What Bad Writing Looks Like … and How to Fix It [With Detailed Examples]

6 Jun 2024 | Fiction

What Bad Writing Looks Like ... and How to Fix It (Title Image)

This post was first published in March 2021 and most recently updated in June 2024.

A  lot of writers worry that they may not be good enough to be successful .

The truth is that however “good” or “bad” your writing is, you can improve with practice and with careful self-editing .

But how do you know if a particular piece of writing is any good? Once you get beyond the really obvious things, like spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, what exactly does “bad” writing look like? More importantly, how do you fix it?

That’s what we’re going to tackle here.

Is There Even Such a Thing As “Good” Writing?

Over many years of reading and writing, I’ve heard two different schools of thought about “good” writing.

“Lots of Popular Books Are Really Badly Written”

Some people, particularly journalists and literary critics, can be very judgemental about popular books. The Twilight series, Dan Brown’s books, and Fifty Shades of Grey are ones that have come in for particular criticism.

These books might not be “good” in a literary sense – they’re unlikely to go down in history as great works of art – but they certainly do well commercially. Plenty of people enjoy them as entertainment or escapism.

There is nothing wrong with this.

Personally, I enjoy a lot of books that are considered literary fiction or classics – I studied English Literature as an undergraduate. But I also enjoy plenty of genre and commercial fiction, and I’ve read my share of fanfiction too. I’ve enjoyed all of it, in different ways.

Please don’t think that your writing is bad because it’s not literary, even if the people around you (in your family, your friendship group, or at school or university) only prize literary fiction.

“There’s No Such Thing as Good or Bad Writing”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some people think there’s really no such thing as good or bad writing, only writing that’s inappropriate for its context.

For instance, a very clear, straightforward style might be right for a software tutorial but not for a literary novel. Rhyming verse might be perfect for a children’s book but not a romance novella.

However, some writing simply is bad, because it wouldn’t work well in any context.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s irredeemably bad. A poorly written first draft could, after some editing, become a really strong finished piece. My own rough drafts are stuffed full of clunky sentences, inconsistent characterisation, unintentional repetition, and plenty of other kinds of poor writing. And that’s okay! What matters when you’re at this stage is simply finishing that first draft , not perfecting every word.

This type of “bad writing” is what we’re going to be looking at today: first or early draft writing that still needs quite a bit of work before a reader can enjoy it.

Here’s What Bad Writing Looks Like

Here’s a passage of bad writing that I’ve created, based on a lot of common drafting mistakes. I’ll split it into three parts, and go through the mistakes (and how to fix them) after each.

Important: If you find yourself recognising some of these mistakes from your own work, please don’t think that you’re a bad writer! There’ll be plenty of things that you’re doing really well too.

Bad Writing Example #1

“Hi James,” announced Jason, spotting him in the street.  “It’s a while since I’ve seen you.” “Hi Jason,” exclaimed James with surprise. “You’re right. I haven’t seen you since Dave’s party. How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you,” smiled Jason. “How about you?” “I’m great, thanks,” James laughed. “In fact, I was just about to go and get a coffee. Do you want to come with me?” “That sounds good, thanks James. I’d love to catch up.” Jason looked around the street where lots of people were walking back and forth. He wasn’t sure where the nearest coffee shop was but perhaps his friend knew. His old confidence had lived here for years. Jason was just visiting the town because he had been picking up his new glasses from the opticians. “Where should we go for coffee?” Jason queried, waving his hand around to indicate that he was uncertain of the direction in which to go. “I know a great place,” James explained. “Just follow me.”

Let’s look at some of the positives of this short piece first. There’s always something good in any piece of writing.

For instance, the dialogue is correctly punctuated. Getting dialogue punctuation right can trip up newer writers, so if you need to brush up your skills in this area, check out this guide .

Theres’s also a fairly good mix of dialogue and action. There are rather a lot of dialogue tags though there is an action beat used in one instance (“Jason looked around the street”) as a good alternative to a dialogue tag.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few things that aren’t working well here. Let’s go through them one by one.

Overly Similar Names

Are you getting confused between Jason, the newcomer to town, and James, the friend who lives in the town? It’s a good idea to avoid having two characters with names starting with the same letter, especially if those names are (a) roughly the same length and/or (b) the same gender. A Jason and a Jennifer wouldn’t be nearly so confusing. I’m going to rename James as Dave in the next extract, because I’m getting so muddled myself!

Poor Dialogue Tags

Words like announced, exclaimed, smiled, laughed, queried, and explained draw attention to themselves – rather than to the actual dialogue. They sound like the author is trying too hard. The words “said” and “asked” would work fine instead. In particular, I’d avoid tags that are particularly unusual (like “queried”) and ones that are an action rather than a way of saying something (like “smiled” and “laughed”).

Using the Wrong Word

The word “confidence” (in “his old confidence”) should be confidant (someone trusted and confided in) . This sort of mistake is really easy to make, especially as sometimes auto-correct may change a correct but unusual word into an incorrect but more familiar one. It’s an easy thing to fix, but definitely something to watch out for when editing.

Potentially Confusing Phrasing

We’re told that “lots of people were walking back and forth” in the street. This seems to imply that the same people are walking one way then back the other, which is unlikely to be the case.

Irrelevant Details

The information about people walking in the street is hardly worth mentioning: we’d expect it (unless the scene is set very early or late in the day, when a crowded street would be more unusual and worth mentioning).

Over-Explaining by the Author

Jason asks where the coffee shop is, waves his hand around, then the author explains why he waves his hand around (“to indicate that he was uncertain of the direction in which to go”). The reader likely doesn’t need the gesture explained. Even if they didn’t understand it, they’d get it from the dialogue.

Bad Writing Example #2

(I’ve now renamed James, who lives in the town, as Dave. That way, the character names aren’t so easy to muddle up.)

Dave and Jason quickly walked down the street. Dave was wearing a black coat and a blue hat that he thought looked warm. It was a windy day and Jason was feeling a little bit cold. The tall man led him down the road and past some shops and then they crossed over the street at some traffic lights where the cars stopped obediently for them to cross at their leisure though Dave quickly strode across with long steps. Jason remembered how his former comrade had always won the 100 meter sprint at school, over 30 years ago. He wondered whether he too had happy memories of their days at school. For Jason, they had truly been some of the best days of his life. He could have gone to the reunion a few months ago but he had decided not to in the end because he was going on holiday with his sister and her kids, his niece and nephew, who were aged three and five years.

Again, there are some positive things here. There’s a growing sense of the relationship between the characters, with a sense that Jason admires Dave (with his recollection about the school days). We also get a bit more of Jason’s backstory, with a mention of holidaying with his sister and her kids – though this does seem like it’s been forced in a bit.

Here’s what’s not working:

Confusing Use of Pronouns

If you have two (or more) characters of the same gender in the same scene, you need to pay careful attention to pronouns. Here, the sentence “Dave was wearing a black coat and a blue hat that he thought looked warm” is confusing because the “he” seems like it would refer to Dave – but it’s actually referring to Jason, who’s looking at Dave.

Using Phrases Instead of Character Names

Like coming up with lots of alternatives for the perfectly good word “said”, using phrases instead of character names is a common mistake. Again, it’s a problem because it draws attention to the wrong thing: the strange phrase, rather than the action or dialogue taking place. Here, Dave is referred to as the tall man and [Jason’s] former comrade . It would be better to simply use his name.

Unintentional Repetition

Within a single sentence here, we have the words “crossed”, “cross” and “across”. While they’re not all the  exact same word, they’re so similar that they start to jar a bit on the reader.  Repetition is a powerful tool in writing, but  unintended  repetition will catch the reader’s attention and break them out of the world of your story. They’ll start wondering why you’re so very fond of a particular word (or its close variations).

Overly Long Paragraph

The second paragraph in this section is quite long. Its length might be normal and unexceptional in some types of fiction (e.g. literary or historical fiction). But compared with the other paragraphs in this passage, it seems a bit on the long side.

Too Much Irrelevant Information

As well as being rather long, that paragraph seems to contain a lot of information that isn’t particularly relevant. Some of this is stating the obvious (the cars “stopped obediently” at the traffic lights – which is exactly what you’d expect them to do) and some seems like a tangent from the scene (Jason’s memories about school and the fact that he didn’t go to the reunion). It’s possible that this information is important to the plot, but if so, it could be woven into the story more naturally.

Redundant Phrasing

We’re told that “Jason quickly strode across with long steps.” Just “Jason strode across” would convey the same meaning, without bogging down the action with unnecessary words.

Bad Writing Example #3

At long last Dave shouted “Here we are!” and they went into the coffee shop. There was a display of cakes and biscuits behind a glass panel at the counter. Jason thought about getting one of these rich tempting delights. But he was trying to cut back on sugar so he decided to give it a miss. “Shall I buy the coffees, Jason?” enquired his friend. “Thank you, Dave. That’s very kind of you. But I insist that I buy them,” Jason insisted. “Definitely not,” exclaimed Dave, wanting to pay as Jason was visiting his town. “It’s my treat.” After a short period of deliberation, they decided to each have a latte. They stood and waited patiently for the barista making the coffees and to bring them over. Dave paid with a ten pound note, as he wanted some change, and put his change in his right trouser pocket. Once the coffees were ready, Jason and his former schoolmate went to find an unoccupied table at the back of the cafe.

Again, the dialogue is well punctuated and laid out, albeit with some rather attention-seeking dialogue tags.

But once again, there’s quite a bit of editing needed.

Here are some of the most obvious problems:

Blow by Blow Description of Mundane Event

Dave and Jason go into what we can only assume is a fairly conventional coffee shop, order lattes, and sit down. This is, quite frankly, boring writing. The scene doesn’t need to be described in minute detail (with a fairly pointless back-and-forth conversation, the details about Dave paying and where he puts the change, and so on).

Detailed Description of What a Character DOESN’T Do

Jason looks at the cakes and biscuits but decides not to get one. Unless him cutting back on sugar is particularly important to the plot or his character arc, we could skip this entirely. Otherwise, something like “Jason resisted the temptation of the cake display” would tell us all we need to know. One of the great things about the novel form is the ability to dig into a character’s thoughts … but only when those thoughts are actually interesting.

Chit-Chat Dialogue

This has been a problem throughout the whole passage. Dave and Jason chat but without saying anything of meaning. This happens a lot in life – but it shouldn’t happen in your story! Unless the characters are about to have a row over who pays for the coffees, we don’t need the back-and-forth that happens here.

Stilted Dialogue

As well as being a bit chit-chatty, the dialogue is oddly stilted. The characters use one another’s names (which people don’t tend to do when there’s only two of them, as it’s obvious who they’re addressing) and the language like “that’s very kind of you” seems strangely formal.

Wavering Point of View

We’re told that Dave wanted to pay because Jason is visiting his town, and that he paid with a £10 note because he “wanted some change”. The rest of the passage has been from Jason’s point of view. Dipping into what Dave wants comes across as head-hopping.

In the whole passage, almost nothing has happened. Two old friends meet unexpectedly and decide to go for a coffee. There’s no conflict or tension. It needs to be a lot shorter, better paced , and with an eye to intriguing the reader with things like unanswered questions .

Turning Bad Writing Into Good Writing

As I said earlier, no writing is irredeemably bad … and everything you write can be (and probably should be!) redrafted.

As part of the rewrite, I’m going to assume that there are some key details we need to keep because they’ll become relevant to the plot later:

  • Dave is wearing a hat
  • Dave regularly won the 100 meter sprint at school
  • Jason is in an area where he doesn’t live
  • Jason didn’t attend the school reunion

I’m also going to keep the key plot events: the characters meet and they go to a coffee shop to talk further.

“Hi Jason!” It was Dave – Jason hadn’t seen him in years, and had forgotten he even lived around here. “Dave! It’s been a while.” Dave smiled. “Got time for a coffee? I know a place just up the road.” They strode down the street, Jason regretting that he hadn’t dressed more warmly, and feeling a little envious of Dave’s woolly hat. He had to half-run to keep up with Dave – but then, Dave had always been fast, winning the 100 meter sprint every year at school. “Did you go to the reunion?” Jason asked. “Nah, mate, did you?” “Nope,” Jason said. “I was on holiday with my sister and her kids.” They walked into the shop, Linda’s Coffee . Dave said, “What do you want? My treat.” “Oh, thanks. A latte, please.” It was a small cafe, without the glossy sheen of the chain coffee shops. It was deserted, too. The only other person there – presumably, Linda – handed them two generous lattes. Dave and Jason settled in battered leather armchairs. “So what brings you to this part of town?” Dave asked.

I wouldn’t claim this is the best piece of fiction I’ve ever written … but hopefully you can see it’s a huge improvement on the original. It gets through the required information fairly quickly, and perhaps starts to raise a few questions, like why Jason is in this part of town, why Dave didn’t go to the reunion, and what the relevance of Dave’s speed might be.

How to Improve Your Own Writing

If you’ve written a whole draft, whether that’s of a short story or a novel, then that’s a great achievement!

Please don’t worry about your writing being “good enough” at that stage. You’ve got plenty of time to rewrite, to keep what’s working, and to cut out writing that was essentially you warming up to get into a scene.

In your own work, look out for any issues like the ones we’ve gone through here. You might also want to check out these lists of common mistakes (plus examples) for some more help:

  • Ten Book-Level Mistakes to Watch Out for When Redrafting Your Fiction
  • Ten Sentence-Level Mistakes to Watch Out for When Editing Your Fiction

Another great way to improve is to ask a writer friend (or a beta reader ) to give you feedback on your own writing. I know this can be really daunting, but good feedback will help you pin-point what you’re already doing well (and can build on) as well as highlighting areas where you may need to spend time editing.

As a general rule, I’d aim to have a solid draft before seeking feedback. That way, you can make the most of your friend or beta reader’s time, as they won’t just be pointing out problems that you already knew about.

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bad writing skills essay

I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:

Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?  

The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)

What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

bad writing skills essay

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read  Lycopolis  first.

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Joshua Isibor

I guess this article is meant for me…


im absolutely RATTLED over reading this and realizing why i dont like so much of my writing is because i do the whole ‘blow-by-blow of a mundane event’ section. this…this is gonna change me


It’s a really easy trap to fall into as a writer! I’m really glad this was helpful. Keep writing (and don’t forget to pay attention to the bits you DO like in your own writing … see what they have in common and how you can do more of that stuff). 🙂


Oh, wow…remember my first ever comment on your blog? “I want to be good, but I know I’m not. Is there any hope for a writer like me?”

It’s quite gratifying to see that I immediately recognized most of the mistakes in these passages (and I predicted you’d mention that there was no tension, nothing was really “happening”). And a lot of these mistakes are ones I don’t think I tend to make. (Though it’s quite possible I’m making OTHER ones! XD) Emma’s last blog post .. What is the Cosmological Principle?

Hey, I’m not surprised you spotted loads of the mistakes here, because you’re a GREAT writer! And we all make mistakes. I make plenty! That’s what all the rounds of edits (and beta-readers / editors…) are for. 😀


And yet … her ‘correction’, while an improvement, ain’t that great either. Too many people out there pretending to have the skillset to teach others what to do — when they quite simply don’t! Especially when it comes to the arts.

As I said in the post, I’m hardly claiming it’s the best fiction I’ve ever written … I’m glad you agree it’s an improvement on the “bad” version though. 🙂

Feel free to share in the comments how you’d rewrite it!

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The Write Practice

6 Tips To Fix Bad Writing

by Kellie McGann | 41 comments

Some of the most common feedback I get, besides my ridiculous comma usage, is that much of the writing sounds awkward. It can be a few words, a sentence, or even a whole paragraph. This bad writing is confusing to read and the sentences “just don't sound quite right.” How can I fix it to make my writing better? Let's take a look.

bad writing skills essay

Writing skill sometimes comes naturally, but far more often, it is the product of hard work, feedback, and revision. Beginner writers who avoid revision or feedback are destined to be stuck in poor sentence structure, unclear paragraphs, or grammar errors until they commit to change. 

The first thing to realize is that you aren't alone. bad writing does not mean you are a bad writer—it means you are still in revision. Awkward writing is common, and I believe that it's actually a good sign. Awkward writing means that you are writing and have begun to silence your inner critic.

6 Tips to Fix Bad Writing

As I've worked to develop a working writing style , it's taken me a lot of awkward sentences, phrases, and words, but after editing (and many writing lectures from Joe), I've developed a few tips to avoid the bad writing. Here are six tips that helped make my writing better (hopefully they help you, too!). 

1. Read Out Loud

This is the first step to checking your piece for awkward writing: read it out loud . I wrote a post about this a while back, and it's still your best bet to check for awkward writing.

When you read something out loud, you catch common errors. When you read silently, your brain skips over errors, repeated words, and odd phrasing. Reading aloud reveals confusing word order that might cause your reader trouble.

How do you know if something is awkward? When you have to stop to reread. Don't make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, I just misread that…” no. If you have to stop and restart a sentence, it means something disrupted the flow of the grammar that your brain expected. 

If you have to re-read your writing, your reader will have to, too. It interrupts the flow and distracts your reader.

Bonus tip: if you need help developing an ear for language that will translate into stronger writing skills, practice reading all kinds of writing aloud. Your favorite authors in your genre, short stories , and the most overlooked ear training: poetry. 

2. Shorten Your Sentences

The next way to avoid awkward writing is to take out every unnecessary word , phrase, and sentence. As writers, we like to use words. But when we're trying to explain something, less really is more.

Which sentence is clearer?

When we make up reasons and explanations to avoid doing hard things, we are creating obstacles in the way of our success.
Excuses are enemies to our success.

The first sentence is awkward and confusing, while the second sentence is clear, straight to the point, and less than half the length.

You can also use a writing app like Hemingway to increase readability and identify places where your sentences might be too long and rambling.

And while Jane Austen may have written grammatically correct, beautiful sentences that stretched for entire pages, you'll likely find that readers today don't have much patience for it. Know what your genre's audience expects and deliver. 

3. Be Specific

Often when our writing is awkward, it's because we are being vague.

Here's a recent example from a book I'm working on:

We can never know the things that hold us back if we do not receive input from other people.

The sentence doesn't tell us what is holding us back or whom we need input from. It is awkward and leaves the reader confused. My editor commented on the sentence, “ What does that even mean?”

So let's be specific. How's this:

We are unable to see what past circumstances hold us back unless we allow input from trusted mentors or friends.

The second example is more specific and easier for readers to understand.

Fixing awkward sentences involves a lot of re-wording. Almost every sentence can be worded a hundred different ways, but as writers, our job is to find the best, yet simplest, wording.

When re-wording, avoid the passive voice and any repetitive words or themes. For example:

He was passed by the green car with a driver who held a cell phone in one hand, a sandwich in the other, and screamed as he flew by.

That sentence has a lot of information, is repetitive, and is written in the passive voice .

Let's re-word it:

The driver of the green car had his cell phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other as he flew by screaming.

This second sentence is now in active voice and less awkward after some re-wording. 

The way you build your sentences will depend largely on your writing style and genre, but make sure they remain clear and effective for the pace and tone of the piece of writing . 

5. Tighten Bad Writing

Awkward writing meanders without purpose. Sometimes it's plagued with strings of verbs stacked on top of each other, other times it's repetitious. This isn't something you can do well in a first draft: you tighten and polish in the second or third pass. 

It is the difference between having a bunch of mediocre sentences and sentences that build upon each other to illustrate exactly what the author intends.

A great example of a tight writer is Stephen King. He does this by creating a build-up and flow in each sentence he writes. As he says in On Writing:

I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.’

For example, here's a sentence that's stacking verb phrases unnecessarily:

In order to find out the suspects who might have committed the crime, Detective Harriday was planning on going to try to find and to search the town hall records for buyers interested in the property.

To tighten, ask yourself WHO is DOING what? And get that subject verb combo together.

Revised: Detective Harriday searched the town hall records for interested buyers.

 Notice how the long verb strong, “ was planning on going to try to find and to search” could really be one word: searched. That's tightening your writing, and verbs are a great place to begin.

Check out our new post on strong verbs here to help! 

Although I'm an optimist, sometimes, there's just no hope for an awkward phrase. When you've stared at it for hours and tried re-writing it twelve times, it's time to ask yourself, “ Is this necessary? ” If it's not necessary, you don't need it. 

There is freedom in the delete button. Hemingway famously took out sentences in his drafts. He wanted his readers to feel the space, and he trusted them to fill in the blanks. It kept him from overwriting. 

Make your writing better with these tips

Over the last few weeks, these tips have helped me fix my own bad writing, and I'm able to share it with clients now too.

Do you have any tips to fix bad writing?  Let us know your most helpful tip in the comments below.

