production processes (the mechanics of good writing, such as writing neatly and spelling
- Learn to enjoy the tidying process. I don’t like to write (I like to have written). But I love to rewrite. I especially like to
cut: to press the DELETE key and see an unnecessary word or phrase or sentence vanish into the electricity.
- Engage your reader. (Continue to build.) Every paragraph should amplify the one that preceded it. Give more thought to adding solid detail and
less to entertaining the reader. But take special care with the last sentence of each paragraph—it’s the crucial springboard to the next paragraph. Try to give that sentence an extra twist of humor or surprise, like the periodic “snapper” in the routine of a standup comic. Make the reader smile and you’ve got him for at least one more paragraph.
The explanation for this phenomenon may be found in…
We/I believe that the explanation for this phenomenon may be found in…
However, used indiscriminately, writing impersonally can result in clumsy statements through an excessive use of the passive voice. This can lead to ambiguity or inaccuracy in your written work, for example:
It was decided that the temperature should be raised gives no information about the identity of the people who made the decision.
We decided that the temperature should be raised avoids ambiguity and makes the sentence sound more direct, but uses the personal and rather informal we.
The research team decided that the temperature should be raised is clear and direct.
Think carefully about your use of impersonal and personal expressions, taking care to ensure that your writing is always clear and unambiguous.
Scientific writing frequently uses the past tense, particularly when the main focus of the writing is to describe experiments or observations that took place prior to the time of writing, for example:
However, the past tense may not be appropriate for everything that you write and sometimes you will need to combine different tenses in the same piece of writing. For example, the use of different tenses can help to clarify what happened or what you did in the past (past tense), what you conclude (present tense) and what will be an issue for the future (future tense). The following sentences show how different tenses can be used to achieve clarity in your written work.
Sentences that are too short and poorly connected can be irritating to read. Conversely, sentences that are too long and rambling are difficult to follow and are likely to be confusing. Use a sentence length that allows your thoughts to flow clearly. As a general rule there should be no more than 20-25 words in any one sentence. You may be able to reduce your sentence length by:
like might replace along the lines of
now may be just as appropriate as at the present time
we can now turn our attention to could perhaps be cut out entirely;
If a breakdown occurs it is important that alternative supplies are available and the way that this is done is for the power stations to be linked through the high voltage transmission lines so that all of them contribute to the total supply of energy and an unexpectedly large demand can be handled.
If a breakdown occurs it is important that alternative supplies are available; this is done by linking power stations through the high voltage transmission lines. All of them thus contribute to the total supply of energy and an unexpectedly large demand can be handled.
The experiment was carried out in a sterile environment (past tense for a statement of what happened). It is particularly important to avoid contamination (present tense for a statement that is a general ‘truth’). It will be necessary to ensure that the same conditions are replicated in future experiments (future tense for a recommendation for the future).
An appropriate use of past, present and future tenses can contribute to a clear and unambiguous writing style.
- I like to use a shortcut code I made up when writing. Keep it SIMPLE.
Writing well requires as much care and thought as the experiments or research that are written about. This study article has defined a number of characteristics of good writing, and has highlighted some of the key choices that authors must make if they are to write with accuracy and clarity. I hope you find it useful and enjoyed reading it.