The Three C’s of Solid Writing
What’s the difference between good writing and bad writing? There are a gazillion answers to this question because both writing and writers are diverse and complex. No two readers are alike either, so one man’s work of genius may be another man’s birdcage lining.
Generally speaking, however, good writing possesses certain recognized characteristics. Three of these are clarity, coherence, and conciseness. We can refer to these as the Three C’s:
Clarity: All top-notch writing is clear. It communicates without requiring unnecessary mental effort on the part of the reader. That may seem obvious, but making clear to our readers what is clear to us is a difficult task. Many common writing errors can get in the way: usage and mechanics problems, poor word selection, wordiness, and so on.
If any man wish to write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts…. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Sometimes writing lacks clarity not because of fuzzy writing, but because of fuzzy thinking. All too often writers don’t think through what they want to say before they start generating words. That’s where careful pre-writing can help clarify thoughts and directions prior to putting pen to paper. If your thinking is muddy, your writing will be too.
Coherence: Coherence is the way ideas hold together. Good writing moves easily from sentence to sentence, from idea to idea. There is a connection from one thought to the next that is naturally apparent. It allows the reader to follow your writing without getting lost. Like clarity, coherence depends on clear thinking, but it is also a product of well-handled transitions. Good writers know how to use transitional words and phrases to maintain coherence.
Conciseness: Finally, good writing is economical with words. The best writing says what it has to say without wasted words. Perhaps the most important part of revising a paper is trimming the fat by eliminating unnecessary words, phrases and sentences. In quality writing, every word is important. There are no throw away phrases or extra padding.
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