Take fifteen minutes and look at an old piece and search for any awkward writing. Try fixing it with one of the tips above and share it in the Pro Practice Workshop here!

How to Write Like Louise Penny

Kellie McGann

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

Dialogue Tags: What They Are and How To Use Them with speech bubbles



Ha! I agree with every word, yet every time I rewrite, I seem to add about 20%! It’s not that your tips are not valid: every one is important and useful, however, not every rewritten story will end up 10% less…

Not that my writing doesn’t need pruning, it’s just that when I get the story down, I tend to write a lot of the action and dialog and omit a lot of details (setting, description, etc). When I rewrite, I go over awkward wording, tighten sentences, add sentences to improve the flow AND fill in the missing settings and description. It always ends up clearer, richer, and longer.

Bottom line: we each write differently and should make the effort to learn our own writing style and how to work with it in rewrites.

Oh, and one more point that I look for in rewrites: filtering phrases. e.g. “I saw him walk the dog every evening” would be stronger as “He walked the dog every evening.” If you want to make a point of the character seeing him do it can add, something like “drawing me to the window to watch him as he passed.” Loads of words/phrases like that that I’m constantly pruning.

Kellie McGann

I like that advice! It makes our writing a lot stronger! Thanks for sharing!

Informal Guides

Reading out loud has really improved my writing. nice post.

Reading out loud is the greatest! Glad you liked the post!


Good tips, Kellie!

Thanks Seth! You’ve definitely helped me figure out some of these tips! 🙂

Lilian Gardner

An excellent article, Kellie. I believe that reading out loud will catch mistakes and awkard writing. I have learned to cut out useless words, and shorten sentences, which definitely improve my manuscript. At times I feel as if my writing is too simple. Any tips on how to make it more sophisticated or classy without using ‘flowery’ adjectives? Thanks so much.


Reading out loud can definitely help you identify if something doesn’t sound quite right.

Sometimes writing simple is a good thing, because it isn’t bogged down by flowery adjectives, like you mentioned. I really admire writers who are direct and clear with their words. But if you do want to make it more sophisticated or classy, maybe try reading some of your favorite authors and see how they do it, and if you like it, you could take bits and pieces of their styles to create your own. I’d love to read some of your work some time. : )


I totally agree that reading out loud helps. I am also an avid users of flowery adjectives and it is a hamper to the telling of a story. I get too caught up in description, making sure the readers sees, that I am causing the reader to oversee one scene, but not really see the big picture. How can I stop this?

Joan Harris

I often find myself changing/tweaking words when I read my work aloud; that is my first clue. Most of the bestsellers I’ve read don’t use challenging language (words you have to go look up in the dictionary). Sophisticated prose is overrated, just keep the story moving. One of my instructors told us you can’t overuse the word “said” in dialogue, apparently other more colorful verbs distract the reader.

Davidh Digman

I have heard the word ‘said’ being described as an ‘invisible word’ in that it is completely unobtrusive yet helps a story along.

Aderyn Wood

Great tips! And I’m glad I’m not the only writer out there with “ridiculous comma usage” 🙂

Debra johnson

I might want to check with a doctor for breathing problems, cuz I have commas in everything. hehe

Debra, yeah, might want to get that checked. What would we do without our beloved commas though?

huff and puff and have a lot of run on sentences and and and and *bends over gasping for breath*

Haha, you are not alone. It can get out of control. I just love commas! 🙂


All of these are excellent advice! Thank you! 😉 <3

It's very important to delete any writing that is not necessary to the story! If you hate "killing your babies," as I believe Hemingway called it, save them in a file for a future piece. Peace, Sherrie Sherrie Miranda's historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch5chkAc

LaCresha Lawson

My kids get confused because of all the grammar rules. Me, too! I try to teach us that simple sentences are best. I like commas. I hope I am using them correctly.

I love commas. Commas, commas, and more commas. My editor loves it too 😉 Keeps them in business.


Great post! These tips are really helpful as I continue to refine my writing for my new blog and my ongoing novel writing. Thanks for sharing!

Glad the post helped! I still have to remind myself of these every day! 🙂


‘The Elements of Style’ by Will Strunk appeared in 1935. Regrettably, every computer owner appears determined to re-invent the wheel.

Omit needless words. Make every word tell. Obey the rules. Simple!

That’s great. I’ll have to check that out! It seems so simple, but I find I need to be reminded constantly in order to remember!


Looking at your title, I first wondered which “six tips to avoid”?

Good point! I can see how you could read it that way. Ahh, always so much to learn 🙂


Thanks, Kellie! I needed this today, as I am the Queen of the run-on, never ending sentence! LOL!

Felicia, I hear you. I am learning this lesson the hard way! I like my words and often want to keep them all! My editor keeps yelling at me though. 😉


I do a lot of rewording and especially eliminating passive voice. But I must be wordy because in Point #2 I find the first sentence says something the shorter second one doesn’t. I find it an interesting thought that excuses actually put obstacles in the way of success. Or how about a colloquial version: When we wriggle out of doing hard things, we’re actually piling rocks on our path to success.

When it comes to being specific, and for the sake of clarity, avoid It-itis. For example: If it’s not necessary and plain confusing, it’s okay to delete it. In your little quote we’re all on the same page as to what you’re referring to, but in some books I’ve seen a lot of its wreaking havoc with clarity.

Jason Bougger

Shorten sentences, tighten, re-word…all great advice. I try to replace adjectives with a more descriptive verbs on the first round of edits as well.

Jason, that’s good advice! I’ll try that next time! Glad the advice resonated with you!

Terence Verma

I try and avoid awkward writing, by continuously correcting (read fixing) as I go along. The real danger there is the breaks in the flow of thoughts. Your 6 tips are a far better alternative. Thanks

I too am constantly rewriting and rewriting. I am never satisfied with a sentence. I am constantly asking myself, “Did I tell too much and not leave enough to the reader’s imagination?” So in comes the overwhelming flowery adjectives and with the constant rewriting, I lose my flow and it gets harder to connect scene to scene until finally, I have to start all over and then basically almost end up with what I started it. Sometimes I feel like a hamster traveling on his wheel. Do you think another pair of eyes would help me get off this viscous cycle and help advance my writing?

Parker, that’s the bane of a perfectionist…a tendency to overthink things. If you keep questioning your thoughts as you write, they will hold you to an answer, thus creating breaks in your writing. The fact that you commenced writing shows that you are convinced about what you want to write. So, believe in your self and let the thoughts flow.

Thanks, words of encouragement are always needed and much appreciated.


All my writings, old or new, are made to go through an axe. They are filtered & re-filtered often with the way you write it too. The struggle with words, phrases, commas, length is a never ending end. This is something, even if ever, claim yourself to be the best, will end up perfecting through. Reading your article, was a check up list, If following the same pattern though. Each one of us, bestowed with weak spots. I find myself often stuck in the rut of long sentences & similar words. That does not mean, I’m a scorer on other fronts.

A regular submitter on your site, offers everyday the privilege of De-Awkwardifying. The momentum has to go on, even if you know, you are far from being right….

Dan de Angeli

All very true….especially about 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%

Dan, yes! I’m working on a second draft now and it’s partially painful cutting it down, but so necessary.

Adrian Tannock

This is brilliant, especially: there is freedom in the delete button! I hunt out redundant modifiers such as ‘final outcome’ or ‘important essentials’. This always improves my writing.

Thanks for the article, Kellie – sharing.


I’m focusing on finishing a short story that surrounds around a young teenage girl who trying to cope with being diagnosed as depressed. After some more rewriting here it is.

I had just turned sixteen, the year of driver license, college campus tours, and the peak of teenage angst, but the typical path to that was halted when my school’s guidance counselor requested for my mom and dad to to be brought in for what she described as a “heart to heart” confrontation. She wanted to discuss about my lack of socializing in school and the dark “troubling” poetry I had turned in for English class, previous weeks before. So as we all sat in the cramped off white office, crowded with cheap knick knacks and positivity posters you only ever see hanging up on a cubicle wall, she discussed that my best option for mental improvement would be enlisting the knowledge of a professional therapist since she feared I was at risk for being diagnosed as depressed, which would explain my anti-social behavior and troubling writing, because Lord knows you have to have an explanation to everything in life.

That’s how I found myself sitting, in the crappy conference room of the local library, on a cheap metal folding chair, listening half heartedly, to the supposedly uplifting speech spewing out of the leader of this so called group. Tom. We had all heard the speech at least a dozen times from Tom. After discovering in a pamphlet, while waiting in his local Wallgreens physician’s office for his annual flu shot, that 30.7 percent of Americans lived with a mental illness. I’m sure he also learned from the pamphlet almost half of Americans don’t get the needed amount of Vitamin D.

Sprinkle in some courageous words and throw in a couple overused quotes from a Hallmark card and you basically got the whole speech. Tom stated many, many, many times before, that he wanted to be a “guidance angel” for those diagnosed and thus Youth Mental Awareness or Y.M.A was formed. Y.M.A is for people thirteen to nineteen to talk about their illness.

I mainly showed up for the food.

This is how it went every Thursday night for the past six months, I would make up some weak excuses like a stomach ache, which would never work and then I would reluctantly drive to the Library and for the next hour and a half, listen to depressing stories from people I don’t know. Thus letting me let go of any frustration about my illness and letting the positivity engulf me.

It’s a real lifesaver.

The meeting goes like this, We introduce ourselves by stating our names, age, and illness. I usually go first since we start youngest to oldest, so I stand up, fiddling with my sleeves and start talking “Spencer, sixteen, depression.” Tom would try to coax me into talking a little bit more which I will answer with “I’ll pass” and then sit down again which by now, I’m greeted by a feeble round of applause and we continue going around till everyone has introduced themselves.

So in our group we have twelve people, that means if you do the math correctly, four depressions (one of those being me) four anxiety, three bipolar, and finally, four OCD. That probably sounds harsh, but it’s true, and the truth hurts, like a mother. Then after listening to someone’s story about their trials they passed or struggles they overcame, we all grip each others hand to recite the Y.M.A motto which is “United through others, we are stronger than those who are not.” Long, stupid, and cliche. Very fitting. It’s also very hard to focus on reciting it when a stranger’s sweaty hands are clutching yours. After that, I’m finally granted my rightly given freedom and the meeting disperses.

I walk through the double sided exit doors and strolled out to my car. I fumbled for my car keys while I called mom, finally starting the engine when she picks up on the third ring. “Hey mom” “Hey Honey, how was your meeting?” I buckled my seat belt and switch on the radio. “Same old same old, I just wanted to let you know I’m leaving now so I’ll be home in ten.” “Alright drive safe.”

She clicked off and I turned onto the road to home. After a few minutes I turned onto my street and drove pass a manicured lawn after manicured lawn until I pulled into the driveway, greeted by red shutters and lawn gnomes, everything about the house screamed “upper class suburban white family” but it was home. I locked my car and walked onto the porch. Opening the front door, the tangy smell of Chinese take out wafted through the air, I closed the door and tossed my purse in the hall closet before walking into the kitchen where I found mom setting takeout cartons on the kitchen table. ‘Hey mom.” “Hey Spence.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.” “Wash your hands and then sit down to eat.” I turned on the kitchen faucet and scrubbed my hands. “Where’s dad?” “Speak of the devil.” He walked in and popped a sweet and sour chicken in his mouth. “Sit and eat.” Mom firmly instructed. I took a seat as mom passed plates, loading up our plates as we discussed our day, just like we always have done, ever since I can remember.

“You have your appointment with Mrs. Lark tomorrow at 10:00.” She gingerly included in the conversation, like she was defusing a bomb. I still don’t think she’s entirely comfortable with knowing I have Depression, but who can blame her, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word Depression? “I know” I swallowed a bite of food. “I can go with you if you want.” “I’ll be fine.” I grabbed the empty plates and took them over to the sink to wash them. “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sixteen, I got to spread my wings a little, learn to fly.” She still seemed slightly unsure so I tried to put her at ease. “I’ll be fine, I promise.” She hesitated for a moment before finally agreeing. “Okay.”

After dinner we sat in the living room to watch a stupid 80‘s movie, filled with cheesy one liners and cheap special effects. “Alright troops.” Mom got up to stretch. “I’m headed to bed.” Dad got up as well before saying “I think I’ll join you. “ I kissed them both Goodnight before they trudging upstairs, and I dug out a pint of Ben and Jerry, switching the TV channel onto a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills marathon. Nothing boosts my self esteem like watching plastic surgery induced women fight over overpriced shoes, which I watched till their diamond started to blur together.

I turned off the TV and walked upstairs to my bedroom. I pulled my pajamas and slid into bed, snuggling into my blanket. I tried to fall asleep, but it seemed it was going to be one of those nights where all you can do is think. About your future, your past, and your present. The gears just start turning and you can’t stop them no matter what, which usually leads to some sort of life crisis at One o’clock in the morning, but for now all you can do is think. Everything you put off thinking about comes back to haunt you at night, when the air is still and the only thing keeping your company is the rhythm of your breathing.

I guess I finally fell asleep because the next thing I knew I was goggling reaching to turn off the annoying beeping of my alarm clock. I stumbled downstairs after trudging out of bed and jumping in the shower. I found mom eating breakfast and reading the newspaper. I grabbed the orange juice out of the fridge and poured myself a glass.

“Morning honey.” “Hey mom.” I took a swig of OJ. “I’ve got to swing by the office today for a few hours so I won’t be back before you.” “Okay.” She picked up her paperwork and stuck it in her briefcase, quickly kissing the top of my forehead before grabbing her car keys. “I love you kiddo.” “I love you too.” She swept out the front door, but not before saying “If there’s any issues just call me.” then she left. After breakfast, I worked on catching up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills till I had to leave . I grabbed my car keys, left for my appointment and drove to the building lot where Mrs.Larks therapist office was located.

I walked in and signed in, I took a seat in the waiting room before Mrs. Lark walked out of her office, comforting a hysterical woman and a grim faced face man who I assumed was her husband. “Hey Spencer.”

She motioned for me to walk into her office. I sat down on the familiar lumpy beige couch and examined the plain colored walls framed with cheap knockoff artwork of the Italian riverside, facing wall to wall bookshelves that housed degrees and diplomas.

Mrs.Lark tucked a piece of blonde hair behind her ear before grabbing her notebook and pen off of the side table. “How have you been?” She asked. “Alright.” “Any issues with your medicine?” “None so far.” She scribbled on her clipboard. “Okay well, I thought we could try something new this session.” “And that would be?” “Let’s discuss your fears, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you then ask yourself what you fear?” I thought or a moment. “I really don’t know.” “Just anything heights, snakes, storms?” “I don’t really fear those things, I mean that’s just common sense.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t fear skyscrapers but I’m not going to jump off of one.” “So you are saying you don’t fear anything?” “I wouldn’t say that, I just don’t know what I fear.” “Interesting.” She scribbled on her clipboard.

We talked some more about the typical shrink stuff like my feelings and crap like that, then the session was over. I thanked her and walked out to my car and drove to the nearest Starbucks. After ordering my latte I walked over to Williams Deans Park, which was basically just a plot of land with a ratty playground and ran rusty bench. If I had a park named after me when I bit the dust I would like something a little nicer than a run down playground. I took a sip of coffee and started to think about the fear exercise. I wanted to know what I feared, not just some stupid life metaphor that sound like it should be plastered on a daytime drama.

I don’t even fear death, I’ve pretty much just accepted death as just something we all have to face in order to make room for others in life. I thought harder. What about how I felt last night, the terrifying feeling of knowing that there are going to be times where I will not know what to do in my life, or feel that sadness in the very bottom of my bones that creeps like a forgotten nightmare. The undeniable fact that I will, I’ll let myself down, or the unforgivable pressure to carry on even if it’s the last thing I want to do. Then it it me. I fear life.

Sophie Gersten

Outstanding advice! Thanks for sharing, Kellie!

The power of re-wording is incredible! Sometimes it helps to change the whole reader’s perception and attitude to your writing. Besides, it’s reasonable to use a plagiarism checker to make sure that your writing has no similarities with already published works.


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Not just the us – british students are also drowning in debt, most common misconceptions about language learning: what do redditors think, are gender studies and philosophy majors misunderstood reddit weighs in, really bad writing.

Sybil Low

Welcome to the intriguing world of writing – a tantalizing tapestry of creativity, emotion, and intellectual exploration. Here, words aren’t merely vessels of communication; they’re mirrors, reflecting the vibrant mindscapes of their creators. While we often celebrate the artistry of good writing, we rarely venture into the intriguing shadows of its less glamorous counterpart – bad writing. It’s akin to exploring a secret attic, dusty and daunting, but filled with untold lessons. Let’s bravely pull back the curtain on bad writing, discover its quirks, understand its pitfalls, and learn how it can guide us on our journey to becoming stronger, more skilful writers. Buckle up, for we’re about to embark on a writing adventure like no other!

Examples of Bad Writing

quotes from tom waits

Below are sample excerpts from what I think is a really bad writing. These excerpts are collected from different stories, either written by me (sometimes, when you edit, you find monsters), or by other authors. I won’t disclose their names though. Read the following samples, guess what’s wrong with them, and never write like this.

1. Sunday was a marvelous, uplifting day, perfect for our usual slow and cozy strolls around the picturesque autumn park. It was late glorious October outside, and the whole town was covered with yellow, red, brown, and crimson crispy leaves. The blue sky with fluffy, curly white clouds in it looked light-minded as if all the gruesome and sad miseries of unhappy people living under it were none of its business but its own. I put on my beige warm sweater of large viscous, pushed an old ragged door of my tiny apartment, and went outside and went outside, oh, went outside.

I hope you noticed the enormous quantity of adjectives and epithets and the grammatical errors. Don’t repeat these mistakes.

2. Whenever I was feeling depressed, sad, or just out of place, I would pack my things into a small backpack, write a couple of short letters to my friends—just to prevent them from worrying about my whereabouts—and set off travelling around the state; it really did not matter for me where to go—in youth, I was fascinated with the aesthetics and nomadic romance of the beat generation, so usually I would buy a ticket on a bus (Greyhound Express, just like Jack Kerouac would like it, baby) driving to nowhere, sit, drink from my canteen, and watch the endless miles of the road pass by me outside of the window.

I almost fell asleep while I tried to read to the end of this super-long sentence. And this is not even the longest sentence I’ve encountered.

3. She looked as if she was struck by lightning: her eyes going to fall out of orbits, her mouth wide open, as if she was trying to swallow a train, her skin deadly pale. To me, seeing her in such a condition was heartbreaking, like eggs being cracked upon a stone.

Metaphors and comparisons can be okay if you use them once every few pages. But back to back, they can be annoying—especially poorly-used metaphors.

4. Emotional detachment between us during manifested harmony in relationships was causing a cognitive dissonance within me; my mind was wandering in Kafkian labyrinths of doubt, guilt, and sorrow, while my mouth almost subconsciously produced sparkling words that people usually associate with love.

Don’t try to sound smart. It destroys the magic of your text. If your reader has no idea about Kafkian labyrinths or cognitive dissonance, your effort will be in vain.

5. Electric compulsion of misery flowed through the night megalopolis, filling the veins of pragmatic reality with juices. Magnetic Adam of the new epoch, the innocent function of digital satori, who were you in this entropy?

WHAT?! This is too avant-garde, and in this case, it’s not a compliment.

An infographic with an example of really bad writing

You seriously don’t want to stumble upon such authors. So, if you were planning on working with some writers, you better check their works beforehand. Consider checking out the best custom writing service reviews – maybe you can find true masters of the words there.

Top Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them: A Comprehensive Guide

The art of writing holds immense transformative power. But, as with any craft, it can also be filled with potential pitfalls. This article unveils some common writing mistakes and provides insightful strategies to improve your craft. Let’s dive in.

One common writing faux pas is ‘info-dumping’. Authors can fall into the trap of overloading the reader with a sudden onslaught of information to create context or background. Rather than risking the reader’s interest with a wall of text, try subtly sprinkling details throughout the story . As the old saying goes, a little can go a long way.

Next on our list is the pitfall of excessive descriptive language. While well-chosen adjectives can help transport readers to another world, their overuse can slow down the narrative and disengage readers. Remember, a well-crafted narrative strikes a balance between descriptive language and concise storytelling. To achieve this balance, consider using a free sentence rewriter to refine your prose and eliminate unnecessary verbosity.

Clichés are yet another common writing mistake. Overuse of these familiar phrases can make a story feel stale and predictable, suggesting a lack of original thought. Instead of resorting to clichés, try using fresh, original metaphors and descriptions to make your work truly stand out.

Our exploration into common writing errors would be incomplete without addressing ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’. Instead of explicitly telling your readers that a character is scared, for example, show them descriptions of the character’s trembling hands, quickened breath, or the chill crawling up their spine. The art of storytelling lies in not just what information you convey, but how you convey it.

