Want to evaluate your own or someone else's writing? Try using the Six Traits. This is an evaluative tool I picked up from Steve, who's a certified Six Traits consultant (no flies on him). Though created for use in K-12 classrooms, I've been using it for almost 10 years with my own professional writing and in the writing coaching/consulting we do. The traits are a key component of our Gold Standards (view a Gold Standards Six Traits writing worksheet here). They're a great tool for anyone charged with writing, editing or content management, and anybody who wants to be a better writer.
The Six Traits were developed by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, so they're based on actual research. Here they are:
1. Ideas and details that are interesting and important.
Ideas and details are the heart of your content — what you're writing about and the information you choose to write about it. The ideas are the most important things you want your readers to know; details (evidence, examples and explanations) provide support for ideas. Check out this post for more on good ideas.
2. Organization that is logical and effective.
This is the structure and format of your piece -- the order of your ideas and details, and the way the writer moves from one idea to the next. A logical flow is important to keep readers reading.
3. Voice that is individual and appropriate.
Voice is how the writing feels to someone when they read it and it's very important to your audience. Your tone should match your platform (research journal, Twitter), your subject (obituary, new client win) and your audience (formal, chatty). Voice is the expression of the writer's personality through words. Click here for tips on using voice.
4. Words that are specific and memorable.
Good writing uses just the right words for an audience that say just the right things. Sometimes that means technical jargon or big words, other times it means smaller, simpler language. If you write too far above or below your audience's needs/abilities, you've lost them. For more tips on knowing your audience, read this guest post for Elance.
5. Sentence fluency that is smooth and expressive.
Fluent sentences are easy to understand and full of expression. They may be long or short. This is where you establish that rhythm that makes text easy to read, which keeps readers engaged. Reading your content out loud is a great way to check off your sentence fluency.
6. Conventions that are correct and communicative.
Conventions are the ways we all agree to use punctuation, spelling, grammar, usage and other things that make writing consistent and easy to read. These are the guideposts that help readers navigate content, especially complicated text and long, descriptive sentences.
To see how I use the Six Traits to evaluate someone's writing, see this post showing a Six Traits run-down of a piece by one of my favorite writers, Tom Junod.