Writing Quality

Writing Quality and Writing Goals Resource Page

This page is meant for any person who would like to improve their writing.  I originally wrote this for students in my college or university classes, but the goals, ideas, and resources can be helpful to anyone.  This resource begins with my observations on the most important steps to writing improvement, discusses the reasons we might want to improve our writing, suggests a few first topics for improvement, and provides a research-based list of the 50 most commonly needed writing improvements seen in my teaching career.

Goals – The Most Important Element

The most important step towards improved writing is to decide to improve your writing.  The second necessary step is to see the value.  How valuable might it be if your writing was much better?  As writing, speaking, communicating, and taking effective action are among the most powerful actions any person can take it pays to improve each of those skills.

For any student in any of my classes, please let me know if you want to improve your writing and if you have any specific goals or want help choosing those goals.  For the list of most common initial goals, please see the “Writer’s Improvement List” at the bottom of this page.

If I had one request for all students, it would be for everybody to identify your short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals in each area of competence you want to have or think might be useful.  I would also like everybody to choose to improve their writing and plan out the daily, weekly,  and/or monthly actions associated with that goal.

For the basic elements of an essay style paper, focus on creating a work that includes a topic, purpose, a solid argument, logical organization, evidence from peer-reviewed journals, and is free of all basic grammatical and mechanical errors.  Search for tutorials and templates of the basic types of essay and examine the elements of your favorite essays.

I was recently told that Benjamin Franklin learned to be an excellent writer by finding the essays he respected the most, rewriting them into poetry (verse), and then rewriting that verse back into an essay.   This seems like an excellent multi-skill practice method, because it requires practice in understanding and analyzing a text, transforming the ideas into a different format, and then remembering and recombining the ideas back to reflect the original writing.  I’ve never met anyone who does this, but why not try it out yourself as one method for writing improvement?

Why Improve Our Writing?

Think about writing as you would about personal style, dress, and first impressions made during an important event.  People ignore us and won’t take us seriously if we don’t dress well and/or dress as expected.  The same goes for writing.  People will ignore our writing and speech if it is difficult to follow, painful to experience, or inappropriate for the occasion.  If we don’t want to be ignored or rejected, it pays to work on our self-presentation.

For example, important events require clothing, style, and manners that fit the occasion.  If we are at an interview or organizational gathering it will probably be embarrassing to wear stained, ill-fitting, or mismatched clothing.  Like clothing, our writing makes an impression on those who view it.  Unlike clothing, it may not be very easy to see which parts of our writing are ineffective or ugly.

Some of this difficulty is due to a lack of early training, a lack of care, and lack of improvement goals, but the other impediment to writing improvement is the number of skills we could work on.  Using the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory as a rough estimate of how many skills there are to work on, it looks like there are at least 300 different elements any person could learn to see and then practice improving.  In contrast, a person can look good by wearing just a nice pair of shoes, socks, pants, and shirt or top of some sort.  Even if we had no idea of how to dress, someone could take us out, find good looking outfits for us and the job would be done.  Not so with writing.

To improve our writing, we must see where we are and chart a path ahead to where we want to be, what we want to sound like, and what we want to achieve.  What do you want to achieve?  Do you want people to listen to you and do you want to be heard?  If so, make sure your speech and writing provide the impressions and effects you want.

As it is a big job to write and speak well, I recommend breaking the task down into small, achievable goals.  To limit the number of initial goals, please see my “Writer’s Improvement List” at the bottom of this page.  This list contains the most common problems and solutions I’ve seen while teaching undergraduate and graduate psychology courses.

Do not worry about being a great writer, just worry about getting the right message to the right audience in a way that makes you seem credible and worth listening to.

Improvement Requests or Possible Goals

Clarity and Conciseness: 

I would like every writer to focus on clarity and conciseness.  As a reader, I want to see clearly stated arguments, logically organized supporting evidence, evidence from peer-reviewed journals, and the author’s interpretations and conclusions along the way.  I do not want to see basic writing errors, word usage errors, disorganization, or jargon and unnecessarily fancy words. If you have an excellent vocabulary and wit to match, then by all means have fun and write as you will.  However, I am much more interested in being able to rapidly assess student papers for topic comprehension and writing skill.