Another critical issue arises when dialogue feels unnatural or stilted. If characters speak like robots or philosophers in everyday conversation, it can create a disconnect for the reader. To prevent this, try incorporating authentic, real-world dialogue . Remember, your characters should feel like real people.

Really Bad Writing

Lastly, we address the common writing mistake of overusing passive voice. Passive sentences tend to be wordy and less direct, which can make them feel awkward or weak. To enhance the energy of your writing, be bold, be direct, and let your active voice shine!

Let’s shift gears and explore some insights derived from personal experiences shared by writers.

Many writers initially struggle with ‘purple prose,’ a term for writing that’s overly ornate or flowery. Over time, they realize that simplicity often makes for more compelling reading. In the world of writing, less is indeed often more.

Overuse of adverbs is another pitfall writers often face in their early attempts at crafting a story. Learning to trust nouns and verbs to carry the scene can help writers overcome this habit and produce more impactful prose.

Creating two-dimensional characters is another common issue. Characters should feel like living, breathing beings with depth and motivation, rather than mere cardboard cutouts.

Inconsistent point-of-view is another challenge that writers often need to overcome. Maintaining a consistent narrative perspective can help to create a stronger narrative focus and engage readers more effectively.

Finally, writers new to poetry often struggle with forced rhymes and rhythms. With practice, they learn to let the words flow naturally, focusing on the message rather than the rhymes.

Exploring Examples of Bad Writing and How to Improve Them

Bad writing is something every writer wants to avoid. However, understanding what constitutes poor writing can be a useful tool in improving writing quality. To shed light on this, we’ll explore some examples of bad writing, commonly seen in popular books, both in literary fiction and commercial fiction.

Inappropriate Dialogue and Dialogue Tags

One common example of bad writing can be found in the execution of dialogue. Good writing involves creating conversations that sound natural and real. However, in some bestselling books, character conversations can feel forced or unnatural, leading to poor writing. For instance, using dialogue tags inappropriately can disrupt the flow of speaking parts. Tags like “he exclaimed” or “she bellowed” used excessively can distract the reader and detract from the narrative. Skilled writing involves using dialogue tags sparingly and effectively.

Another example of bad writing in dialogue is the use of unnatural language. Characters should speak like real people, their language reflecting their background, age, and personality. When character names start to spout jargon or use overly complex language without any contextual reasoning, it can feel jarring to the reader.

Ineffective Description

Description is a critical component of both literary novels and genre fiction. However, bad writing often includes detailed descriptions that don’t serve the story. For example, imagine a scene in a coffee shop where the author spends three paragraphs describing the intricate design of the espresso machine. Unless the coffeehouse or the machine plays a significant role in the narrative, such a vivid depiction is unnecessary and can slow down the pace of the story.

Good writing, on the other hand, incorporates descriptive writing that enhances the narrative and deepens the reader’s understanding of the characters or the setting. A quality description in a literary work or a popular novel should be concise, relevant, and evocative, creating a vivid picture in the reader’s mind without overburdening them with unnecessary details.

Confusing Point of View

A clear and consistent point of view is a hallmark of effective writing. However, in some highly read books, the author’s perspective or the narrative perspective can become muddled, leading to bad writing. For instance, if a story is told from a single character’s point of view, but suddenly includes information that this character couldn’t possibly know, it breaks the consistency of the storytelling angle and can confuse the reader.

The Power of Redrafting

Improving writing, particularly in commercial fiction and literary fiction, often involves significant rewriting, editing, or revising. Redrafting is a critical part of the writing process that allows authors to identify and correct instances of bad writing.

For instance, dialogue can be improved by removing unnecessary dialogue markers, making conversations more natural, and ensuring that character names and their speech reflect their personalities and backgrounds. Descriptions can be refined to ensure they serve the story and aren’t overly detailed. The point of view can be clarified and made consistent throughout the story.

Inconsistent Characterization

Characterization is a vital aspect of both literary works and mainstream novels. However, bad writing often manifests as inconsistent characterization, where the traits, actions, or reactions of the protagonist or other characters don’t align with what has been established earlier in the story. For instance, a character portrayed as shy and introverted suddenly becoming outgoing and gregarious without any plausible explanation or character development can confuse readers and weaken the narrative.

In good writing, characters evolve over time, but such changes are gradual and justified by the plot or their experiences. The names of the characters and their actions should align with their personalities, backgrounds, and the story’s overall context.

Misuse of Common Settings

Another area where bad writing can be evident is in the depiction of common settings, such as a coffee shop or a café. For example, if every significant conversation or revelation in the story occurs in an espresso bar without any compelling reason, it can strain the story’s credibility and become repetitive. Effective writing employs a variety of settings and ensures that the location matches the scene’s tone and significance.

Ineffective Use of Language

Poor writing often includes redundant phrases, incorrect word usage, and convoluted sentence structures, which can distract the reader and interrupt the narrative flow. An essential part of improving writing is honing language skills, choosing the right words for clarity and impact, and maintaining grammatical accuracy.

Overcoming Bad Writing through Redrafting

One of the most reliable ways to address bad writing is through redrafting, rewriting, or revising the text. This process involves examining every aspect of the story, from dialogue and description to character consistency and point of view, and making necessary changes to enhance the writing quality.

Redrafting can also involve replacing overused words with synonyms, improving sentence structure, and eliminating unnecessary details or repetitions. For instance, a dialogue tag like “he said” can often be removed entirely if it’s clear who’s speaking, leading to cleaner, more effective writing.

The Transformational Journey from Draft to Masterpiece

Few writers strike gold with their first drafts; the true magic happens during the revision phase. Revision, or redrafting, is a powerful tool that can elevate a good piece to greatness. It’s the process where we refine our thoughts, improve our arguments, and perfect our language to better connect with readers. An essential aspect of writing, revision can transform a raw manuscript into a polished masterpiece.

Really Bad Writing

A Step-by-Step Guide to Organizing Effective Redrafting:

  • Embrace the Pause: Once you’ve completed your initial draft, give yourself permission to take a break. This intentional distancing allows your mind to reset, and when you return, you’ll be equipped with fresh eyes, ready to identify any gaps in information, inconsistencies in the plot or argument, or any parts that may be unclear to your reader.
  • Read Aloud:: When you read your work aloud, you engage another sense that helps you perceive your writing from a different perspective. You become the audience, able to pick up on awkward phrasing, clunky sentences, or tonal inconsistencies that might be overlooked when reading silently.
  • Involve Others: Enlist the help of a trusted friend, mentor, or editor to review your work. They bring an outsider’s perspective, essential for pinpointing areas that might be confusing or lacking in explanation. This feedback provides a road map for your revisions.
  • Revise in Stages: : Attempting to revise everything simultaneously can be daunting. Therefore, break your revision down into manageable stages. Start with the macro level by focusing on the overall content and structure. Once you’re satisfied, dive into the micro level, examining sentence structure, language use, and word choice. Lastly, focus on fine-tuning the grammar and punctuation.
  • Sacrifice for the Greater Good: Writers often coin the term “kill your darlings” when talking about beloved but unnecessary portions of their work. It’s vital to stay objective and be willing to cut your favourite sentence or paragraph if it doesn’t contribute to the overall piece.
  • Final Sweep – Proofreading: After all the conceptual and structural changes, meticulously scour your work for any overlooked typos, grammatical errors, or punctuation mishaps. These seemingly small mistakes can greatly affect the credibility and impact of your work.
  • Iterate and Refine: Remember, good writing is the result of continuous refining. Don’t hesitate to undergo multiple rounds of revisions. With each round, your writing will become more refined, clear, and powerful. This process doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the rewards of a well-crafted piece are worth every revision.

The path to becoming a skilled writer is paved with lessons. Embrace the process of continual learning and improvement. Every story you write is a part of your unique narrative as a writer.

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bad writing skills essay

The Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Bad Writing

We all make writing faux pas. From rambling emails to wooden dialogue, little mistakes sabotage big ideas. This guide explores common writing pitfalls and practical tips to elevate your prose. Learn to identify weak writing and transform drafts through targeted editing. Kill clichés, fix fuzzy language, add spark with precision, and master writing like the pros. Don’t let bad writing undercut your awesome ideas.

Read on to troubleshoot areas for improvement and polish your skills. You’ll be writing with clarity, grace, and professionalism in no time.

Page Contents

What Makes Writing “Bad”?

Strong writing skills are invaluable for effective communication, but many fall into common pitfalls that make their writing vague, confusing, or downright unpleasant to read. Let’s explore the top mistakes that can make writing bad, with examples to help you avoid these issues in your own work.

Vague, Unclear Language

Using vague, ambiguous language is one of the quickest ways for writing to go awry. When concepts are not clearly explained, readers can only grasp at the meaning instead of receiving the full picture.

For example:

The committee voted on the policy changes last Tuesday. There was some dissent, but ultimately they made a decision for the best.

This paragraph leaves the reader with more questions than answers. What policy changes? What was the dissent about? What decision did they make? The vague language forces the reader to fill in gaps themselves.

Instead, being precise and specific clarifies the meaning:

On Tuesday, the school disciplinary committee voted 7-3 to ban cell phone use during class hours, despite concerns from some parents about emergency contacts. The principal ultimately approved the decision to prioritize reducing classroom disruptions.

Using concrete details, facts, and clear explanations allows the reader to fully comprehend the situation. Avoid ambiguous phrases like “some,” “stuff,” “things,” and blank generalities. Strive for clarity and reduce vagueness.

Walls of Text With No Paragraphs

Reading a massive block of text with no breaks is visually unappealing and cognitively draining. Without paragraph separations, writing becomes an indistinguishable wall that overwhelms readers.

Consider this example:

My family recently visited the new theme park that opened last month downtown it’s called Exploria and has rides games restaurants themed areas and shows we got there right when it opened at 9 on Saturday and already there were huge crowds everywhere it was hard to walk without bumping into people the first thing we did was get a map then tried to decide which way to go we eventually headed left towards the rides since my kids really wanted to go on the rollercoasters we waited almost an hour for the HyperDrive coaster it goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds down this steep hill at one point you’re completely upside down it was so intense the line for the Tidal Wave log flume was super long too so we got fast passes then went to the arcade while we waited we played some carnival games and my daughter won a huge stuffed panda bear by the time we were done in the arcade it was our window to get on the log flume we got soaked on the big plunge at the end but it was awesome after that we grabbed lunch at the food court and rested for a bit.

With no structure, reading comprehension suffers greatly. Inserting paragraphs allows readers to pause and digest information in bitesize chunks:

My family recently visited the new theme park that opened last month downtown. It’s called Exploria and has rides, games, restaurants, themed areas, and shows. We got there right when it opened at 9 on Saturday and already there were huge crowds everywhere. It was hard to walk without bumping into people. The first thing we did was get a map, then tried to decide which way to go. We eventually headed left towards the rides since my kids really wanted to go on the rollercoasters. We waited almost an hour for the HyperDrive coaster. It goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds down this steep hill. At one point you’re completely upside down – it was so intense! The line for the Tidal Wave log flume was super long too, so we got fast passes then went to the arcade while we waited. We played some carnival games and my daughter won a huge stuffed panda bear. By the time we were done in the arcade, it was our window to get on the log flume. We got soaked on the big plunge at the end, but it was awesome! After that, we grabbed lunch at the food court and rested for a bit.

Paragraph breaks make text scannable and digestible. Avoid walls of text by hitting return frequently.

Overuse of Adjectives and Adverbs

While descriptive language certainly has its place, overdoing it with excessive adjectives and adverbs results in cumbersome, ornate text.

This example is cluttered:

Melissa walked very hurriedly along the extremely narrow, winding forest path as the overwhelmingly tall trees ominously creaked and cracked in the mildly strong winds of the rather heavily rainy storm.

Trimming the unnecessary descriptors streamlines it:

Melissa hurried along the narrow, winding forest path as the tall trees creaked in the strong winds of the rainy storm.

Aim for balance – include details where they matter, but avoid bombarding the reader with constant adornments. Used sparingly, descriptive words can selectively punch up key moments.

Telling Instead of Showing

The classic writing adage is “show, don’t tell.” But many writers default to only telling the reader information through direct statements.

Mark was very sad after his grandmother’s funeral. He had loved her very much and was devastated by her death.

This simply states facts without pulling the reader into the experience. Showing allows the reader to immerse themselves:

Mark sat staring blankly ahead, his red-rimmed eyes unfocused. The crumpled funeral program lay in his lap, tear stains smearing the ink. His lips pressed into a thin line as another shaky breath escaped him.

The vivid sensory details reveal Mark’s sadness instead of merely labeling it. Use telling judiciously, and balance it with showing.

Clichés and Overused Phrases

Clichés are convenient shorthands, but overreliance on these tired phrases tags the writing as trite.

Phrases like these are clichéd:

  • Tough as nails
  • Cool as a cucumber
  • Break the ice
  • Bull in a china shop
  • Busy as a bee

In creative writing, seek fresh metaphors and imagery tailored to your scene and characters. Even nonfiction benefits from original expression of ideas.

Improper Grammar and Punctuation

Though grammar and punctuation rules can be complex, disregarding conventions distracts readers.

ashley walked to the store and bought milk eggs and cookies then she went home to make breakfast for her kids who were excited to have pancakes ashleys son said your the best mom ever!! 🙂

Without proper punctuation and capitalization, this passage is difficult to follow. Proper grammar clarifies the sequence:

Ashley walked to the store and bought milk, eggs, and cookies. Then she went home to make breakfast for her kids, who were excited to have pancakes. Ashley’s son said, “You’re the best mom ever!”

Brush up on grammar guidelines to avoid mistakes in your writing. Mastering conventions helps polish the reading experience.

Confusing Structure and Organization

Well-structured writing flows logically from one point or idea to the next. But disjointed writing makes readers work too hard to follow the train of thought.

The servers were all overwhelmed at the restaurant. The chef undercooked the fish. Service was slow. The line for the bar was long. Dinner took over two hours. Customers were complaining. The hostess seats people too quickly. Many important details were left out. The story was confusing.

With an unclear connection between sentences, this passage is disjointed. Grouping related information together improves flow:

The restaurant servers were all overwhelmed. The line for the bar was long, and customers were complaining that service was slow. Dinner took over two hours. The issues seemed to stem from the kitchen and the hostess. The chef undercooked the fish. The hostess was also seating people too quickly, not allowing servers time to turn over their tables. With many important details left out, the story was initially confusing.

Logical organization allows smooth reading comprehension. Group related points, use transitions, and structure for clarity.

Unnecessary Details That Don’t Move the Story Forward

Only the most essential details should be included in writing. Irrelevant or drawn-out information bogs down the narrative.

Take this example:

Jane prepared for her marathon training run. She had pasta the night before for carbohydrates. She laid out her running shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, sports bra, hat, sunglasses, and Garmin watch the previous evening. Her alarm rang at 6 AM. She ate peanut butter on toast with bananas and honey for breakfast. She also had Gatorade and a Clif Bar. She did some light stretching before getting dressed in her running clothes. She headed out the door with her hydration belt and Gu packets.

Many routine details here are unimportant to the story. Streamlining provides focus:

Jane prepared for a marathon training run. She ate a carb-heavy dinner the night before and laid out her gear. Her alarm woke her at 6 AM for a pre-run breakfast and stretching. She headed out the door fully equipped – hydration belt, Gu packets, running watch.

Only keep details that meaningfully advance the action or develop important elements.

Character and Plot Inconsistencies

In fiction, characters and story events need consistency. Shifting character traits, contradictory plot points, and timeline gaps are hallmarks of bad writing.

Dominic was deeply claustrophobic and hated confined spaces after getting trapped in an elevator as a child. However, when the power went out in the underground cavern tour, he calmly led the group through the tight passages to the exit.

This contradicts Dominic’s established fear. Inconsistent characterizations jar the reader:

Veronica was 20 years old when she learned to drive but had never owned a car. Three years later, Veronica nostalgically recalled the freedom of cruising around town in her first car as a teenager.

The timeline is implausible based on details provided. Sticking to character and plot continuity maintains believability.

Stilted, Unnatural Dialogue

Good dialogue reflects authentic conversational patterns. Stilted dialogue with convoluted language sounds false and rings untrue.

This example sounds off:

After perusing the document extensively, Amy indicated her displeasure about signing the papers. “I cannot with sound conscience affix my signature to this exceptionally questionable contract, which fills me with an immense disquiet,” she proclaimed.

Realistic dialogue flows more naturally:

After looking over the contract, Amy shook her head. “I’m really uncomfortable with this,” she said. “There are too many weird clauses. No way am I signing it.”

Keep dialogue simple. Avoid forcing “big” words and unnatural vocabulary into conversations.

Head-Hopping and Unclear Perspective

Fiction best adheres to limited third-person perspective, meaning the reader experiences events through only one character’s viewpoint at a time. Head-hopping constantly shifts perspectives, leaving the reader disoriented.

Tom saw the oncoming truck speeding towards him. He froze, too scared to move off the road. Sue panicked watching from the sidewalk. She wondered why her husband wasn’t getting out of the way.

This jumps from Tom’s perspective to Sue’s in the same paragraph. Maintaining a consistent view clarifies the scene:

Tom saw the truck but froze in fear. From the sidewalk, Sue watched in panic, wondering why her husband stood stuck on the road as the truck barreled closer.

Restricting the lens to one character’s point of view at a time prevents head-hopping. Change perspectives only at logical paragraph or scene breaks.

Bad writing manifests in many ways, from ambiguous language to improper grammar. But identifying these pitfalls marks the first step to strengthening your skills. With practice in self-editing, providing feedback to others, and studying high-caliber works, every writer can improve. Mastering the mechanics of excellent writing takes time – but the journey is rewarding.

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Bad Email and Digital Communication Examples

Email and other digital messages are indispensable communication tools. However, poorly composed emails or inappropriate online conduct can damage your brand and relationships. Let’s explore prime examples of bad email and digital etiquette habits to avoid.

Using All Capital Letters


Online etiquette experts agree – lay off the caps lock! Writing entirely in capital letters comes across as aggressive and abrasive. Reserve capitalization only for acronyms and occasional emphasis if needed. Otherwise, compose emails calmly in normal sentence case.

Not Proofreading for Typos and Errors

When you click send without proofreading, a message littered with errors goes out into the world. Consider this example:

Hi Mr. Jones, I wanted to follow uhp about the report I owwe you! Ill re-wrok it this weekned and hav it on you’re desk by Monda.

Repeated typos and grammatical mistakes appear careless, unprofessional, and reflect poorly on the sender. Always proofread emails or other messages before transmitting.

Overly Casual Language in Formal Contexts

The conversational tone appropriate for personal emails may not translate well to formal business contexts. Know your audience.

Yo Mike! NGL I thought your idea in the meeting today was wack. IDK man maybe do more research B4 bringing that trash idea again. Whatevs, see ya next time! Jim

Even if you have an informal relationship, maintain professional decorum in work communications. Save the slang and abbreviations for personal exchanges.

Rambling Length Without Clear Purpose

You don’t always need to reply to every point or address every question in exhaustive detail. Ultra long-winded emails that never cut to the chase for fear of omitting anything signal an inability to prioritize effectively.

Hi Amanda, I received your email about the upcoming product launch. Thanks for providing the background information on when initial planning started and the various team members involved. I appreciate you including the documentation from the focus groups and customer research. It was very thoughtful to detail the statistical survey methodology used and provide the full transcripts. Responding to your seven specific questions, the timeline seems reasonable to me based on factors 1, 2, and 3 that influence these product releases as we’ve discussed previously. In regards to your question about budget, I’d be happy to schedule a quick call with the Finance department to obtain the figures we need to proceed. The metrics you outlined seem excellent for tracking performance. I agree that we should highlight Features A, B, and C in the marketing material. However, I have a slight concern about…

This meandering reply could have been summarized in a few concise paragraphs. Trim nonessential content to keep communications focused and on point.

Poorly Structured Requests or Arguments

Logical flow improves the clarity of requests, proposals, or arguments. But disjointed, disorganized points prevent readers from following your trail of thought.

I wanted to discuss possibly attending the Digital Media conference this year. Travel and registration costs would be approximately $2,000 but great networking opportunities. I know budget is tight so may need to get creative with carpooling or deals on flights. My last conference presentation was very well received so I could definitely submit to present again. The agenda has sessions very relevant to projects I’m working on about analytics and social media strategy.

