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What Are the Six Traits of Good Writing?

By Debra Bell | May 8, 2013 | by Debra Bell, Writers in Residence
Six Traits of Good Writing
Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MiquelMunill

When you read a story or report by one of your kids, what are you looking for? Proper grammar? Correct spelling and punctuation?

What feedback really helps kids become confident writers?

While following the conventions of the English language for grammar, punctuation, spelling and capitalization has an important role to play in good writing (it’s trait number six), it shouldn’t be our most important concern.

The number one trait of good writing is ideas. When you read something your child has written, first respond to the quality of the ideas in the story or report. Are the topics discussed interesting, original, thought-provoking or insightful?

Your children are eager to gauge your reaction to what they have written. Make your first comments about the sections of the paper you find most interesting or thought-provoking. Focusing here will help kids learn that ideas matter most.  Always respond to the content before you comment on anything else.

If the ideas are murky or trite, then encourage your child to spend some more time researching the topic or considering how to make the plot more inventive.

The second trait to focus on is organization. Ideas need to be presented in an order that makes sense to the reader. Is there a logical progression in the way ideas and details are revealed? Secondly, readers like to have their curiosity piqued; they also enjoy the unexpected. A logical progression can include an interesting fact or question at the beginning or a surprise ending. If organization appears to be missing or weak, show your child where you get confused.

The  third trait of good writing is word choice. Consider the vocabulary your child has used. Is it academic enough for a science report? Is it descriptive enough for a short story? Are certain words often repeated and needing to be replaced to keep readers interested? Is your child’s vocabulary growing and can you see this in his or her writing?

The fourth trait is sentence fluency or syntax. Syntax is the way a writer builds sentences. Good writing has a rhythm to it. This is created by varying the sentence length — some are short, some are long — or by varying the types of sentences used. For instance, some begin with an introductory phrase like this one.  Others are more complex and include several phrases and clauses strung together. The variety is pleasing to the ear and adds interest, which keeps the reader engaged. And keeping the reader reading is the number one objective any writer should have.

The fifth trait is voice. This may be the most difficult to understand, but if ideas are the foundation of good writing then voice is the capstone. Voice is the writer’s written personality. I tell my students to think of it this way: in the same way you can identify your mom’s voice calling from the kitchen or a friend’s voice on the phone, you can tell a writer’s voice by the ideas, organization, word choices and syntax she commonly uses. Kids will certainly try a number of different voices as they grow as writers, but eventually they will each settle into habits of writing that identify a piece as uniquely theirs. We should celebrate the distinctives of each child’s writing and emphasize the importance of this exercise.

Aim Academy English classes are writing-intensive and focus on teaching students the six traits of good writing.