What Makes Writing Effective?


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

December 3, 2020

What Makes Writing Effective?

“Be a yardstick of quality.”

— Steve Jobs

What makes writing effective? Ask that question, and you’ll receive a hundred different answers—clear sentences, correct spelling, good details, a professional voice, no dropped words, nice-looking letterhead, no logical errors, a great anecdote. . . . Effective writing is subjective, right?

Wrong. The hundreds of things that make writing effective are summed up in the seven traits. Here is the trait-based profile of writing that works:


The writing focuses on an important subject, has a clear main point, provides effective details, and achieves its purpose.


The writing has a strong opening, middle, and closing and orders information well.


The tone is appropriate for the subject, purpose, and audience, reflecting well on the writer and connecting with the reader.


The writing uses precise nouns and verbs, avoids slang expressions and colloquialisms, and defines technical terms as needed.


The sentences read smoothly, varying in length, pattern, type, and beginnings.


Punctuation, capitalization, spelling, usage, and grammar are correct.


Typography, color, white space, lists, visuals, and other elements convey the message clearly and suit the subject and purpose.

How Can I Use the Traits?

The traits can guide writing projects, diagnose and solve problems in writing, and give you a platform from which to discuss writing (reports, bids, fliers, and so on) with your coworkers. Understanding and employing the seven traits will give you an advantage in all of your business communications.


Play the Editor!

Imagine a coworker asked you to review this business letter. Evaluate the letter using the seven traits, reviewing one trait at a time. Jot down the feedback you would give the writer for each trait. Scroll down to see our trait-based evaluation.

Dear Ms. Wadsworth,

Do you like art? Many Bar Harbor businesses see it as their duty to participate in The Purchase Awards Program. The program works because business people agree to attend ArtBurst and also agree and promise to purchase artwork (at a designated dollar amount), hence attracting artists and visitors. Everyone’s a winner with the Purchase Awards Program!

I am the director of the Hancock County Arts Council. This council sponsors ArtBurst—a fair where artists display and sell their work. Well-known artists like William Drummond and Leslie Blass and many local artists like Susanna Reese show their wares: beautiful stained glass, classic landscapes in oil and watercolor, glass sculptures, wood work, pots, and much much more. Through my efforts with the council, ArtBurst has become a real art feast for the community. Artbust will be held this year in Central Park on Saturday, May 7. Last year, ArtBurst brought many artists and thousands of visitors that were good for the local economy, I am proud to say.
Completion of the enclosed application form will ensure commitment and participation in this grand event! Therefore, I implore you to please give this request due and proper consideration. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about my proposal.


Lawrence King, Director


Get More Support

The Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips all use the seven traits to improve writing and communication. The Guide includes . . .

You can practice using the seven traits and earn CEUs by taking the Fundamentals of Writing course. 

Editor’s Recommendations

Here are some trait-based suggestions for the writer of the sample letter: 
  • Ideas:The letter is missing a clear main point. Could you describe your topic and writing purpose in a single sentence? Also, some of the support is rambling and incomplete. 
  • Organization: The letter has beginning, middle, and closing parts, but the opening is unclear, and the overall details are hard to follow. A clear main point in the opening and trimmed-down details in the middle will improve the organization.
  • Voice: Your enthusiasm is effective; however, the middle part is too "I" focused. Could you revise that part to focus more on how the program will benefit the reader?
  • Words: The closing paragraph includes too much jargon and business-speak. Plain language will better express your ideas to the reader.
  • Sentences: Some of the sentences ramble. Let's see if we can make them more concise. 
  • Correctness: The letter includes some distracting errors and misused punctuation. For example, at one point “ArtBurst” is spelled “Artbust.
  • Design: Make sure the spacing is uniform between paragraphs.