This message scatters related details instead of linking them cohesively. Grouping relevant information together in paragraphs creates a more convincing appeal:

I’d like to request attending the Digital Media conference this year. Registration and travel will likely total around $2,000. I realize budget is constrained this year, so I’m happy to take on extra duties around carpooling or booking affordable flights to reduce costs if approved to attend. The networking opportunities would be extremely valuable. This conference is the premier event for our industry. I still benefit from contacts I made at the last conference. I could also submit a presentation based on our recent social media analytics project, which would likely be accepted given my well-received talk last year. The agenda includes many relevant sessions on analytics and social media I could apply to current initiatives in our department. Please let me know if I can provide any other details on the value of attending this year. I appreciate your consideration.

Logical organization, flow, and transitions help demonstrate the validity of your points.

Aggressive Tone and Bad News Delivered Harshly

“Tact” should be every professional’s middle name. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all. But overly aggressive tones and blunt delivery of bad news often characterize poor digital etiquette.

John, I’m afraid I have to inform you that you did not get the promotion. Your contributions simply haven’t measured up and your skills are not where they need to be compared to the successful candidate. You’ll have to work on improving your performance if you ever hope to be considered for advancement here. Please confirm receipt of this message.

While direct, this unnecessarily callous email provides minimal constructive feedback and leaves the recipient feeling attacked. Productive critiques balance honesty with empathy:

Hi John, I regret to inform you that another candidate was selected for the team lead promotion. This decision was difficult, as we highly value your [contributions to Project X]. For roles at this level, we were specifically assessing [skill sets like communication, strategic thinking, and team leadership]. I encourage you to set up some time to discuss areas of opportunity for your professional development here. Please know that your work is appreciated, and I’m confident that focusing on [developing skills A, B and C] will help prepare you for future opportunities. Let me know if you would like to schedule a meeting to talk through how we can support your growth on the team. I’m happy to answer any other questions as well.

While no one wants to deliver disappointing news, maintain a calm, constructive, thoughtful tone.

Unclear Subject Lines

The subject line acts as the headline, setting context for the message to follow. Vague, ambiguous, or misleading subject lines frustrate and confuse recipients.

Subject: Update

Kevin and I reviewed the proposal you submitted. Unfortunately we’ve decided not to move forward with that project. The cost estimates were higher than our budget will allow at this time. I’d be happy to discuss if you have any other ideas within our remaining budget. Thank you for all of your hard work putting that together.

A subject line like “Update” provides no clues about the message content. More informative subject lines cut through the noise:

Subject: Project Proposal Next Steps

Subject: Re: [Project Name] – Proposal Follow-up

Make subject lines informative previews, not clickbait.

Replying All Unnecessarily

The “Reply All” function quickly amplifies email noise instead of targeting only the relevant recipients. Be judicious.

Only include secondary recipients if:

  • They were directly asked a question needing response
  • They need to take a specific action
  • Additional context from them is required

Otherwise, spare inboxes from unnecessary replies. Moreover, avoid replying all with sensitive information that shouldn’t be widely shared. Double check you’re only addressing the appropriate audience before clicking send.

Of course no digital communication is flawless all the time. But making the effort will distinguish you from the masses. Think before you type. Proofread before you send. Construct logical arguments respectfully.

And remember the universal golden rule of email – if you wouldn’t want it forwarded to your CEO, don’t press send.

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How to Fix Common Bad Writing Issues

While bad writing can take many forms, the path to improvement is clearer when you know the right techniques. Let’s explore constructive ways to fix frequent writing problems.

Read Your Work Aloud to Catch Errors

Our brains often skim over mistakes when reading silently. But when forced to speak every word aloud, errors glaringly stand out.

Try reading drafts out loud to catch things like:

  • Awkward phrasing
  • Overly complex sentences
  • Improper punctuation
  • Repetitive words
  • Omitted words

The brain automatically corrects errors when reading silently. But reading aloud forces you to confront problem spots.

Use Strong Verbs and Precise Details

Weak, non-specific verbs sap energy from writing. Conversely, strong action words energize prose. Consider these examples:

Mark went into his office.

Stronger verb:

Mark strode into his office.

Vivid imagery also punches up writing. For example:

Weak details:

Nancy was upset after the meeting.

Vivid details:

Nancy clutched her backpack tightly as she blinked back frustrated tears after the contentious meeting.

Choose specific verbs and details to animate your writing.

Vary Sentence Length for Better Flow

Monotonous writing hypnotizes readers – and not in a good way. Break up choppy sentence structures with an occasional long, rolling sentence. Varying sentence length improves flow.

I went to the store. I bought some milk. I also got bread and fruit. Then I went home.

Now with varied lengths:

I went to the store. I bought some milk, bread, and fruit. Then I marched back home, excited to finally make French toast for breakfast tomorrow since I had all the ingredients.

Long and short sentences intermixing read smoothly and lively.

Cut Unnecessary Words and Fillers

Concise writing trims fat by eliminating wordiness. Adverbs like “really,” “basically,” “just,” or “actually” contribute little. Be ruthless pruning filler words and phrases.

He basically hurried down the dark street very quickly.
He hurried down the dark street.

Streamline writing through brevity. Strip away fluff to expose the bare essence.

Focus on Natural Dialogue, Not Fancy Tags

Fanciful dialogue tags like “exclaimed,” “implored,” or “opined” detract rather than add. Keep tags simple with “said” or “asked.” Let dialogue drive the emotional impact.

“Please don’t go into the haunted house!” Sharon implored timidly.

Natural dialogue:

“Please don’t go into the haunted house!” Sharon said.

When dialogue conveys the feeling, excessive adverbs and peculiar tags become unnecessary distractions. Trust subtext.

Ensure Logical Structure and Transitions

Writing that jumps randomly from point to point without connection bewilders readers. Use transitional phrases to guide readers logically.

Illogical sequence:

Puppies are adorable. Cars should get regular oil changes. I stayed up too late last night. Root beer is my favorite soda.

With transitions:

Puppies are adorable. On another topic, cars should get regular oil changes to prevent mechanical issues. For example, I stayed up too late last night and slept through my appointment this morning to get an oil change. I’m going to reschedule that for next week. In the meantime, I’ll grab some root beer, my favorite soda, to improve this sleepy day.

Link ideas meaningfully using transitions. Signpost direction with phrases like “In addition,” “For instance,” “On the other hand,” “In contrast,” “Moreover,” “However,” etc.

Stick to One Perspective Per Scene

Head-hopping jars readers by shifting perspectives too rapidly. Instead, depict each scene through just one character’s point of view.

Bob was frustrated as he waited for Lauren to get ready. This was so typical, and he worried they’d be late. Lauren resented Bob’s frustration. Didn’t he understand how much effort she was making to look nice for their anniversary dinner?

With consistent perspective:

Bob tapped his foot impatiently. Lauren was still getting ready, and at this rate they’d be late for the reservation. Didn’t she understand how important tonight was? He took a deep breath, trying to hide his frustration.

Remaining in one viewpoint establishes narrative coherence. Change perspectives only when transitioning to a new scene or chapter.

Research Proper Grammar and Mechanics

Knowing standard grammar conventions helps minimize errors in writing. Brush up on troublesome areas like:

  • Proper punctuation
  • Correct word usage and contexts
  • Avoiding double negatives or dangling participles
  • How to properly use pronouns, modifiers, etc.
  • Formatting dialogue and quotations

Solid grammar and mechanics polish writing. Commit to continuous improvement by researching and learning formal rules.

With attentiveness and practice, these strategies can remedy a wide range of common writing weaknesses. The path to powerful writing is paved with patience. Don’t get frustrated. Great writing is often realized through multiple drafts. Roll up your sleeves, get constructive feedback, and work towards communicating your ideas clearly.

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Best Practices for Polishing Your Writing

Rendering a rough draft publication-ready requires thoughtful refinement. Let’s explore techniques to polish and perfect prose.

Take Breaks and Revisit with Fresh Eyes

When you stare at a draft for too long, your brain glosses over issues. Step away, then approach it later with renewed objectivity.

After a break you may notice:

  • Ideas needing reorganization
  • Passages that meander
  • Grammar mistakes

Fresh eyes help you evaluate writing more critically. Don’t obsess endlessly over a first draft. Take a breather, then return to polish.

Share Your Work and Invite Feedback

Trusted readers provide an invaluable test audience. Ask them:

  • Are there sections that are confusing?
  • Does the narrative flow logically?
  • Do the characters and scenes feel realistic?
  • Is the message clear?

Listen carefully, without ego. Other perspectives illuminate improvements.

When soliciting feedback:

  • Seek readers familiar with your genre/style
  • Prioritize constructive critiques over empty praise
  • Take notes on consistent issues raised
  • Synthesize feedback before rewriting

Feedback arms you with insights to refine the work.

Study Examples of Excellent, Effective Writing

Reading analytically exposes techniques that master writers employ. Make note of ones you can adopt:

  • Vivid yet concise descriptive language
  • Seamless blending of dialogue and action
  • Skillful narrative pacing and scene structure
  • Establishing mood and atmosphere subtly
  • Weaving in backstory or exposition naturally

Emulate the hallmarks of excellence you observe.

Make Edits for Clarity, Precision, and Conciseness

Muddy prose cries out for clarification. Prune away ambiguity and extraneous verbiage.

Clarify meaning:

  • Explain unfamiliar terms
  • Provide context as needed
  • Use precise language

Write concisely:

  • Eliminate unnecessary words
  • Break up dense paragraphs
  • Tighten rambling sentences

Add precision:

  • Choose specific nouns and verbs
  • Include vivid sensory details

Refine prose to communicate ideas accurately and succinctly.

Read Your Draft Backwards to Spot Problems

Our brains auto-correct mistakes when reading forward. Reading sentences or paragraphs in reverse short-circuits this tendency.

Backward reading exposes:

  • Awkward constructions
  • Flaws in grammar
  • Missing words

Try reading individual sentences backward, then entire paragraphs. This technique disrupts familiar patterns to highlight issues.

Develop Your Own Editing Checklist

Establish a personal checklist to polish every piece:

  • Trim verbosity
  • Check formatting
  • Fix grammar/mechanics
  • Strengthen word choices
  • Enhance sentence structures
  • Remove redundancy
  • Verify facts/data
  • Ensure logical flow
  • Personalize with factors unique to your writing.

These prompts stimulate a thorough self-edit. Over time, polish your process by refining the checklist.

Additional techniques to enhance your editing skills:

  • Use online tools like Grammarly cautiously
  • Read work aloud to improve flow
  • Try rewriting/summarizing paragraphs in your own words
  • Imagine you are the intended reader
  • Set writing aside for a few days between drafts
  • Print out copies to review on paper

Take your writing to the next level through rigorous, layered editing. Avoid quick once-overs that miss opportunities for improvement. Writing excellence emerges gradually, sharpened by an editor’s mentality.

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Avoiding Bad Writing in Professional Communications

In the workplace, written communication represents you. Poorly composed emails, reports, presentations, or memos undercut your professionalism. Here are techniques for polished business writing.

Plan All Emails and Documents Thoroughly

With emails and documents, strategic planning prevents problematic writing. Consider key elements in advance:

Define the purpose – What exact information needs conveying? What requests or calls to action are being made?

Know your audience – What background knowledge or context do they have? How formal should the tone be?

Organize logically – Structure writing in coherent sections. Lead with key points. Include relevant details.

Write drafts – Brainstorm ideas first. Compose initial drafts focused on substance, not style.

Set documents aside briefly – Once you have a draft in place, step away before editing. Even 15 minutes clears your head.

Edit ruthlessly – Trim unnecessary content. Refine phrasing. Check facts. Perfect grammar and style.

Thorough planning yields polished, professional communications. Never dash off casual or rushed business writing.

Use a Formal Tone and Clear Language

Informal language appropriate for texts or social media falls flat professionally. Business writing requires elevated decorum.

Elements of a formal tone:

  • Full sentences and proper punctuation
  • Avoiding slang, idioms, or abbreviations
  • Clear, unambiguous language
  • Polite and courteous wording
  • A level of formality suiting context and audience

Additionally, define unfamiliar terms, acronyms, or concepts. Use language precisely tailored to recipients’ knowledge base. Clarity prevents miscommunications.

Proofread for Errors Before Sending

Nothing undercuts your credibility like obvious errors. Set a procedure for meticulous proofing.

Editing best practices:

  • Allow time between drafts to refresh your eyes
  • Read aloud slowly to catch mistakes
  • Check for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Verify facts, figures, citations
  • Review organization, clarity, concision
  • Ensure consistency in formatting
  • Revise unclear passages
  • Confirm you addressed all key points

Refine writing until no flaws remain. Avoid reputation-damaging mistakes through rigorous proofreading.

Keep Emails Focused With Clear Subject Lines

Subject lines preview email content in a few words. But neglected subject lines baffle recipients.

Elements of strong subject lines:

  • Summarize content clearly
  • Include keywords for quick scanning
  • Provide key context upfront
  • Set an appropriate tone
  • Avoid cryptic phrases like “Update”

Poor: Meeting Better: Recap of Budget Meeting – Revised Figures

Sharpen subject lines to guide the reader effectively .

Review and Revise to Remove Redundancies

Wordiness weakens writing through needless repetition. Streamline text by pruning redundancies.

  • Repeating information stated elsewhere
  • Long-winded explanations that meander
  • Overuse of intensifiers like “very” or “extremely”
  • Verbose phrases instead of concise words

Wordy: I am sending this email to inform you that I will be unable to attend the upcoming meeting scheduled for Friday.

Concise: I cannot attend Friday’s meeting.

Editing tightens text while preserving meanings. Be concise.

Double-Check Facts, Names, and Contact Information

Before sending professional documents:

  • Verify data and statistics cited
  • Ensure names are spelled properly
  • Check contact information is current
  • Confirm meeting dates/times if referenced
  • Review calculations or formulas

Submitting incorrect information suggests carelessness. Protect your reputation by confirming accuracy in communications.

While crafting flawless writing takes practice, mastering business communications basics reinforces competence. Plan thoroughly, respect audience needs, edit diligently, focus each piece, and confirm details. Honing these fundamental skills helps establish you as a clear, reliable, and polished professional through your writing.

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Key Takeaways: Identifying and Avoiding Bad Writing

The path to powerful writing involves recognizing and avoiding common pitfalls. Here are key lessons:

  • Vague, dense language obscures meaning. Be specific and clarify concepts.
  • Walls of text are daunting. Insert regular paragraph breaks to aid flow.
  • Limit overused adjectives and adverbs. Use judiciously for emphasis.
  • Show, don’t tell, through vivid sensory details. Invite immersion.
  • Clichés and idioms feel stale. Pursue fresh, original expressions.
  • Grammar and punctuation errors distract readers. Master standard conventions.
  • Organize writing logically with transitions between ideas.
  • Only include essential details that advance the narrative. Avoid tangents.
  • Inconsistencies undermine believability. Characters and events need coherence.
  • Stilted dialogue feels false. Craft natural, authentic conversations.
  • Head-hopping disorients. Adopt a consistent perspective.
  • Proofread meticulously before transmitting writing. Typos and errors feel unprofessional.
  • Match formality of tone to audience and context. Avoid overly casual language.
  • Structure requests clearly. Make logical appeal through organization.
  • Summarize key content in email subject lines. Help recipients prioritize messages.
  • Remove unnecessary words and redundancies to tighten text.
  • Take breaks between drafts to revisit writing with fresh eyes.
  • Ask trusted readers for constructive feedback to gain valuable perspectives.
  • Read critically to uncover techniques used by masterful writers worth emulating.
  • Refine prose through multiple drafts to enhance clarity, concision, and precision.
  • Apply customized checklists to self-edit and polish writing.

Conquering common writing pitfalls takes attentiveness and practice. But the journey leads to more powerful communication and storytelling skills.

Here are some frequently asked questions about identifying and avoiding bad writing:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are some hallmarks of bad writing?

A: Common red flags include vague language, walls of text, overuse of adjectives/adverbs, excessive telling vs. showing, clichés, grammar/punctuation errors, confusing organization, irrelevant tangents, inconsistent characters and plot, stilted dialogue, head-hopping perspectives, and unprofessional typos.

Q: Should I avoid adverbs and adjectives completely?

A: Not necessarily. The key is using them judiciously and selectively for emphasis, rather than peppering your writing with numerous descriptors continuously. Avoid reliance on adverbs/adjectives as a crutch.

Q: How can I improve my sentence structure?

A: Vary sentence length and structure to improve flow. Short, choppy sentences can sound robotic. But long, rambling sentences overwhelm. Blend short and long sentences. Break up dense sections with paragraph breaks. Use transitions between ideas.

Q: What are some ways to strengthen my vocabulary?

A: Read widely and make note of vivid words. Use a thesaurus and dictionary to find alternatives to overused terms. Avoid clichés and idioms by pushing for original metaphors and descriptions tailored to your story.

Q: How do I fix problems with pacing and scene structure?

A: Ensure scenes have narrative purpose and plausible action. Omit mundane everyday details that distract from plot progression. Adjust pacing by spreading essential exposition across scenes. Break lengthy sections into multiple scenes.

Q: What is “head-hopping” and why is it problematic?

A: Head-hopping refers to switching narrative perspective within the same scene, from one character’s thoughts/feelings to another’s. This confuses readers. Establish point-of-view per scene, and transition between perspectives in separate sections.

Q: How can I improve my editing process?

A: Take breaks between drafts to revisit with fresh eyes. Read work aloud and backwards to expose new errors. Use checklists and online tools cautiously. Invite constructive feedback. Continually refine writing through multiple drafts.

Q: What tips can elevate my professional communications?

A: Plan all emails and documents thoroughly. Adopt a formal tone suited to audience and context. Proofread extensively before sending. Craft clear subject lines. Remove redundancies and wordiness. Verify all facts and data.

bad writing skills essay

Eight Characteristics of Good Writing

by Melissa Donovan | Dec 2, 2021 | Better Writing | 31 comments

good writing

What’s the difference between bad and good writing?

How important is it for a writer to be able to discern the difference between good writing and bad writing?

Pretty important, if you ask me.

I know some writers aren’t concerned with quality. In today’s do-it-yourself and get-it-done-fast world, quality plays second fiddle to quantity. Who cares if your books are full of typos, bad grammar, and poor logic as long as you have published lots and made a bunch of money?

Readers care. Agents, publishers, and reviewers also care. And while you can still make a million with a bunch of badly written books and a stellar marketing scheme, your work won’t be taken seriously. Also (and this is critical), while it’s possible to make it big by writing badly, it’s not likely. It happens, but it doesn’t happen often. The better your writing, the better your chances for securing a readership and building a career.

The Characteristics of Good Writing

So, what constitutes good writing? Opinions on the matter vary widely. There will be different traits that make good fiction versus good poetry or good nonfiction. However, we can cull together a general list of the characteristics of good writing (in no particular order):

  • Clarity and focus: In good writing, everything makes sense and readers don’t get lost or have to reread passages to figure out what’s going on. Focused writing sticks with the plot or core idea without running off on too many tangents.
  • Organization: A well organized piece of writing is not only clear, it’s presented in a way that is logical and aesthetically pleasing. You can tell non-linear stories or place your thesis at the end of an essay and get away with it as long as your scenes or ideas are well ordered.
  • Ideas and themes: Is the topic of your paper relevant? Does your story come complete with themes? Can the reader visualize your poem? For a piece of writing to be considered well crafted, it has to contain clearly identifiable ideas and themes.
  • Voice: This is what sets you apart from all other writers. It’s your unique way of stringing words together, formulating ideas, and relating scenes or images to the reader. In any piece of writing, the voice should be consistent and identifiable.
  • Language (word choice): We writers can never underestimate or fail to appreciate our most valuable tools: words. Good writing includes precise and accurate word choices and well crafted sentences.
  • Grammar and style: Many writers would wish this one away, but for a piece of writing to be considered good (let alone great), it has to follow the rules of grammar (and break those rules only when there’s a good reason). Style is also important in ensuring that a piece of writing is clear and consistent. Make sure you keep a grammar book and style guide handy.
  • Credibility or believability: Nothing says bad writing like getting the facts wrong or misrepresenting oneself. In fiction, the story must be believable (even if it’s impossible), and in nonfiction, accurate research can make or break a writer.
  • Thought-provoking or emotionally inspiring: Perhaps the most important quality of good writing is how the reader responds to it. Does she come away with a fresh perspective and new ideas? Does he close the cover with tears in his eyes or a sense of victory? How readers react to your work will fully determine your success as a writer.

I want to add an honorable mention for originality. Everything has been done before, so originality is somewhat arbitrary. However, putting old ideas together in new ways and creating remixes of the best that literature has to offer is a skill worth developing.

Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Good and Bad Writing

To write well, a writer must be able to recognize quality in a piece of writing. How can you assess or improve your own work if you can’t tell the difference between mediocre and better writing in others’ work? This is why it’s so important for writers to be dedicated readers!

