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What Makes for Good Writing

September 12th, 2006 by Bob Bly

E.B. White and others have suggested that specifics — facts — good information — are the keys to good writing.

But that was pre-Internet, when good information was difficult to find.

The writer’s job would be to ferret out information the reader didn’t have access to — and then organize and present it in a clear and entertaining fashion.

But today, thanks to the Internet, everyone theoretically has instant access to the same set of facts and information — and the supply is massive.

More and more authors today are writing thinner books, and huge reference books are a vanishing breed.

In their place, are short, quick-reading books focusing and explaining a single important idea.

So, is the hallmark of good writing good ideas … good information … or both?

If both, which one is more important — the factual content or the exploration of a new idea?


This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 12th, 2006 at 9:18 am and is filed under General, Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

46 responses about “What Makes for Good Writing”

  1. Michael Stelzner said:

    Hi Bob;

    In a sea of information, relevance is what matters most. Good information that is not relevant to its intended reader is lost at sea.

    In many respects, I would say the over abundance of information has actually made it harder for people to make decisions.

    However, good writing always matters–whether or not the ideas is new.

    Short is also good. This might explain the amazing interest in white papers (something we both know much about).


  2. Nick Wright said:

    Both are important.

    In my opinion, good ideas without factual information cause writers to lose credibility, while good information without any ideas is a boring read.

    Tell me a story using facts. Let me picture something in my mind.

    Now that’s what makes for good writing.


  3. Chris Lake said:

    Although I think good writing depends on both good ideas and good information, I think the idea is paramount. Where there is so much information available, readers need a good reason to read one source over another. The writer who presents the information in a new, original way has a great advantage.

    Nevertheless, a good idea with little supporting data may be perceived as nothing more than opinion, and the marketing-savvy American audience is not particularly receptive to opinion-based sales–unless the speaker is a celebrity.

    All of the above is, of course, my opinion… and I’m no celebrity.

  4. Craig Hysell said:

    Good ideas backed by good information always seem to hold my attention. But which is more important? I don’t know.

    If it’s a good idea but can not sway the public with its means then it is soon forgotten. If it is good information but doesn’t promote success or gain in a new realm then it is pointless.

    Dostoyevsky once said, “There is no idea, no fact, which can not be vulgarized and presented in a ludicrous light.” Apparently good writing is up to the ability of the writer’s presentation and the audience’s perception of what it is being told. In that respect- where truth lies in the eye of the beholder- anything can seem good to someone. How dangerous… how exciting. Best job in the world.

  5. Sean Woodruff said:

    An interested reader.

  6. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Bob, Good writing is writing that fits…. It fits the reader and the goal of the writer. The goal might be to sell. Or it might be to amuse or to inspire. And if the writer can accomplish that goal with a tasteful, writerly turn of phrase, how much the better!

    William Maynard of Bates advertising said, “Most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.” David Ogilvy added, “If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.”


  7. Eric Graham said:

    With the unprecedented access everyone has to information these days, I feel that new and good ideas (backed up by enough factual content to lend credibility to the ideas) are the most important.

    Also, another consideration is…

    With the massive volume of information available, people increasingly need expert advice to help sort and filter what information is of value and what is a waste of their time.

    Quantity of available information is not the same as quality of information.

    Eric Graham

  8. Pixel Ads said:

    In my opinion, good writing today, especially on the internet, is writing something useful that gets straight to the point.

    People aren’t looking for a long engagment. They want the straight facts quickly.

  9. re_here said:

    hi bob… nice to see ur writing. in my opinion, good writing: we write what’s in our mind communicatively so people can undestand what we want. from that, they can follow our mind.
    how about me? maybe i’m not a good writer yet if i use english, but i will try. never say give up.
    send me some email:
    or add me as ur friend in friendster:

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  11. Herbert Watson said:

    Old article but problems are the same nowerdays if not even worse. I work for educational company and I understand how difficuld to hire writer that could do factual content and explorate of a new idea in the same time. We can’t hire writers that don’t have that possibilities at all.

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    good article

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