Focus on Regular Progress:

Please make weekly efforts to find and improve at least one element of writing.  If a person works on anything every week, or a few times per week progress is likely to be inevitable and enviable.

A systematic way to pick a starting place for your writing improvement is to start looking through every module on the Purdue Writing Laboratory’s general writing guides and APA format guides.  There are about 300 modules so don’t expect to view them quickly and perhaps you will never need to look at all of them.  Instead, just pick one per week and improve your writing one manageable step after the next.  You and others will be amazed with the improvements over the months and years.

Maintaining Progress After the Start

To maintain progress, remember that writing improvement is up to you and the benefits compound over time.  Each student needs to analyze their own writing for everything from the big picture to the smallest details.  After writing a first draft, these quality control concerns become the top priority.

Quality checking the big picture includes asking yourself (or others) if readers can quickly and easily identify the primary message and each of the major supporting arguments.  Does the introduction begin by catching the readers attention, identifying the topic, presenting the thesis and setting expectations for what will come next?  All papers must be about something so begin by clarifying the big picture, primary goals, and setting expectations for what readers will see.

The mid-level concerns include the logical organization of sections, arguments, paragraphs, the use of accurate sources and proper referencing (scholarship).  Note that scholarship does not matter much if the ideas are as well organized as a bowl of spaghetti.  I get quite a few spaghetti papers that have some of the right ideas, but those ideas were just dropped onto the paper in the order they appeared to the writer’s fatigued mind.  “Done is better than perfect”, but expect low grades for disorganized thought.

Quality checking the micro level is our final concern and includes improving sentence structure, sentence clarity, word order within sentences, spelling, correct word choice (vocabulary), and any other grammatical or mechanical errors noted on the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory.  Subject/verb agreement is one such micro level problem that many student papers contain.

Action Items for Current Students

To make regular progress on your writing improvement plan, please take the following actions.

A) Begin a weekly journal for improvement actions and outcomes.  Add at least the following information to your journal entries:

  1. Your personal discoveries from researching and writing each paper – what was new to you?
  2. Your list of writing improvement goals for the week OR for the class – your choice (For guidance on typical goals, please see the spreadsheet of skills below.)
  3. Your self-assessment of improvement on those goals. How much did you improve that element of writing?  For example, if your goal was to improve paragraph structure, how well organized are your paragraphs compared to prior work?
  4. If the assignment has a rubric, please include your self-assessment of how work fits the grading criteria as noted on the rubric.  This serves 2 functions: focusing writer’s on the requested written products, and ensuring that everybody sees all parts of the assignments.

In addition to working on standard assignments and topics given to you, I also encourage everybody to write personal essays on topics that interest you.  Create a portfolio of your positions on topics that matter and as you write for yourself, this should help you write for others.  It will also capture many of your ideas while prompting new ones.  Systematically examining beliefs leads us to many useful questions, new research, new opinions, and the ability to articulate these ideas to others.

Additional thoughts on writing and free online resources.

Writing is one of the most powerful forms of human thought and communication. It is an art, a science, a tool, and an end in and of itself. This page is devoted to helping students become better writers.

For most college-level writing, the point is to choose and grow an idea to its full conception. To achieve this goal, writers will find or create an idea to discuss, expand on the supporting points, arguments and evidence, and then refine the work for a specific audience. This process of ideation, expansion, focus and editing can be illustrated with Salvidor Dali’s painting at right. I encourage everyone to write papers that efficiently make the range of necessary points for a specific audience.

To gain respect and communicate clearly, writing must be a) about one or more clear ideas, b) concise (no unnecessary words), c) logically organized, d) thematically organized, e) factually accurate, f) fair and balanced, g) nearly error free (grammar/mechanics).

Please use the ideas here to progressively improve your writing. The following documents and information maps show you what most people need most help with. Fix these first and your writing will become respectable, your thinking more clear, your messages will more likely be heard, and your grades will improve.
  [Free images from https://pixabay.com, thanks Pixabay!!]










Use the link below to self-diagnose your papers. Find and fix the category of mistake or the specific mistake.

Writer’s Improvement Topic List

Visual Map of Sites


Writing Quality, by pag101

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