Writing is also an art form and therefore subject to personal taste. Can you read a book and dislike it but acknowledge that the writing was good? Have you ever read a book and loved the story but felt that the writing was weak?

A writer should be able to articulate why a piece of writing succeeds or fails, and a writer should also be able to recognize the qualities in a piece of writing even when it doesn’t appeal to their personal taste. These skills are especially necessary when writers are reviewing or critiquing other writers’ work and when revising, editing, and proofreading their own work.

Where do you stand? Do you rate other people’s writing? Do you worry about whether your own writing is any good? Would you add or remove any characteristics of good writing from this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing



I have had work published. I have even won a competition and still I lack the courage to really commit to it. It’s like I heard a character in a ‘soap’ once saying: ” If I dream of doing it I can always hold onto the dream and live on the’ I could have done it if I tried’, whereas if I go ahead and do it I just might not be ‘good’ and then everything will be gone then, dream and all ! ” Everything you say makes sense but it’s courage I now seek to acquire as well as certain’ devil may care attitude . Courage and self belief and wee bit of discipline. 2012 might just be the year ! Michelle

Melissa Donovan

Michelle, I actually think it’s healthy to have dreams that we don’t fully intend on pursuing. It’s good for the imagination! A person might be interested or passionate about dozens of things and cannot possibly make careers out of them all. But courage is something else… and I don’t think anyone can give you courage. You have to find it within yourself. The first step is to decide that you are going to brave the writing career. After that, you muster up the courage. It’s there inside you, and if you really want it, you’ll find it 🙂 Good luck to you!

Bill Polm

Good one, Michelle, and needed too.

So many blog posts on how to drum up business or write enticing posts or articles, or even how to avoid embarrassing grammatical errors (not that those are not important).

So little on just plain old good writing. Writing that is unusually good, that delights, that informs with impact,

I love the freedom an informal style of modern English. But sometimes I worry a bit that contemporary readers are being fed to many tiny sentences to appeal to an ever-diminishing attention span.

A good list you have there. Maybe I would add that I value fluency. That adroit facility of the accomplished writer who’s covered miles of (digital) paper and now can write not only accurate and clear words and sentences but also compelling and memorable prose.

Ah, fluency is definitely necessary to good writing, although I think it comes with experience, so it might only apply to older or more advanced writers. Great food for thought, Bill. Thanks!

Michael White

Loved this blog post. It actually reminded me of a quote by Oscar Wilde, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

That quote could spur a debate, I’m sure! Thanks for sharing it, Michael. I’m going to give Oscar Wilde’s idea some serious consideration.


“A writer should be able to articulate why a piece of writing succeeds or fails, and a writer should also be able to recognize the qualities in a piece of writing even when it doesn’t appeal to personal taste”

I’m reading a book right now with a story line that I don’t particularly care for. Eight chapters into it, I’m not fully invested into the story. BUT, the author’s grasp of human emotion/interaction and her ability to explicate the nuances with clarity is brilliant. That fact alone keeps interested and pulls me forward.

Ah! I’ve been there too!


This is a very well written blog, and the advice is good for teaching people how to get their points across. However, my problem is not that I can’t tell good from bad; apparently I’m quite good at assessing the quality of other authors’ writing and helping them iprove it. My problem is that though I love writing and am proud of my plot lines and characters, I don’t have a way with words and I just can’t write. Does anyone have any advice on how to make things WORK once you have everything planned out, or am I doomed to the life of an author who can’t write? That sounded really dismal.


How do really know your writing is bad? If you’ve got a plot that you love, characters that are filled with layers and truth, set them free! Turn off those negative thoughts and just run with it. Write your story through to the end. If you believe in what you’ve got so far then let it lead you. You will surprise yourself. You proved with your post above that you can convey feeling, let your characters have their voice. Take a deep breath and jump/write!! Best of luck and courageous hugs!

Thanks, Beckie. Well said!

My guess is that your way with words isn’t as bad as you think. I didn’t have any trouble understanding what you wrote. However, if you want to strengthen your skills in vocabulary, word choice, and sentence structure, there are two things you can do: read as much as possible and engage with poetry. Pick up an introductory book on poetry and you’ll learn tons of techniques in this area (which you can apply to fiction and nonfiction). This one can be expensive but it’s worth every penny: Perrine’s Sound and Sense . Good luck to you!

Thank you, both you and Beckie. That’s really good advice. 🙂 I’ll try to be more positive.

Yes! Keep your chin up and stick with it.

Tina Ridgway

In my estimation, for what it’s worth, you write very well. You were clear and concise. I understood the points you were trying to convey. You even allowed a bit of your personality to shine through with self deprecation. Don’t be so hard on yourself, if you wish to be a writer then you should write. I am learning that for one to write compelling characters , one must be well acquainted with the characters they are creating. I am working on fleshing out some characters who are too one dimensional. Life is not black and white. I am trying to write in between the lines in gray. Good luck with your writing.

Paul Atreides

I’ve been perusing your site all morning. I’ve found some terrific tips, some very well-thought common sense approaches to working through difficulties in writing. And as soon as I push the submit button on this I’ll be subscribing!

Though I’ve been published and produced, I find myself in an almost constant state of questioning even the most basic ability to write. On the one hand, a local critic stated “proves he can write” and “there’s a simplicity in the writing that is quite refreshing.” On the other hand, I face a writer’s group (all women) each week who continually tell me my writing is sorely lacking because there aren’t enough issues (conflicts) in any given piece and therefore the characters do not exhibit enough “emotional levels.” Facing this type of weekly demolition has made me think I need to go back to doing what I used to do (before I became unemployed!): write for my own enjoyment and forget about any further publishing.

Where can one go to determine if there is even the slightest bit of talent worth further pursuit? I don’t mean a full-on critique of a piece, but a simple “I’d give it up if I were you.” or “This [writing] shows promise, keep learning and keep writing.”

Melissa McCann

Hmmm, Paul, possibly find a few dudes for your critiques? Also, are the women published? Have good reviews themselves? Read widely in your genre? Men and women do sometimes have widely varying ideas of what makes a good story. You may be writing good, solid, plot-driven adventures (I don’t know–maybe you’re into steamy historical romance) that don’t rely on a lot of emotional nuance. I’d look for beta-readers who understand what you are trying to accomplish.

Or take the girls with a big grain of salt and use what seems to deepen your own writing while recognizing that women’s brains are different. We have bizarre and incomprehensible ideas about relationships and whatnot. I read an interesting theory from the creators of the Dramatica Pro story outlining software about how a “masculine” character (or story) is about getting from point A to Point Z while overcoming every obstacle in between whereas a feminine character (or story) is about getting everything into balance and restoring chaos to equilibrium. Both perfectly fine stories. (I prefer the masculine-type storylines myself).

Post those good reviews and read ’em every day. I have some really nice rejections that I savor whenever I’m feeling inadequate.

Thanks, Melissa!

Two of the ladies have been published but have no reviews of their work. All have complimented the basic plot lines. Their big complaint would seem to fall into the theory from Dramatica Pro you mention; they are looking for every female character to make absolute sense to them strictly within their belief structure of how the characters should/must react to a particular situation. Otherwise, they give solid line-edit critiques and they do point out the occassional hole in content.

None of them read within my genre – if I even have one, that is. I’d classify my novels as “budscapades” (you like my mash-up moniker?) – in other words the main characters are male (female characters do show up along the way) and they are definitely plot driven stories. In entering the Amazon Breakout Book Award Contest, I classified the novel as “bromantic comedy” (plenty of action for guys with a hint of romance for women).

Both your suggestions are solid. I’m sticking with the ladies but will weigh their critiques carefully before implementation and I’ll have to find some men who can show the same amount of weekly dedication to the process.

Thanks, Paul! I think that critique groups can be immensely beneficial, but I also think that each writer has to decide which feedback to apply and which to discard. Objectively, there’s good writing and bad writing, but subjectively, we all have our opinions and preferences. I guess you have to decide whether you want to step up the emotional levels in your characters and add more conflict or if you want to keep your work minimalist.

Here’s what matters: once you do publish, unless you are looking for awards and accolades, the trick is really to find your audience. And there is an audience for everything (as popular culture demonstrates). You might also take a hard look at what the others in your writing group are producing and ask whether this group is a good match to your writing style and needs. You can also ask one of the women in the group to work more closely with you to bring those emotional levels up, if you think you’d like to stretch yourself and experiment a little.

Final word of advice: do not give up on writing or publishing. Forge ahead! You might even look for a creative writing class or workshop — you’ll get a broader range of feedback.

And thank you, Melissa (not Melissa-me, Melissa-you) for putting some analysis into the question of what makes good writing. I get so frustrated with the “Good writing is subjective; it’s just what you like or don’t like,” crowd. The more you study writing, the more you begin to see the difference between good vs bad.

The difficulty, I suppose, is because writing is as complex as any other language. It’s too complex to learn by having the rules explained to us by helpful parents, “Now dear, this is a verb. It always goes after the subject. Is it time to make a poo-poo?” We learn the rules of spoken language by hearing it at a time when our brains are primed and programmed to take it in. Many people don’t start learning to read or write until after that language window is closed. Those of us who learned to read at the same time we were learning to talk have an advantage.

Yes, I’d have to agree that the younger we are when we are taught to read and write, the more naturally it comes. There is much about writing that is subjective, but I believe there is plenty that can be assessed critically and objectively: grammar, spelling, and punctuation, for starters.

David L Scurlock

i tell every mother about my baby can read…they agree and then dont get it for their child..

Matt S.

I have to admit, I share a lot of the insecurities that I have read in the comments here. I’m pretty young and new to the game, and I’m worried that even if I somehow finish this idea that I have (non-fiction) I wont be taken seriously given my lack of a college degree. I have this internal conflict raging in my subconscious, so much so that I’m starting to have dreams about it. Do I go ahead and share my thoughts with others or should I keep them to myself?

It doesn’t help that I have a fear of failure, I suppose. Writing is where I clarify my ideas and feelings, and I’m afraid that my work will be ripped apart by people that dislike it or dismiss my thoughts, mostly because I’ll take it as them dismantling my soul. Does anyone else feel this way?

As I’m writing this I’m slowly realizing that I think that what I need is a little encouragement from people that don’t know me. Man, writing is awesome!

Even if you have a degree, people can still rip your ideas apart. I believe strongly in the value of higher education, but I also know (for a fact) there are plenty of folks with degrees who lack common sense or good hearts. And there are plenty of bright people with good hearts and common sense who do not have degrees. Then again, if you’re that torn up about not having a degree, why not just go get one?

Having said all that, I think you can simply shift your focus. Most of the best writers in the literary canon did not have degrees. Many did not even finish high school. Of your favorite authors, how many have BAs or MAs? Do you know? Do you care? (I don’t.)

As for failure, everyone’s afraid of it. I don’t think we’re meant to eliminate the fear. It’s more a matter of moving forward even though we are afraid. I would say that if you publish a book, some people are not going to like it. That’s just the way it is. So what? Focus your attention and energy on all the people who do like it. If you work hard and write, and put it out there (and do your marketing), you’ll find your audience. Embrace them, and don’t worry so much about everybody else. Good luck to you!

never worry about what anyone says…if someone takes the time for a a scathing review instead of just chucking it in the trash, then you must have struck a chord with that person…all publicity is good publicity…people will want to find out what made this reviewer so angry/….if they are intelligent…

Tony Vanderwarker

Writing well is the price of admission. But beyond the basics is where it gets squishy. Eudora Welty said something like “You’re only writing when you surprise yourself”. What does that mean? You write until you discover.

I don’t know–I would say you’re only writing when you’re putting words on the page. Surprises and discoveries are bonuses in the writing process for me. Maybe it’s because I write a lot of nonfiction, which isn’t full of discovery or surprise the way fiction is.

Sally Ember, Ed.D.

Great article. I’m going to link to it on Reddit!

i think another goal of writing is to use the fewest words possible to convey an idea…similies and metaphors fill this bill…but simple truth sticks with people especially when it is a parable for something much more meaningful.

I think that’s a good goal, although it’s not every writer’s goal. I love clear, simple language, but there are exceptions when I come across a poem or story that is dripping with rich language.

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5 Signs of Bad Writing You Should Never Ignore

  • February 2, 2024

Spotting your writing mistakes and weaknesses is difficult, unless you have the right tools. These signs of bad writing will help you improve your written work.

If don’t know how to edit your work, read Fix Your Book! How to Painlessly Edit Your Novels & Stories by James Osiris Baldwin. You’ll learn the seven essential components of successful editing and how to get into the right headspace to edit your own writing. Baldwin will also teach you how to objectively diagnose problems in your manuscript and show you effective hacks for sharpening your story, character, and dialogue.

The following signs of bad writing will help you see a few signs of bad writing, but you’ll need more editing and revising practice. These tips don’t include (the more obvious) grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation errors; they go beyond that, and they’ll help improve your editing and writing skills…which could translate to more magazine assignments, book contracts, or blog readers!

“You know what bad writing is, I know what bad writing is, everybody knows what it is,” writes Bill Stott in Write to the Point . “But so far as I know there is no definition of it.”

It’s not enough to know that an article or book is badly written, or to recognize that a piece of writing is lifeless or erroneous. Successful writers take it a step further, and identify exactly what cripples their writing. Successful writers know – and can fix – their wobbly transitions, flabby descriptions, and knotty nouns.

5 Signs of Bad Writing

Recognizing and editing your own poorly written work is difficult, especially if you don’t have a clear idea of what “poorly written” actually means! When you’re editing your work, watch for these oft-overlooked writing problems – they’re from Stott’s excellent Write to the Point .

1. Illogical, confusing, or nonexistent transitions

Whether you’re writing a book chapter, magazine article, blog post, or email to your grandpappy, you need to connect your sentences, weld together your paragraphs, and unite your sections/book chapters/ideas. Confused readers jump ship, and there’s nothing more confusing than ideas that aren’t clearly explained.

To make your writing flow , eliminate leaps of logic or black holes. (This is why putting your writing aside for a few weeks or months is helpful, because when you edit something you’ve just written, you’re less likely to see those problems with transition).

2. Vague, unclear writing

Are you writing about happy people (too vague), or relieved cancer survivors (better, because it’s more specific)? Is the dog in your chapter nice, or does the Shitzu save people from burning buildings?

The more specific and clear you are about the events, places, and characters in your writing, the happier and more loyal your readers (and editors) will be. Poorly written work often contains words and ideas that are nebulous and difficult to comprehend. To eliminate this sign of bad writing, be specific and concrete.

3. Lack of purpose

“The chief weakness in most writing is lack of purpose, point, thesis, argument,” writes Stott in Write to the Point . “You must make claims. That’s the point [of writing].”

What’s the main point of your blog post? What are you trying to convince the magazine readers to do, think, or believe? Why are you including Chapter 10 in your book? Find your purpose, fellow scribes, and make sure everything in that piece of writing points to it.

4. Flat characters, unconvincing statements, poor arguments

You don’t need to be writing a nonfiction argumentative essay to be unconvincing!

A character description can be unconvincing, a blog post can be feeble, even an email can be seen as “poorly written” if it lacks concrete examples to support its point.

For example, if you email your hubby after she leaves for work in the morning to tell her about the messy state of the kitchen, you’re better off describing the oatmeal dripping off the counters and the grape jelly on the floor than just complaining about “the mess.”

5. Lifeless writing

More than one editor has asked me for edgy and quirky writing , because it keeps readers hooked. Lifeless writing isn’t necessarily bad writing (depending, of course, on how you define bad writing!), but it’s not interesting writing. And, some writers argue that if writing isn’t interesting, then it’s poorly written. When you’re revising your writing, look for ways to add a little pizzazz!

What do you think about editing your own poorly written work or recognizing signs of bad writing? Please comment below! And, if you spot examples of poor writing in this blog post, feel free to mention it…I welcome your feedback.

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4 thoughts on “5 Signs of Bad Writing You Should Never Ignore”

I read this after reading a reddit named badpill. I was taken back that by I guess coincidence this article was under that piece because that piece was captivating. That author does make some spelling and grammar errors and has blogs world over and has proven once again that credibility is earned through real life experiences. Look at George W, LA rappers or this mad scientist and wonder if writing is not all art and maybe if it lacks of bonetingling emotion, then it’s dead on arrival. I am writing a faith based book so it begs the question, can anyone who knows what they are talking about who may not be a former president, rapper or scientist etc etc and be successful?

Hi Norm ~ Thanks for your comment; you have an editor’s eye! You’re absolutely right about not beginning a sentence with a numerical number….and I don’t think the standard is changing because of blogging. It’s a choice I’ve made as a blogger; I don’t want to waste valuable headline space writing out numerals. And, I think numerical numbers are catchier and easier to read in blog titles, and on internet search pages.

So….it may be ungrammatical or a sign of poor writing, but it works for me. And, it is ironic that the title of this article actually represents the content of the article. I wish I could say I did it deliberately 🙂

Hi Crystal ~ I’m glad you caught the “she” leaving for work, and that it made you laugh! I didn’t intend to confuse readers, just to jolt them out of their lethargy. I thought it was funny, too, and couldn’t resist 🙂

Thanks for your comments; I hope to see you ’round these parts again soon…

Laurie .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Are You Ready for a Writing Career? 4 Tips for Freelancers =-.

Okay I had to laugh.

[quote] (for example, if you email your hubby after she leaves for work in the morning to tell her about the state of the kitchen, you’re better off describing the oatmeal dripping off the counters and the grape jelly on the floor than just complaining about “the mess”).[end quote]

Was the hubby/she intentionally the confusing part? I ask because it had me in stitches. This little gem brought back memories of “Mr. Mom” the movie.

This is not meant to be a “gotcha” at all, because I really am perplexed by it: can a post/headline begin with a numeral?

The standard in English is never to begin a sentence with a numeral or spell out the numeral. Is this standard changing due to blogging?

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How to Improve Your Writing Skills Before You Head Back to College

A young woman writes as she sits at her laptop.

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By Brittany Fillmore Posted on August 9, 2018

“I’m not a good writer.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to write anything. I can’t remember all of the rules!”

“I don’t even know what to write. This is so frustrating.”

If any of these statements sound familiar, you aren’t alone. Many students who are returning to school after an absence are concerned about the writing aspect of it. When it’s been a few years – or longer – since you’ve written anything more than a grocery list, the idea of writing research papers can be enough to give you hives.

While writing skills are a priority for many college degree programs – and employers – the good news is that you can improve, even before you receive your first writing assignment. You might never become the next great American novelist – or even learn what a dangling participle is – but with a little hard work and some useful resources, you can become a more confident writer and better overall communicator.

1. Use What is Available to You

Because writing is so important, most schools offer a writing center where you can get help on your trickiest assignments. Columbia Southern University has a writing center , for instance, that will provide you with all of the help and resources you need to tackle your assignments. Many colleges also offer subscriptions to online grammar and plagiarism checkers, so you can check your own work to get help before you turn in your papers. Websites like the Purdue Writing Lab , Grammar Girl and Grammarly also offer free and paid resources to help you improve your work.

2. Consider Remedial Writing

If your writing skills are really rusty or you have struggled with writing in the past, consider taking a remedial writing course before you enroll in college. Many adult education and community colleges offer basic writing and refresher courses, which can help give you the skills you’ll need to do well in college. From grammar reviews to how to structure a research paper and conduct research, a remedial course will get you back up to speed and ready for college.

3. Practice

The only way to improve at anything is to practice, and writing is no different. Set aside some time each day to work on your writing. What you write about isn’t important; the fact that you spend time practicing is. Experiment with different types of writing. Write about your opinions on current affairs, a response to something that you read or saw, or a how-to about something you know well. This writing doesn’t have to be perfect, as the idea is simply to get comfortable getting your thoughts down on paper.

4. Learn to Proofread

Even the most profound writing loses impact when it’s riddled with grammatical and typographical errors. Therefore, it’s worth learning to proofread  beyond spellcheck. Learn to read your work slowly – reading out loud is also effective – and to ask for a second set of eyes to look over your work. Try some unique methods of proofreading, like reading each sentence backwards, so you can learn to spot errors. And again, the more practice you do, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll learn to identify your own patterns and common mistakes.

One of the best ways to improve your writing skills – and your life – is to read. By reading other writers, you can learn about style, structure, vocabulary and voice, all important parts of your college writing assignments. Not to mention, the more you read, the more you learn and the more interesting and informed you’ll be when you contribute to class discussions.

6. Commit to Dropping Bad Habits

If the only writing you do on a regular basis is sending text messages, you might be tempted to fall into “text speak” in your formal work. If you have military experience, acronyms are probably second nature to you, even if no one else knows what you’re talking about. Or maybe you just fall into bad habits when it comes to capitalization, using clichés or not paying attention to spelling. As you practice your writing, watch for some of these bad habits and make a commitment to avoiding them.

