How not to be a bad writer.

Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres

I recently blogged about the importance of being able to write clearly and with style, and I made the point that good writing isn’t necessarily formal.

As a writer, you have a voice.  That voice may be formal or informal, serious or humorous, deadpan or snarky. You may write in a natural voice, which is to say you write the way you talk.  Or your writing voice may be completely different from your speaking voice.

All of this is fine.  Because it’s bad writing I’m worried about.

How can you spot bad writing?  Here are some telltale signs:

01.  You need a dictionary.

Good writing is about precision.  The objective is to find precisely the right word.  There are no bonus points for using $2 words, unless the $2 word is exactly the word you need.

02. You get halfway through the first paragraph before you cross your eyes, shake your head and have to start again.

If a piece of writing is confusing, there are a couple of possible reasons.  Maybe you’re just not used to the style yet. This happens to me a lot when I’m starting a new novel.  I’m just not in the groove yet, and that’s okay.

Another possibility is that your grammar is too complex.  Are you trying to combine three sentences into one?  Maybe you have a very good reason for that.  Know what it is.

Confusing writing can also be a symptom of bad diction. I once attended a talk by a civic activist who used the wrong word constantly.  Her speech felt off kilter to me.  I wasn’t surprised to find that her book had the same flaws.  Study words. Respect them. Know what they mean.

03. You encounter abbreviations or TXT speak in the wrong context.


I am so that person.

But, there is a place for TXT speak and other abbreviations.  That place is called “texting.” I’ll also give you social media, at least on your personal pages.

When you’re writing an email to a client, or crafting a blog post, there is never, ever, ever any reason to type “ur” instead of “your.” Ever.

And everything else…

Of course, these distinctions are on top of everything else.  Use good grammar. Use spell check, but don’t rely on spell check. Draft, then wait a day to edit. Or get someone else to edit your work.

All those tricks you learned in school really work.  Use them. Because it’s your reputation on the line.