Writing is the key foundation of modern society. Think of how many scholarly works have led to great inventions, social impacts, and medical breakthroughs. But how can we actually identify what makes an article a piece of great writing?
Bad Writing is Disconnecting
First, what makes bad writing? The biggest issue in writing is failing to make an emotional connection with the audience. This is essential both in any fiction, non-fiction or even in professional writing.
One of the key issues that disconnects an audience from the text is using complex terminology. We come across this frequently when reading any sort of medical article. As we currently strive to learn more about the Coronavirus, it’s difficult to find articles that aren’t riddled with technical jargon. Take for example the article titled “Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to act now” on defining immunity to the virus. While the article has highlights of brilliance, some of it is confusing to the average reader. Take for example this passage,
“Furthermore, there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection, and the endemic transmission that would be the consequence of waning immunity would present a risk to vulnerable populations for the indefinite future. ” (Alwan, Burgess et. Al 2020)
Since the article did not defined “endemic transmission” I would read this sentence multiple times looking for context clues to no avail.
To combat this, Steven Pinker, the author of “The Source of Bad Writing” suggests reading your written work after some time has passed in order to gain a fresh set of eyes. By becoming a new reader, you can exclude confusing questions like “what did I mean by that?” (Pinker 2014)
Before I entered my master’s program at Quinnipiac University, I met with an advisor to review a piece I had written six years earlier and hoped to submit for entry to the program. The paper was a critical review of two popular zombie films by filmmaker George A. Romero. I went into the review confidently as I found myself to be a fairly seasoned writer- or so I thought. Within reading the first two sentences of my paper my advisor asked, “why did you include all this extra stuff about his college life?” puzzled, I stared at him blankly not remembering what context I was trying to pursue that had nothing to do with my film critique. Clearly, I had used too much filler that was not emphasizing my point or creating any emotional connection with my audience.
The Bonds of Good Writing
Now we can easily identify good writing as a piece that creates a connection with the audience.
Let’s look at another medical example. The following article not only defines terms but explains them clearly helping to create an emotional connection. Sure, it is not a deep emotional connection like falling in love, but we all have human bodies that we are eager to learn about.
Currently, we are desperate to learn all we can about the Coronavirus. What happens to our bodies once infected with this serious virus? And more importantly, why is it affecting some of us differently? The article “Why Some People Get Sicker Than Others?” by James Hamlin is one of the most pivotal explanations of why some could be more affected by COVID-19 than others.
The article is not afraid to use unfamiliar terms, because it takes the time to clearly define each one. Take for example “cytokine,” only someone with an extensive biology background would know that word. I as an average reader now know that “cytokine” is a “signaling molecule that the body can release to activate inflammation in an attempt to contain and eradicate a virus.” (Hamblin 2020) If the author had not explained “cytokine” the entire point of the article would be lost on a reader like myself. However, after reading, I have a clear grasp of the major impact of coronavirus on the immune system and feel more connected to my body.
Feel Your Writing
We as humans relate to each other through emotional connection, therefore “good writing” in any form must attempt to make that connection with its audience to be impactful. In his book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, author Gary Vaynerchuk encourages us as writers to “Be generous. Be Informative. Be funny. Be inspiring. Be all the characteristics we enjoy in other human beings.” (Vaynerchuk 2013) I for one will take this into consideration next time I try to submit a paper on zombies!
Alwan, N. A., Burgess, R. A., Ashworth, S., Beale, R., Bhadelia, N., Bogaert, D., . . . Ziauddeen, H. (2020). Scientific consensus on the COVID-19 pandemic: We need to act now. The Lancet, 396(10260). doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(20)32153-x
Hamblin, J. (2020, August 19). Why Some People Get Sicker Than Others. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-immune-response/610228/?fbclid=IwAR1zHdxZwMn2hf5OGPmPtKfasveLdchsipdCkXs3LfYeM3RKG63G9wXk3ew
Pinker, S. (2014, September 25). The Source of Bad Writing. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://stevenpinker.com/files/pinker/files/the_source_of_bad_writing_-_wsj_0.pdf
Vaynerchuk, G. (2013). 3. It Doesn’t Make Demands Often. In Jab, jab, jab, right hook: How to tell your story in a noisy social world (p. 39). New York, NY: HarperBusiness.