7. Learn to Cite Sources

Academic writing requires you to cite anything you use from another source, so it’s good to get in that habit as soon as possible. Before you begin your college career, learn which citation format your college uses – Chicago, APA, MLA, etc. – and brush up on the correct usage and formatting. You will most likely receive instruction in your introductory writing course, but reviewing the basics will put you ahead of the curve.

Not everyone loves to write, but if you start early and use the resources available to you, it doesn’t have to be a painful and frustrating experience. In fact, once you get over the initial hurdles, you might even find that you enjoy it.

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Top 20 Errors in Undergraduate Writing

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The Top Twenty: A Quick Guide to Troubleshooting Your Writing

Readers judge your writing by your control of certain conventions, which may change depending on your audience, purpose, and writing situation.  For example, your instructor may or may not mark errors in your paper if he’s more concerned with its argument or structure than he is with sentence-level correctness; he could also decide an error is not serious.  Some instructors may even see the errors listed below as stylistic options. However, a large-scale study by Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford (2008) found that these errors are the most likely to attract readers’ negative attention.  Before handing in your papers, proofread them carefully for these errors, which are illustrated below in the sentences in italics.  


1. wrong word.

Wrong word errors take a number of forms. They may convey a slightly different meaning than you intend ( compose instead of comprise ) or a completely wrong meaning ( prevaricate  instead of procrastinate ). They may also be as simple as a wrong preposition or other type of wrong word in an idiom.

Use your thesaurus and spell checker with care. If you select a word from a thesaurus without knowing its precise meaning or allow a spell checker to correct spelling automatically, you may make wrong-word errors. If prepositions and idioms are tricky for you, look up the standard usage.

Here are a couple of wrong word examples:

Did you catch my illusion to the Bible?

Illusion means “an erroneous perception of reality.” In the context of this sentence,  allusion was needed because it means "reference.”

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a magnificent sixteenth-century allergy.

A spell checker replaced allegory with allergy.

2. Missing Comma after an Introductory Element

Use a comma after every introductory element—whether word, phrase or clause—to clarify where it ends and the rest of the sentence begins. When the introductory element is very short, you can skip the comma, but including it is never wrong.

Without a comma after the introductory element, it’s hard to see the location of the subject (“they”) in this sentence:

Determined to make their flight on time they rose at dawn.

3. Incomplete or Missing Documentation

Documentation practices vary from discipline to discipline.  But in academic and research writing, it’s a good idea to always cite your sources: omitting documentation can result in charges of plagiarism.

The examples below follow MLA style.  In this example, the page number of the print source for this quotation must be included.

The Social Media Bible defines social media as the “activities, practices, and behaviors among communities of people who gather online to share information, knowledge, and opinions using conversational media.”

And here, the source mentioned should be identified because it makes a specific, arguable claim:

According to one source, it costs almost twice an employee’s salary to recruit and train a replacement. 

Cite each source you refer to in the text, following the guidelines of the documentation style you are using. 

4. Vague Pronoun Reference

A pronoun (e.g., he, this, it) should refer clearly to the noun it replaces (called the antecedent).  If more than one word could be the antecedent, or if no specific antecedent is present, edit to make the meaning clear.

In this sentence, it possibly refers to more than one word:

If you put this handout in your binder, it may remind you of important tutoring strategies .

In some pronoun usage, the reference is implied but not stated.  Here, for example, you might wonder what which refers to:

The authoritarian school changed its cell phone policy, which many students resisted.

To improve this sentence, the writer needs to make explicit what students resisted.

5. Spelling

Even though technology now reviews much of our spelling for us, one of the top 20 most common errors is a spelling error.  That’s because spell checkers cannot identify many misspellings, and are most likely to miss homonyms (e.g., presence/presents), compound words incorrectly spelled as separate words, and proper nouns, particularly names. After you run the spell checker, proofread carefully for errors such as these:

Vladmir Putin is the controversial leader of Russia.
Every where she walked, she was reminded of him.

6. Mechanical Error with a Quotation

When we quote other writers, we bring their voices into our arguments.  Quotation marks crucially show where their words end and our own begin. 

Quotation marks come in pairs; don’t forget to open and close your quotations.  In most documentation styles (e.g., MLA Style), block quotations do not need quotations marks.  Consult your professor’s preferred style manual to learn how to present block quotations. 

Follow conventions when using quotation marks with other punctuation. Here, the comma should be placed inside the quotation marks:

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction", Virginia Woolf argues.

7. Unnecessary Comma

We often have a choice about whether or not to use a comma.  But if we add them to our sentences when and where they are not needed, then we may obscure rather than clarify our meaning.

Do not use commas to set off restrictive elements that are necessary to the meaning of the words they modify.  Here, for example, no comma is needed to set off the restrictive phrase  of working parents , which is necessary to indicate which parents the sentence is talking about.

Many children, of working parents, walk home from school by themselves.

Do not use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) when the conjunction does not join parts of a compound sentence.  In this example, no comma is needed before the word  and  because it joins two phrases that modify the same verb, applies.

  This social scourge can be seen in urban centers, and in rural outposts.

Do not use a comma before the first or after the last item in a series.

The students asked their TAs to review, the assignment rubric, a sample paper and their comments, before the end of the quarter.

Do not use a comma between a subject and verb.

Happily, the waiters, sat down during a break.

Do not use a comma between a verb and its object or complement.

On her way home from work, she bought, a book at the bookstore.

Do not use a comma between a preposition and its object.

On her way home from work, she bought a book at, the bookstore.

8. Unnecessary or Missing Capitalization

Capitalize proper nouns and proper adjectives, the first words of sentences, and important words in titles, along with certain words indicating directions and family relationships. Do not capitalize most other words. When in doubt, check a dictionary.

Financial Aid is a pressing concern for many University Students.

9. Missing Word

If you read your work outloud before submittingit, you are more likely to notice omitted words.  Be particularly careful not to omit words from quotations.

Soccer fans the globe rejoiced when the striker scored the second goal.

10. Faulty Sentence Structure

If a sentence starts out with one kind of structure and then changes to another kind, it will confuse readers.

The information that families have access to is what financial aid is available and thinking about the classes available, and how to register.

Maintain the grammatical pattern within a sentence.  Each sentence must have a subject and a verb, and the subjects and predicates must make sense together.  In the example above, thinking about the classes available does not help the reader understand the information families have access to.  Parallel structures can help your reader see the relationships among your ideas.  Here’s the sentence revised:

Families have access to information about financial aid, class availability, and registration.

11. Missing Comma with a Nonrestrictive Element

A nonrestrictive phrase or clause provides additional information that is not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence.  Use commas to set off a nonrestrictive element.

David who loved to read history was the first to head to the British Library.

The clause  who loved to read history does not affect the basic meaning of the sentence.  The clause could be taken out and the reader would still understand that David was the first to head to the British Library.  

12. Unnecessary Shift in Verb Tense

Verbs that shift from one tense to another with no clear reason can confuse readers.

Martin searched for a great horned owl.  He takes photographs of all the birds he sights.

13. Missing Comma in a Compound Sentence

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses.  When the clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), use a comma before the conjunction to indicate a pause between the two thoughts.

Miranda drove her brother and her mother waited at home.

Without the comma, a reader may think at first that Miranda drove both her brother and her mother.

14. Unnecessary or Missing Apostrophe (including its/it's)

To make a noun possessive, add either an apostrophe and an s (Ed's phone) or an apostrophe alone (the girls’ bathroom). Do not use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns ours, yours, and hers. Use its to mean belong to it; use it's only when you mean it is or it has.

Repeated viral infections compromise doctors immune systems.
The chef lifted the skillet off it’s hook.  Its a fourteen-inch, copper skillet.

15. Fused (run-on) Sentence

A fused sentence (also called a run-on) joins clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence with no punctuation or words to link them. Fused sentences must be either divided into separate sentences or joined by adding words or punctuation.

The house was flooded with light, the moon rose above the horizon.
He wondered what the decision meant he thought about it all night.

16. Comma Splice

A comma splice occurs when only a comma separates clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence. To correct a comma splice, you can insert a semicolon or period, connect the clauses with a word such as and/or/because, or restructure the sentence.

The students rushed the field, they tore down the goalposts. 

17. Lack of pronoun/antecedent agreement

Pronouns typically must agree with their antecedents in gender (male or female, if appropriate) and in number (singular or plural). Many indefinite pronouns, such as everyone and each, are always singular.  However,  they can be used to agree with a singular antecedent in order to use inclusive or gender-neutral language.  When antecedents are joined by or or nor, the pronoun must agree with the closer antecedent. A collection noun such as team can be either singular or plural, depending on whether the members are seen as a group or individuals.

Every guest left their shoes at the door.

18. Poorly Integrated Quotation

Quotations should be logically and smoothly integrated with the writing around them, the grammar of the quotation complementing the grammar of the neighboring prose.  They usually need to be introduced (with a signal phrase) rather than dropped abruptly into the writing.

An award-winning 2009 study of friendship "understanding social networks allows us to understand how indeed, in the case of humans, the whole comes to be greater than the sum of its parts" (Christakis and Fowler 26).
"Social networks are intricate things of beauty" (Christakis and Fowler xiii). Maintaining close friendships is good for your health.

19. Missing or Unnecessary Hyphen

A compound adjective requires a hyphen when it modifies a noun that follows it.

This article describes eighteenth century theater.

A two-word verb should not be hyphenated. 

The dealers want to buy-back the computers and refurbish them.

20. Sentence Fragment

A sentence fragment is part of a sentence that is presented as if it were a complete sentence.  The following illustrate the ways sentence fragments can be created:

Without a subject

The American colonists resisted British taxation.  And started the American Revolution.

No complete verb

The pink geranium blooming in its pot.

Beginning with a subordinating word

We visited the park. Where we threw the Frisbee.

These 20 most common errors can be avoided in your writing if you reserve time to proofread your final draft before submission.

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea A. and Karen J. Lunsford.  “Mistakes are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study.”   CCC 59 (2008) 781-806.

Tutorials, Study Guides & More

Bad writing

This is a short rogues’ gallery of bad practice. It is short because we don’t want to dwell on negative examples, but it exists to offer a few warnings and to explain how problems are often caused. Most of the items have been mentioned elsewhere in advice on what to avoid, or cautions of one kind or another. I think they are worth second mention in a different context.

Improve your Writing Skills

Using speech patterns

Poor punctuation

  • Weak grammar and syntax
  • Sentences too long
  • Unrelated clauses

Jumbled vocabulary

  • Straining to impress
  • Mired in cliché

When we speak to each other, we don’t use grammatically complete sentences, careful constructions, and beautifully modulated syntax. Our utterances are often quite ungrammatical, abbreviated, and incomplete. We might say ‘She wasn’t there at home, it’ll be later when I’m going to call’. This would be acceptable in speech. But we would write ‘She was not at home, so I will call again later’.

If these habits of speech are carried over into the written language the results are usually not very good. Remember that on the page we do not have any of the other parts of spoken communication to guide us. Tone of voice, accent, stress, and facial expression are absent. The two forms of communication may both use words as their basic element, but they are two different ‘codes’.

If you wish to be understood, and if you wish to make a good impression in the written language, then you should stay fairly close to what is called ‘Standard English’. For most forms of writing, if you want to move away from this norm, you should know what it is you are doing, and you should have a good reason for doing so.

It might be acceptable to use dialects and the irregularities of the spoken language if you were writing fiction or trying to illustrate someone’s character. In almost all types of formal writing however, your best plan is to stay close to the norm – if only because you will thereby communicate with the largest number of people. This is not to be proscriptive or fuddy-duddy. If you have the confidence and the skill, you can use whatever linguistic devices you wish – but then you would probably not be reading this book.

Some people scatter marks of punctuation like confetti throughout their writing, making little distinction between the range of devices available. Yet if it is not used accurately and consistently, this creates an unsettling effect. The sense of a statement can be rendered ambiguous or obscure. Reading can become like hacking your way through a linguistic jungle. Remember that commas, semicolons, and colons are used to create pauses of different length in the grammar and the sense of a statement (see Punctuation ).

Another common form of poor punctuation occurs when one punctuation mark is substituted for another. The most frequent abuse of this kind is the use of the comma to string together statements which are in fact grammatically separate. They might be independent sentences, or (more usually) notes or brief ‘thoughts’.

‘The senator’s reaction was only outrage that a man’s career should be threatened, it was her word against his, they chose to believe his.’

These are separate statements, and should be treated as such. The first comma here should be a full stop (followed by a capital letter) and the second a colon.

The other extreme of the same problem is too little punctuation. This usually has the effect of leaving readers disoriented. We are not sure where one clause ends and the next begins. Unless there is great pressure to continue, we rapidly tire of trying to make sense of writing which has no stress or grammatical indicators. Let’s look at an example used elsewhere. It isn’t a particularly long sentence, but the absence of any punctuation makes it very difficult to understand at first reading.

‘Each night you stay at a Roberts-Plaza Moat Houses UK hotel at the fully published or corporate rate you are entitled to a special discount voucher.’

This usually occurs either because the writer doesn’t have a firm grasp of the meaning and best use of words – or because there is a ‘straining for effect’ which goes wrong. Sometimes the two features may be combined. A local council circular [in what we might call ‘Town Hall prose’] offers the following example of the first weakness:

Manchester has a strong objective to be widely recognized as a fully accessible city, and energetically supports the overall approach of the Action Programme.

The council might have a ‘strong ambition’; it might have these goals as its objective; but it cannot have a ‘strong objective’, because the term ‘objective’ is an abstract noun which cannot be qualified by ‘strong’.

The over-long sentence

Long sentences should generally be avoided – unless you have very good control of grammar and syntax. This is a very common problem for beginners. Some people start out on their subject, add qualifying clauses, explanations, or digressions of some kind, then seem to forget where they have come from. Their sentences drift grammatically and usually become difficult to understand.

If we contrast the past situation where although a doctor may not have been able to cure a patient, he would have visited the patient regularly giving emotional support; with a situation that might occur today, such as the impersonal treatment of a patient using highly sophisticated technology, it could be argued that this transition has produced a less humane or compassionate system.

The following is a more subtle example of the same phenomenon. The sentence isn’t quite so disastrous, but it should be much easier to understand. The weaknesses are caused by its length, but also by its poor grammar and confusing repetitions. [We are back in Manchester Town Hall.]

The Programme is of vital importance, and would assist in creating a significant improvement in the quality of life of disabled people of all ages, not least as access to transport is a key requirement in education and employment, as well as for social, leisure, health, shopping and other activities.

It starts with the active verb is then switches to the conditional ‘would’; the three ‘of’s in quick succession are clumsy; and ‘not least as’ [which should be ‘because’] is not properly paralleled in ‘as well as’. Like most of the examples we have looked at, it would be improved if it were split into two separate sentences.


Some people use writing as a vehicle to ‘impress’ others. Rather than make direct statements they use elaborate constructions and wordy phrases in an attempt to appear very literary or clever. These attempts rarely succeed because writing does reveal its author’s ‘style’. An insincere purpose will show through – as the following example should illustrate.

One would hesitate, however, to sip from the same poisoned chalice as those who would speciously crusade the assertion that literature is quintessentially socially functional. Pose the following interrogative: Would Dante, Shakespeare, or Milton, from their peerless pinnacles, have sullied their art, prostituted the muse which their endeavours had enthroned, by indicating something as trivial, as unworthy, as a social purpose? The art of such as these argues another view; that at the heart of all great creative achievement lies a self-justifying, eternally fathomless and sacred mystery.

Let’s finish with a stunning example from the world of provincial journalism. In his book on Newspaper Style , Keith Waterhouse points out that many tabloid journalists inhabit a linguistic world so steeped in cliché that their writing has the appearance of being constructed from ready-made parts. The following is an extract from a genuine theatre review (with the clichés highlighted) but the names have been changed to protect the innocent. [That’s a deliberate example!]

By their very nature cabarets tend to be a bit of a hit and miss affair . And Manchester’s own Downtown Cabaret is ample proof of that. When it was good it was good and when it was bad it was awful. Holding this curate’s egg together was John Keswick acting as compere and keeping the hotch-potch of sketches and songs running along smoothly . And his professionalism shone through as he kept his hand on the tiller and steered the show through a difficult audience with his own brand of witticism. Local playwright Alan Chivers had previously worked like a Trojan and managed to marshall the talents of a bevy of Manchester’s rising stars .

What then are the cures for bad writing? There are essentially two solutions. One is simply to take more care, and subject what you write to detailed scrutiny. If you are in any doubt at all about something you have written, be prepared to change it. If the meaning is ambiguous or cloudy to you, it will almost certainly be so to somebody else. You might ask a tolerant friend to read over what you have written. Check that it makes sense. The other solution is to make yourself more aware of the language and rhythms of good writing. Read the work of those who are known to write well. Absorb the syntax, the cadences, and the texture of good prose.

Chapter continues …

© Mantex/Clifton Press 1995-2011

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Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes You Must Avoid

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College Essays


Just as there are noteworthy examples of excellent college essays that admissions offices like to publish, so are there cringe-worthy examples of terrible college essays that end up being described by anonymous admissions officers on Reddit discussion boards.

While I won't guarantee that your essay will end up in the first category, I will say that you follow my advice in this article, your essay most assuredly won't end up in the second. How do you avoid writing a bad admissions essay? Read on to find out what makes an essay bad and to learn which college essay topics to avoid. I'll also explain how to recognize bad college essays—and what to do to if you end up creating one by accident.

What Makes Bad College Essays Bad

What exactly happens to turn a college essay terrible? Just as great personal statements combine an unexpected topic with superb execution, flawed personal statements compound problematic subject matter with poor execution.

Problems With the Topic

The primary way to screw up a college essay is to flub what the essay is about or how you've decided to discuss a particular experience. Badly chosen essay content can easily create an essay that is off-putting in one of a number of ways I'll discuss in the next section.

The essay is the place to let the admissions office of your target college get to know your personality, character, and the talents and skills that aren't on your transcript. So if you start with a terrible topic, not only will you end up with a bad essay, but you risk ruining the good impression that the rest of your application makes.

Some bad topics show admissions officers that you don't have a good sense of judgment or maturity , which is a problem since they are building a class of college students who have to be able to handle independent life on campus.

Other bad topics suggest that you are a boring person , or someone who doesn't process your experience in a colorful or lively way, which is a problem since colleges want to create a dynamic and engaged cohort of students.

Still other bad topics indicate that you're unaware of or disconnected from the outside world and focused only on yourself , which is a problem since part of the point of college is to engage with new people and new ideas, and admissions officers are looking for people who can do that.

Problems With the Execution

Sometimes, even if the experiences you discuss could be the foundation of a great personal statement, the way you've structured and put together your essay sends up warning flags. This is because the admissions essay is also a place to show the admissions team the maturity and clarity of your writing style.

One way to get this part wrong is to exhibit very faulty writing mechanics , like unclear syntax or incorrectly used punctuation. This is a problem since college-ready writing is one of the things that's expected from a high school graduate.

Another way to mess this up is to ignore prompt instructions either for creative or careless reasons. This can show admissions officers that you're either someone who simply blows off directions and instructions or someone who can't understand how to follow them . Neither is a good thing, since they are looking for people who are open to receiving new information from professors and not just deciding they know everything already.


College Essay Topics To Avoid

Want to know why you're often advised to write about something mundane and everyday for your college essay? That's because the more out-there your topic, the more likely it is to stumble into one of these trouble categories.

Too Personal

The problem with the overly personal essay topic is that revealing something very private can show that you don't really understand boundaries . And knowing where appropriate boundaries are will be key for living on your own with a bunch of people not related to you.

Unfortunately, stumbling into the TMI zone of essay topics is more common than you think. One quick test for checking your privacy-breaking level: if it's not something you'd tell a friendly stranger sitting next to you on the plane, maybe don't tell it to the admissions office.

  • Describing losing your virginity, or anything about your sex life really. This doesn't mean you can't write about your sexual orientation—just leave out the actual physical act.
  • Writing in too much detail about your illness, disability, any other bodily functions. Detailed meaningful discussion of what this physical condition has meant to you and your life is a great thing to write about. But stay away from body horror and graphic descriptions that are simply there for gratuitous shock value.
  • Waxing poetic about your love for your significant other. Your relationship is adorable to the people currently involved in it, but those who don't know you aren't invested in this aspect of your life.
  • Confessing to odd and unusual desires of the sexual or illegal variety. Your obsession with cultivating cacti is wonderful topic, while your obsession with researching explosives is a terrible one.


Too Revealing of Bad Judgment

Generally speaking, leave past illegal or immoral actions out of your essay . It's simply a bad idea to give admissions officers ammunition to dislike you.

Some exceptions might be if you did something in a very, very different mindset from the one you're in now (in the midst of escaping from danger, under severe coercion, or when you were very young, for example). Or if your essay is about explaining how you've turned over a new leaf and you have the transcript to back you up.

  • Writing about committing crime as something fun or exciting. Unless it's on your permanent record, and you'd like a chance to explain how you've learned your lesson and changed, don't put this in your essay.
  • Describing drug use or the experience of being drunk or high. Even if you're in a state where some recreational drugs are legal, you're a high school student. Your only exposure to mind-altering substances should be caffeine.
  • Making up fictional stories about yourself as though they are true. You're unlikely to be a good enough fantasist to pull this off, and there's no reason to roll the dice on being discovered to be a liar.
  • Detailing your personality flaws. Unless you have a great story of coping with one of these, leave deal-breakers like pathological narcissism out of your personal statement.


Too Overconfident

While it's great to have faith in your abilities, no one likes a relentless show-off. No matter how magnificent your accomplishments, if you decide to focus your essay on them, it's better to describe a setback or a moment of doubt rather that simply praising yourself to the skies.

  • Bragging and making yourself the flawless hero of your essay. This goes double if you're writing about not particularly exciting achievements like scoring the winning goal or getting the lead in the play.
  • Having no awareness of the actual scope of your accomplishments. It's lovely that you take time to help others, but volunteer-tutoring a couple of hours a week doesn't make you a saintly figure.


Too Clichéd or Boring

Remember your reader. In this case, you're trying to make yourself memorable to an admissions officer who has been reading thousands of other essays . If your essay makes the mistake of being boring or trite, it just won't register in that person's mind as anything worth paying attention to.

  • Transcribing your resume into sentence form or writing about the main activity on your transcript. The application already includes your resume, or a detailed list of your various activities. Unless the prompt specifically asks you to write about your main activity, the essay needs to be about a facet of your interests and personality that doesn't come through the other parts of the application.
  • Writing about sports. Every athlete tries to write this essay. Unless you have a completely off-the-wall story or unusual achievement, leave this overdone topic be.
  • Being moved by your community service trip to a third-world country. Were you were impressed at how happy the people seemed despite being poor? Did you learn a valuable lesson about how privileged you are? Unfortunately, so has every other teenager who traveled on one of these trips. Writing about this tends to simultaneously make you sound unempathetic, clueless about the world, way over-privileged, and condescending. Unless you have a highly specific, totally unusual story to tell, don't do it.
  • Reacting with sadness to a sad, but very common experience. Unfortunately, many of the hard, formative events in your life are fairly universal. So, if you're going to write about death or divorce, make sure to focus on how you dealt with this event, so the essay is something only you could possibly have written. Only detailed, idiosyncratic description can save this topic.
  • Going meta. Don't write about the fact that you're writing the essay as we speak, and now the reader is reading it, and look, the essay is right here in the reader's hand. It's a technique that seems clever, but has already been done many times in many different ways.
  • Offering your ideas on how to fix the world. This is especially true if your solution is an easy fix, if only everyone would just listen to you. Trust me, there's just no way you are being realistically appreciative of the level of complexity inherent in the problem you're describing.
  • Starting with a famous quotation. There usually is no need to shore up your own words by bringing in someone else's. Of course, if you are writing about a particular phrase that you've adopted as a life motto, feel free to include it. But even then, having it be the first line in your essay feels like you're handing the keys over to that author and asking them to drive.
  • Using an everyday object as a metaphor for your life/personality. "Shoes. They are like this, and like that, and people love them for all of these reasons. And guess what? They are just like me."


Too Off-Topic

Unlike the essays you've been writing in school where the idea is to analyze something outside of yourself, the main subject of your college essay should be you, your background, your makeup, and your future . Writing about someone or something else might well make a great essay, but not for this context.

  • Paying tribute to someone very important to you. Everyone would love to meet your grandma, but this isn't the time to focus on her amazing coming of age story. If you do want to talk about a person who is important to your life, dwell on the ways you've been impacted by them, and how you will incorporate this impact into your future.
  • Documenting how well other people do things, say things, are active, while you remain passive and inactive in the essay. Being in the orbit of someone else's important lab work, or complex stage production, or meaningful political activism is a fantastic learning moment. But if you decide to write about, your essay should be about your learning and how you've been influenced, not about the other person's achievements.
  • Concentrating on a work of art that deeply moved you. Watch out for the pitfall of writing an analytical essay about that work, and not at all about your reaction to it or how you've been affected since. Check out our explanation of how to answer Topic D of the ApplyTexas application to get some advice on writing about someone else's work while making sure your essay still points back at you.


(Image: Pieter Christoffel Wonder [Public domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

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Too Offensive

With this potential mistake, you run the risk of showing a lack of self-awareness or the ability to be open to new ideas . Remember, no reader wants to be lectured at. If that's what your essay does, you are demonstrating an inability to communicate successfully with others.

Also, remember that no college is eager to admit someone who is too close-minded to benefit from being taught by others. A long, one-sided essay about a hot-button issue will suggest that you are exactly that.

  • Ranting at length about political, religious, or other contentious topics. You simply don't know where the admissions officer who reads your essay stands on any of these issues. It's better to avoid upsetting or angering that person.
  • Writing a one-sided diatribe about guns, abortion, the death penalty, immigration, or anything else in the news. Even if you can marshal facts in your argument, this essay is simply the wrong place to take a narrow, unempathetic side in an ongoing debate.
  • Mentioning anything negative about the school you're applying to. Again, your reader is someone who works there and presumably is proud of the place. This is not the time to question the admissions officer's opinions or life choices.


College Essay Execution Problems To Avoid

Bad college essays aren't only caused by bad topics. Sometimes, even if you're writing about an interesting, relevant topic, you can still seem immature or unready for college life because of the way you present that topic—the way you actually write your personal statement. Check to make sure you haven't made any of the common mistakes on this list.


Admissions officers are looking for resourcefulness, the ability to be resilient, and an active and optimistic approach to life —these are all qualities that create a thriving college student. Essays that don't show these qualities are usually suffering from tone-deafness.

  • Being whiny or complaining about problems in your life. Is the essay about everyone doing things to/against you? About things happening to you, rather than you doing anything about them? That perspective is a definite turn-off.
  • Trying and failing to use humor. You may be very funny in real life, but it's hard to be successfully funny in this context, especially when writing for a reader who doesn't know you. If you do want to use humor, I'd recommend the simplest and most straightforward version: being self-deprecating and low-key.
  • Talking down to the reader, or alternately being self-aggrandizing. No one enjoys being condescended to. In this case, much of the function of your essay is to charm and make yourself likable, which is unlikely to happen if you adopt this tone.
  • Being pessimistic, cynical, and generally depressive. You are applying to college because you are looking forward to a future of learning, achievement, and self-actualization. This is not the time to bust out your existential ennui and your jaded, been-there-done-that attitude toward life.


(Image: Eduard Munch [Public Domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

Lack of Personality

One good question to ask yourself is: could anyone else have written this essay ? If the answer is yes, then you aren't doing a good job of representing your unique perspective on the world. It's very important to demonstrate your ability to be a detailed observer of the world, since that will be one of your main jobs as a college student.

  • Avoiding any emotions, and appearing robot-like and cold in the essay. Unlike essays that you've been writing for class, this essay is meant to be a showcase of your authorial voice and personality. It may seem strange to shift gears after learning how to take yourself out of your writing, but this is the place where you have to put as much as yourself in as possible.
  • Skipping over description and specific details in favor of writing only in vague generalities. Does your narrative feel like a newspaper horoscope, which could apply to every other person who was there that day? Then you're doing it wrong and need to refocus on your reaction, feelings, understanding, and transformation.


Off-Kilter Style

There's some room for creativity here, yes, but a college essay isn't a free-for-all postmodern art class . True, there are prompts that specifically call for your most out-of-left-field submission, or allow you to submit a portfolio or some other work sample instead of a traditional essay. But on a standard application, it's better to stick to traditional prose, split into paragraphs, further split into sentences.

  • Submitting anything other than just the materials asked for on your application. Don't send food to the admissions office, don't write your essay on clothing or shoes, don't create a YouTube channel about your undying commitment to the school. I know there are a lot of urban legends about "that one time this crazy thing worked," but they are either not true or about something that will not work a second time.
  • Writing your essay in verse, in the form of a play, in bullet points, as an acrostic, or any other non-prose form. Unless you really have a way with poetry or playwriting, and you are very confident that you can meet the demands of the prompt and explain yourself well in this form, don't discard prose simply for the sake of being different.
  • Using as many "fancy" words as possible and getting very far away from sounding like yourself. Admissions officers are unanimous in wanting to hear your not fully formed teenage voice in your essay. This means that you should write at the top of your vocabulary range and syntax complexity, but don't trade every word up for a thesaurus synonym. Your essay will suffer for it.


Failure to Proofread

Most people have a hard time checking over their own work. This is why you have to make sure that someone else proofreads your writing . This is the one place where you can, should—and really must—get someone who knows all about grammar, punctuation and has a good eye for detail to take a red pencil to your final draft.

Otherwise, you look like you either don't know the basic rules or writing (in which case, are you really ready for college work?) or don't care enough to present yourself well (in which case, why would the admissions people care about admitting you?).

  • Typos, grammatical mistakes, punctuation flubs, weird font/paragraph spacing issues. It's true that these are often unintentional mistakes. But caring about getting it right is a way to demonstrate your work ethic and dedication to the task at hand.
  • Going over the word limit. Part of showing your brilliance is being able to work within arbitrary rules and limitations. Going over the word count points to a lack of self-control, which is not a very attractive feature in a college applicant.
  • Repeating the same word(s) or sentence structure over and over again. This makes your prose monotonous and hard to read.


Bad College Essay Examples—And How to Fix Them

The beauty of writing is that you get to rewrite. So if you think of your essay as a draft waiting to be revised into a better version rather than as a precious jewel that can't bear being touched, you'll be in far better shape to correct the issues that always crop up!

Now let's take a look at some actual college essay drafts to see where the writer is going wrong and how the issue could be fixed.

Essay #1: The "I Am Writing This Essay as We Speak" Meta-Narrative

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine. I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

In my junior year, I always had in mind an image of myself finishing the college essay months before the deadline. But as the weeks dragged on and the deadline drew near, it soon became clear that at the rate things are going I would probably have to make new plans for my October, November and December.

Falling into my personal wormhole, I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!" I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

I fell into a state of panic. My college essay. My image of myself in senior year. Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there. My heart lifted, I took his advice and listed three of my greatest achievements - mastering my backgammon strategy, being a part of TREE in my sophomore year, and performing "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance in public. And sure enough, I felt inspiration hit me and began to type away furiously into the keyboard about my experience in TREE, or Trees Require Engaged Environmentalists. I reflected on the current state of deforestation, and described the dichotomy of it being both understandable why farmers cut down forests for farmland, and how dangerous this is to our planet. Finally, I added my personal epiphany to the end of my college essay as the cherry on the vanilla sundae, as the overused saying goes.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal. Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In the middle of a hike through Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, I realized that the college essay was nothing more than an embodiment of my character. The two essays I have written were not right because they have failed to become more than just words on recycled paper. The subject failed to come alive. Certainly my keen interest in Star Trek and my enthusiasm for TREE are a great part of who I am, but there were other qualities essential in my character that did not come across in the essays.

With this realization, I turned around as quickly as I could without crashing into a tree.

What Essay #1 Does Well

Here are all things that are working on all cylinders for this personal statement as is.

Killer First Sentence

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine.

  • A strange fact. There are different kinds of tornadoes? What is a "landspout tornado" anyway?
  • A late-night-deep-thoughts hypothetical. What would it be like to be a kid whose house was destroyed in this unusual way?
  • Direct engagement with the reader. Instead of asking "what would it be like to have a tornado destroy a house" it asks "was your house ever destroyed."


Gentle, Self-Deprecating Humor That Lands Well

I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

The author has his cake and eats it too here: both making fun of himself for being super into the Star Trek mythos, but also showing himself being committed enough to try whispering a command to the Enterprise computer alone in his room. You know, just in case.

A Solid Point That Is Made Paragraph by Paragraph

The meat of the essay is that the two versions of himself that the author thought about portraying each fails in some way to describe the real him. Neither an essay focusing on his off-beat interests, nor an essay devoted to his serious activism could capture everything about a well-rounded person in 600 words.


(Image: fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons .)

Where Essay #1 Needs Revision

Rewriting these flawed parts will make the essay shine.

Spending Way Too Long on the Metanarrative

I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal.

Look at how long and draggy these paragraphs are, especially after that zippy opening. Is it at all interesting to read about how someone else found the process of writing hard? Not really, because this is a very common experience.

In the rewrite, I'd advise condensing all of this to maybe a sentence to get to the meat of the actual essay .

Letting Other People Do All the Doing

I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!"

Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there.

Twice in the essay, the author lets someone else tell him what to do. Not only that, but it sounds like both of the "incomplete" essays were dictated by the thoughts of other people and had little to do with his own ideas, experiences, or initiative.

In the rewrite, it would be better to recast both the Star Trek and the TREE versions of the essay as the author's own thoughts rather than someone else's suggestions . This way, the point of the essay—taking apart the idea that a college essay could summarize life experience—is earned by the author's two failed attempts to write that other kind of essay.


Leaving the Insight and Meaning Out of His Experiences

Both the Star Trek fandom and the TREE activism were obviously important life experiences for this author—important enough to be potential college essay topic candidates. But there is no description of what the author did with either one, nor any explanation of why these were so meaningful to his life.

It's fine to say that none of your achievements individually define you, but in order for that to work, you have to really sell the achievements themselves.

In the rewrite, it would be good to explore what he learned about himself and the world by pursuing these interests . How did they change him or seen him into the person he is today?

Not Adding New Shades and Facets of Himself Into the Mix

So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In both of these passages, there is the perfect opportunity to point out what exactly these failed versions of the essay didn't capture about the author . In the next essay draft, I would suggest subtly making a point about his other qualities.

For example, after the Star Trek paragraph, he could talk about other culture he likes to consume, especially if he can discuss art forms he is interested in that would not be expected from someone who loves Star Trek .

Or, after the TREE paragraph, the author could explain why this second essay was no better at capturing him than the first. What was missing? Why is the self in the essay shouting—is it because this version paints him as an overly aggressive activist?


Essay #2: The "I Once Saw Poor People" Service Trip Essay

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive. My whole outlook on life changed after I realized that my life was just being handed to me on a silver spoon, and yet there were those in the world who didn't have enough food to eat or place to live. I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness. But my most vivid memory was the moment I first got to the farming town. The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water? As these questions rolled around my already dazed mind, I heard a soft voice asking me in Spanish, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" I looked down to see a small boy, around nine years of age, who looked starved, and cold, wearing tattered clothing, comforting me. These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate ahead of themselves. It was at that moment that I saw how selfish I had been. How many people suffered like this in the world, while I went about life concerned about nothing at all?

Thinking back on the trip, maybe I made a difference, maybe not. But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

What Essay #2 Does Well

Let's first point out what this draft has going for it.

Clear Chronology

This is an essay that tries to explain a shift in perspective. There are different ways to structure this overarching idea, but a chronological approach that starts with an earlier opinion, describes a mind changing event, and ends with the transformed point of view is an easy and clear way to lay this potentially complex subject out.


(Image: User:Lite via Wikimedia Commons)

Where Essay #2 Needs Revision

Now let's see what needs to be changed in order for this essay to pass muster.

Condescending, Obnoxious Tone

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive.

This is a very broad generalization, which doesn't tend to be the best way to formulate an argument—or to start an essay. It just makes this author sound dismissive of a huge swath of the population.

In the rewrite, this author would be way better off just concentrate on what she want to say about herself, not pass judgment on "other teenagers," most of whom she doesn't know and will never meet.

I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Coming from someone who hasn't earned her place in the world through anything but the luck of being born, the word "compassion" sounds really condescending. Calling others "less fortunate" when you're a senior in high school has a dehumanizing quality to it.

These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate in front of themselves.

Again, this comes across as very patronizing. Not only that, but to this little boy the author was clearly not looking all that "fortunate"—instead, she looked pathetic enough to need comforting.

In the next draft, a better hook could be making the essay about the many different kinds of shifting perspectives the author encountered on that trip . A more meaningful essay would compare and contrast the points of view of the TV commercials, to what the group leader said, to the author's own expectations, and finally to this child's point of view.


Vague, Unobservant Description

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness.

Phrases like "cries of the small children from not having enough to eat" and "dirt stained rags" seem like descriptions, but they're really closer to incurious and completely hackneyed generalizations. Why were the kids were crying? How many kids? All the kids? One specific really loud kid?

The same goes for "filthy rags," which is both an incredibly insensitive way to talk about the clothing of these villagers, and again shows a total lack of interest in their life. Why were their clothes dirty? Were they workers or farmers so their clothes showing marks of labor? Did they have Sunday clothes? Traditional clothes they would put on for special occasions? Did they make their own clothes? That would be a good reason to keep wearing clothing even if it had "stains" on it.

The rewrite should either make this section more specific and less reliant on cliches, or should discard it altogether .

The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality.

If this is the "most vivid memory," then I would expect to read all the details that have been seared into the author's brain. What did their leader tell them? What was different in real life? What was the light like? What did the houses/roads/grass/fields/trees/animals/cars look like? What time of day was it? Did they get there by bus, train, or plane? Was there an airport/train station/bus terminal? A city center? Shops? A marketplace?

There are any number of details to include here when doing another drafting pass.


Lack of Insight or Maturity

But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water?

Without a framing device explaining that this initial panic was an overreaction, this section just makes the author sound whiny, entitled, melodramatic, and immature . After all, this isn't a a solo wilderness trek—the author is there with a paid guided program. Just how much mortality is typically associated with these very standard college-application-boosting service trips?

In a rewrite, I would suggest including more perspective on the author's outsized and overprivileged response here. This would fit well with a new focus on the different points of view on this village the author encountered.

Unearned, Clichéd "Deep Thoughts"

But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

Is it really believable that this is what the author learned? There is maybe some evidence to suggest that the author was shaken somewhat out of a comfortable, materialistic existence. But what does "there is more to life than just being alive" even really mean? This conclusion is rather vague, and seems mostly a non sequitur.

In a rewrite, the essay should be completely reoriented to discuss how differently others see us than we see ourselves, pivoting on the experience of being pitied by someone who you thought was pitiable. Then, the new version can end by on a note of being better able to understand different points of view and other people's perspectives .


The Bottom Line

  • Bad college essays have problems either with their topics or their execution.
  • The essay is how admissions officers learn about your personality, point of view, and maturity level, so getting the topic right is a key factor in letting them see you as an aware, self-directed, open-minded applicant who is going to thrive in an environment of independence.
  • The essay is also how admissions officers learn that you are writing at a ready-for-college level, so screwing up the execution shows that you either don't know how to write, or don't care enough to do it well.
  • The main ways college essay topics go wrong is bad taste, bad judgment, and lack of self-awareness.
  • The main ways college essays fail in their execution have to do with ignoring format, syntax, and genre expectations.

What's Next?

Want to read some excellent college essays now that you've seen some examples of flawed one? Take a look through our roundup of college essay examples published by colleges and then get help with brainstorming your perfect college essay topic .

Need some guidance on other parts of the application process? Check out our detailed, step-by-step guide to college applications for advice.

Are you considering taking the SAT or ACT again before you submit your application? Read about our famous test prep guides for hints and strategies for a better score.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Understanding Why Students Avoid Writing

On this page:, skill development, overall guidelines to help students avoid the avoidance of writing.

It is common for students in today’s educational system to dislike and/or avoid the writing process. Many students feel writing takes too long. For some, writing is a very laborious task because there are so many sub-components which need to be pulled together. For others, the reason lies in some processing difficulties, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia . Some educators wonder if students no longer enjoy the slower, more refined process of written communication because they spend so much time watching the faster-paced visual modality of television.

Students with learning problems, even those who read well, frequently submit written work which is brief and/or difficult to read. Such students can be victims of misunderstandings, a problem which becomes much more pronounced at the secondary level. “Accusations of laziness, poor motivation, and a reprehensible attitude are often directed toward deficit writers. The results can be a serious loss of incentive, a generalized academic disenchantment and demoralization” (Levine 1998, 363).

There are many reasons students avoid writing. Primary reasons may be one or more of the following:

  • They have a hard time getting started and feel overwhelmed by the task.
  • They need to concentrate to form letters: it is not an automatic process.
  • They struggle to organize and use mechanics of writing.
  • They are slow and inefficient in retrieving the right word(s) to express an idea.
  • They struggle to develop their ideas fluently (poor ideation).
  • They struggle to keep track of their thoughts while also getting them down on paper.
  • They feel that the process of writing on paper is slow and tedious.
  • They feel that the paper never turns out the way they want.
  • They realize that the paper is still sloppy even though substantial time and effort were spent.
  • They are dysgraphic, which causes multiple struggles at the basic processing levels.
  • They are dyslexic, which causes very poor spelling and interferes with automatic use of writing mechanics.

As parents and teachers, we can help students deal with their lack of enjoyment of the writing process and also with poor skill development. The techniques are twofold. Students need to:

  • develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for the purpose of writing.
  • develop more efficient skills.

When students have a combination of this understanding and the skills, they are then free to apply techniques and abilities in a wide range of situations. This is especially true and necessary for dyslexic and/or dysgraphic students who are compensating for processing inefficiencies in the language domain.

This graphic represents the necessary steps in developing writing skills. These steps are in a hierarchy: if a student has too many gaps in one (or more) of the lower levels, then the top levels may be shaky and unstable.

The underlying processing skills involve development in a variety of memory, motor, and language areas. Examples include:

  • Physical components of writing
  • Speed of motor performance
  • Active working memory
  • Language formulation and ideation

The mechanical skills involve lower level tasks such as automatic letter form, use of space, basic spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. More mature mechanics involve speed, clarity of expression, and appropriate grammar.

The content skills relate to organizing and expressing ideas. The upper level skills include:

  • Writing using different writing styles
  • Being flexible in the writing process
  • Understanding the viewpoint of the reader
  • Writing with enthusiasm

There are many reasons a student may avoid writing, but most relate to the concept that writing is not fun or enjoyable. When writing is not meaningful, it is difficult to pull together the variety of skills needed to develop enthusiasm about writing. Students learn to write by writing, which then gives them the confidence to continue to write and continue to develop their skills. Using a variety of modalities can help create enthusiasm for writing and help students view writing as a more meaningful activity.

It is also important to analyze the lower level skills to ensure that the student has appropriately developed automaticity in these skills. When students are frustrated with individual components related to the task of writing and/or when they struggle to get started or to keep track of their thoughts, then the writing process is not fun, and their lack of enthusiasm becomes evident. Writing remains at the level of drudgery no matter how exciting the topic and students may feel threatened by the process of writing.

The goal for these students is to reduce the frustration, struggles, and feeling of threat. Increasing automaticity of skills is required to increase overall writing automaticity for a student. When automaticity, as developed by metacognitive awareness of the writing process and use of specific strategies, is combined with skill development and bypass strategies, the student should be able to deal with the vast majority of written expression tasks. The next step is to integrate purpose and meaning to generate fun and lead to enthusiasm for writing.

Jerome Elkind (The Lexia Institute, Los Altos, CA) “Computer Reading Machines for Poor Readers.” Charles A. MacArthur, Ph.D. (University of Delaware) “Assistive Technology for Writing.” Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D. (The Frostig Center, Pasadena, CA) “Assistive Technology for Individuals with Learning Disabilities: How Far Have We Come?” Thomas G. West (Visualization Research, Washington, D.C.) “Words to Images: Technological Change Redefines Educational Goals.” Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D. and Toby Shaw, M.A. (The Frostig Center, Pasadena, CA) “Assistive Technology for Persons with Learning Disabilities: Product Resource List.”

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Acosta, Simone and Richards, Regina G. "Cursive Writing: A Multisensory Approach," in 1999 So. California Consortium Resource Directory , International Dyslexia Association, www.retctrpress.com.

Levine, Melvin D. Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders, 2nd ed., www.epsbooks.com.

Levine, Melvin D. Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School , www.epsbooks.com.

Richards, Regina G. The Source for Dyslexia and Dysgraphia , East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems, 800/PRO-IDEA.

Richards, Regina G. When Writing's A Problem , Riverside, RET Center Press, www.retctrpress.com.

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The Consequences of Poor Academic Writing

Posted by Rene Tetzner | May 26, 2021 | How To Get Published | 0 |

The Consequences of Poor Academic Writing

The Consequences of Poor Academic Writing Those who attempt to write something constructive these days about the importance of using correct and effective spelling, punctuation and grammar run something of a gauntlet. More writers than ever argue that adhering to the intricate rules and patterns of written language has become pedantic, while readers have grown accustomed to ignoring the errors that seem to pop up with greater frequency each year, and not just in online, open-access and self-publishing contexts. Some tend to see the defenders of those rules and patterns as huddling behind the ivory walls of education and tradition, reaching out now and then to strike well-aimed blows at those positioned firmly on the other side of the grisly moat of language skills with little intention of trying to cross the divide. As mucky as this battleground may seem, however, professional and scholarly authors who wish to communicate effectively and have their writing and research taken seriously must make every possible effort to write clearly and correctly.

bad writing skills essay

The consequences of poor writing are perhaps the most convincing arguments for writing correctly. Most obviously, if an author’s language is not adequate for accurately communicating his or her meaning, it is likely that readers will become confused or be completely misled, and consequently unlikely that any but the most determined individuals will persist in reading the text concerned. If, on the one hand, these readers are the editors and reviewers responsible for publishing decisions, it is probable that the text will not be published, or, in the best scenario, will only be considered for publication after careful proofreading, editing and rewriting. If, on the other hand, the readers are the end consumers of your work, whether they are reading for research, instruction or pleasure, it is entirely possible that they will not choose to purchase and read your writing after consulting an abstract or sample, and, if the work is scholarly, not bother to include it among their citations and references even if they do manage to slog through it.

bad writing skills essay

Errors will, of course, always slip in – they are a fact of writing, and even careful written work that is repeatedly proofread and edited can retain errors – but these are accidents quite apart from truly poor writing that reveals little understanding of the rules and patterns of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even if you believe that many other authors writing material similar to your own do not adhere to these rules and patterns, it is wise to stand out by being an author who does, whether you are composing an academic article, a novel or a blog post. If you find that you are unable to polish your prose to an acceptable standard, the services of a professional proofreader or editor can provide an excellent solution. Keep in mind that aiming for perfection will certainly not turn anyone away from your writing or prevent editors from publishing it, but it will engage, retain and even impress readers and editors who would quickly abandon through confusion or frustration the writing of authors that reveals how little its creators care for precise and effective communication.

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Our Students Can’t Write Very Well—It’s No Mystery Why

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My organization decided a few weeks back that we needed to hire a new professional staff person. We had close to 500 applicants. Inasmuch as the task was to help us communicate information related to the work we do, we gave each of the candidates one of the reports we published last year and asked them to produce a one-page summary. All were college graduates. Only one could produce a satisfactory summary. That person got the job.

We were lucky this time. We are more often than not disappointed at the subpar writing ability of the applicants for openings at our organization. Many applicants are from very good colleges. Many have graduate degrees. Many are very poor writers.

Their lack of writing ability does not augur well. When we look at what they have written, the logic of the narrative is often very hard to find. It would appear that their lack of writing ability stands as mute testimony to their lack of thinking ability.

How, we ask, could this have happened? The answers are not hard to find. My friend Will Fitzhugh points out that high school students are rarely required to read entire works of fiction and are almost never asked to read entire works of non-fiction. I know of no good writers who are not also good readers.

More directly to the point, high school students are hardly ever asked to write anything of significant length. Why not? Because in this age of accountability, they are not tested on their writing ability. By which I mean that they are not asked to submit to the testing authorities 10- or 15- or 20-page papers in which they are expected to present a thesis and defend it, analyze something complicated from multiple points of view and draw a reasoned conclusion, or put together a short story in which characters are developed in some depth and insights are revealed.

This point is critically important. There is only one way that we can find out whether a student can write a substantial research paper—by asking them to write a substantial research paper and looking carefully at the result. If we do not ask them to produce this product—over and over again, as they get better and better at it—then they will not be able to do it well. If they have not done the work, then neither their teacher nor the engines of the accountability system can assess it. If this sort of serious writing is not done and—in our accountability-oriented environment—is not assessed, then it will not be learned. End of argument.

Oh, sure, we have tests of writing ability for college-bound students, but they do not ask the student to produce anything like what we asked our candidates to produce. They ask a student to choose one word or phrase from a list to fill in the blank in a passage. That is not writing. It is something else. PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments have made progress in more effectively evaluating the writing skills of our students, but many states are actively taking steps away from these types of assessment tasks. And it is of course true that asking a student to write a one-page summary of a longer piece is no test of their ability to write a well-argued, fact-based, 10- or 20-page research paper.

We are fond of producing long lists of things we want 21 st century students to be able to do. But the ability to write well and think critically always tops the list, both because so much work requires these skills and because they are so fundamental to so many other kinds of cognitive activity we value. What could be more central to a good education?

So it is simply unbelievable that we do not build our curriculum around the assumption that we will be asking students to read demanding books—not just parts of books, but whole books—and then asking them to write, at length and in detail, about what they have read, explicating, analyzing, synthesizing and summarizing it, with insight and narrative skill that demonstrates their ability to think clearly. Isn’t that the heart of the matter?

Writing is a craft. Like any other craft, it is learned only by doing it, over and over and over, at increasing levels of challenge, under the watchful eye of an expert. How on earth are our students to learn to write if we do not ask them to write, and write a lot, and write well? The reason, of course, that they are not asked to write much is because their ability to write a substantial paper is not tested. And why, in this age of accountability, when we judge teachers by how well their students do on the test, would we expect their students to write well when we do not test their ability to write a good paper, 10 to 20 pages in length?

Our own research tells us that a large fraction of community college professors do not assign writing to their students because their students cannot write and the professors do not consider themselves to be writing teachers. It is no wonder that employers like us find it so hard to find candidates with serviceable writing skills.

What do you suppose would happen if a state announced one day that it was redesigning its accountability system and half of a teachers’ rating would henceforth depend on their students’ grades on long research papers in the subject taught by that teacher—papers, say, at least 15 pages long at the high school level? They might be told that that grade would depend on the way evidence was presented and marshaled, the range of the evidence presented, the depth of the analytical ability displayed in the essay, the logic and persuasiveness of the argument made, and so on.

I am not arguing that we should do this, but simply making the point that if we really cared about the ability of our students to think and write well, we would assign substantial papers frequently, critique those papers effectively, and expect students to write well long before they left high school. It is hard to reach any conclusion on this point other than that we simply don’t care whether or not our students can write effectively, if we judge by what is assigned to students, what is expected of students, the instruction we offer students, the way we evaluate their work, the design of our accountability systems or our criteria for graduating students from high school.

But assume for the moment that all these issues were addressed. Can we then assume that our students would be graduating high schools able to think clearly and write well? I don’t think so.

I said in passing above that writing is a craft and crafts are best learned by apprenticing oneself to an expert, in this case an expert writer. This suggests that if our students are to become good writers, they will have to get their work critiqued in detail by teachers who are themselves good writers.

But I also said at the beginning of this blog that we and many other employers are having a very hard time hiring anyone who is a good writer, even graduates of leading universities and graduate schools. We know that most of our teachers come not from our leading universities but from institutions that get their students from the lower half of the distribution of high school graduates going to college. If there is no reason to assume that the graduates of the leading institutions are themselves good writers, what would make us assume that the graduates of less demanding institutions are better writers?

It is true that many universities require applicants to submit a short essay as part of their application. But I am willing to bet that few, if any, require their applicants to do something as straightforward as our request to our job applicants to summarize a complex research paper in one page, on demand, in a short time, capturing all the key points and creating a narrative that makes sense of it all for the reader.

If we do not demand that those who want to become teachers are themselves very good writers, why would we expect our teachers to be good teachers of writing? We should, in fact, be requiring our candidates for teaching positions to write 20-page papers of their own which analyze and summarize a topic from the literature in their field. We should be asking them to produce, on demand, a one-page summary of something they are given to read that is complicated and difficult.

But we don’t do any of these things. So, once again, I conclude that we are not serious. We are not serious about teaching students to reason and write well and we are not serious about hiring teachers who have the skills needed to teach our students how to reason and write well. We are no doubt lucky to have many teachers who know how to read and write critically and care enough to pass those skills on to their students. But if these core skills were really important to us, we would be making very large changes in curriculum, demanding much more reading of complete novels and non-fiction, asking our students to write much longer papers much more frequently, providing expert and copious commentary on what they had written, changing our accountability systems to reflect these priorities and, not least, we would be making sure that our teachers are themselves very good writers.

I very much doubt that our high school graduates write less well than high school graduates used to write. But jobs for truck drivers, hamburger flippers and grocery store check out clerks are disappearing fast. This is just one more—but crucially important—arena in which our education system is failing to adapt to a fast-changing environment.

The opinions expressed in Top Performers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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Why Students Hate Writing (and How to Change their Minds!)

In today’s digital world, written communication is more common, more transparent, and more permanent than every before. It’s critical that every student is able to express themselves clearly in writing, yet sadly, many cannot.

This is reflected in the statistics. The National Association of Educational Progress estimates that only 27% of 8th and 12th grade students can write at a proficient level. Among high school students who took the ACT in 2016, roughly 40% could not write at a college level according to the company’s data.

One reason why students struggle with writing is that it can often be challenging to foster a love of writing or deeply engage students in the writing and revision process. Why?

  • Students do not see the point or the relevance of the topic they are writing about.
  • Students feel pressure to write perfectly from the start of their writing process, which slows them down.
  • Feedback is important for student learning , and when students receive bad feedback, slow feedback, or no feedback at all, this is deeply demotivating.

How to Help Students Overcome the Intimidation of Writing

Solving this issue can be challenging. That said, there are several strategies that teachers of all content areas can leverage to reduce a student’s dislike of writing.


It is common for teachers to point out specific concepts or subjects in a given class and state, “This might be on a test someday. Hint, hint!” You’ll see your students’ ears perk up. The same practice could also be used for essays.

For example, let’s say you plan to assign an essay on a book being read in your English class. As your students are working through the novel, you can point out topics and events in the book that could be discussed in a future essay during class readings and discussions.

This can help eliminate student anxiety during the Monday surprise when the essay is assigned, and students can start their essays with a handful of ideas.

bad writing skills essay


For many students, receiving a writing assignment where they can write about any topic of their choice can be a generally positive experience. Many students view this as an opportunity to write about something in their lives, or the chance to get creative and make up a story.

However, not all students react favorably to choosing their own topic. Some students immediately go into a panic attack of indecision. Others immediately develop writer’s block.

By having a backup plan for those students, teachers can help reduce the anxiety that comes with these types of writing assignments. Some examples of topics that teachers can suggest include:

  • Subjects that have been discussed in class
  • Events that have happened at the school
  • Important news stories, social trends or current events

bad writing skills essay


No matter what, some students will think of writing the same way they think of root canals. But if teachers can have writing clubs and fun names for daily writing time, and provide more in depth feedback on writing, students will have an easier time replacing dread with acceptance.

Engagement and feedback are how people improve at nearly everything. Students, whether they are first graders or doctoral students, need to be able to understand not only what they did wrong and how to fix it, but what they did right and how to leverage their writing strengths. Outsourcing grading for writing assignments can be highly beneficial in such instances.

Helping Students Accept Writing Assignments

Every teacher can agree that strong writing skills are crucial to a student’s long term success, both academically and professionally. There are several tactics teachers and students can employ to make writing more acceptable and fun.

Get in touch with Marco Learning to discover how we can help enhance your student’s writing skills.

bad writing skills essay

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Eberly Center

Teaching excellence & educational innovation, why are students coming into college poorly prepared to write.

Writing is a complex intellectual task involving many component skills, some of which students may lack completely, some of which they may have only partially mastered. These skills involve, among other things:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Analytical skills
  • writing mechanics: grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc.
  • planning a writing strategy
  • communicating ideas clearly and concisely
  • constructing a reasoned, demonstrable argument
  • effectively marshaling evidence and using sources appropriately
  • organizing ideas effectively

When students lack skills in these areas, their writing may be unsatisfactory in multiple ways – from poor grammar and syntax to unclear organization to weak reasoning and arguments. Complicating matters is the fact that many students’ reading skills are also poor. For example, if they cannot recognize the main point of an argument in their reading, they obviously cannot respond to this point in their writing. In addition, students often lack the meta-cognitive skills to recognize the areas in which their prior knowledge and skills are insufficient – and thus which skills they need to work to improve.

During their high school careers, most of our students were not writing with the frequency we might expect, nor were they doing the types of writing that we will require of them in their college years. In a study at George Washington University (2007), first-year undergraduates reported that the most frequently assigned high school writing tasks required them to offer and support opinions, with a secondary emphasis on summarizing and synthesizing information. Students were rarely required to criticize an argument, define a problem and propose a solution, shape their writing to meet their readers’ needs, or revise based on feedback. Furthermore, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education (2006), 61% of high school teachers said their students have never written a paper that was more than five pages. As a result, students have not had enough practice to develop a set of sophisticated writing skills. When students lack skills in these areas, their writing may be unsatisfactory in multiple ways – from poor grammar and syntax to unclear organization to weak reasoning and arguments.

Moreover, students may have learned bad habits in high school that they need to un-learn. For example, some students were taught in high school to avoid the first person and thus may use awkward grammatical constructions to avoid it rather than learn the contexts when its use is appropriate.

Recognition of students’ prior experience with writing and the complex nature of writing can help us to more effectively design assignments and provide support as students continue to hone their skills.

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Bibliometrics & citations, view options, recommendations, an elitist non-dominated sorting genetic algorithm enhanced with a neural network applied to the multi-objective optimization of a polysiloxane synthesis process.

This paper presents an original software implementation of the elitist non-dominated sorting genetic algorithm (NSGA-II) applied and adapted to the multi-objective optimization of a polysiloxane synthesis process. An optimized feed-forward neural ...

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United States

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  • Essay feedback generation
  • Student essay grading
  • Neural network
  • Seq2seq models
  • Research-article


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  • Customer experience management

contact center management

Scott Sachs

  • Scott Sachs, SJS Solutions

What is contact center management?

Contact center management is the process of overseeing contact center operations with the goal of providing an outstanding customer experience in an effective and efficient manner.

Contact center leadership must understand and implement both the science and art of running a contact center . The science of running a contact center focuses on ensuring that adequate structure and resources are available to respond to customer inquiries in a timely manner. The art of running a contact center includes adjusting to unplanned and nonrecurring events -- such as power outages, unplanned marketing mailings and high absenteeism.

Contact center management encompasses a broad set of responsibilities, including the following:

  • Managing and leading staff.
  • Designing and implementing processes.
  • Selecting and utilizing technology.
  • Measuring results.

Each of these responsibilities requires an in-depth focus to ensure effectiveness.

Managing and leading staff

People are the heart and soul of a contact center. Contact center agents interact with customers daily and are the eyes, ears and voice of the organization. Contact center supervisors and managers are the motivators and provide leadership to contact center agents.

Contact center leadership must focus on three critical areas regarding people, including the following:

  • Skills and attitude. Managers must ensure the individuals who are hired have the appropriate attitude, skills and disposition to work in a fast-moving customer-focused environment. For leadership positions, individuals must possess the ability to motivate team members along with the skill to coach and counsel individuals.
  • Training. Managers must ensure the agents who work in the contact center are properly trained both as new hires and on a continuous basis. For individuals in leadership roles, they must be trained on skills such as resolving conflict, providing effective feedback, coaching and counseling.
  • Employee engagement. Managers must create an environment where employees are engaged and are rewarded for their performance. Contact center agents work in a stressful environment, as very few customers reach out to contact center agents to tell them how great they are. It's up to contact center leadership to make them feel valued and recognize them for their performance.

Designing and implementing processes

Contact center leaders must develop and regularly review processes that support the contact center operation.

Processes include the following:

  • Resolving customer inquiries.
  • Scheduling employee shifts.
  • Measuring the performance of call center agents.
  • Monitoring inbound and outbound communications .
  • Reporting and analytics.
  • Budgeting and tracking expenses.

Some processes are fully contained within the contact center under a single leadership organization. But processes often flow between multiple organizations, and leaders from different areas must work together to determine and develop the most effective process flows.

For example, say a customer needs to return a defective product for a replacement. There needs to be a coordinated process and integrated communications between the contact center, inventory management and distribution. Looping in these departments ensures a replacement product is available, and that shipment information is available to the contact center if the customer calls to inquire about the status of the replacement product.

Another example would be when a contact center needs to hire additional agents and must work with human resources in the recruiting process. Details the two departments would discuss include how many new agents are needed, what skills are required, and who would screen and interview the candidates.

Selecting and using technology

Technology enables processes to be performed in a standardized and repeatable manner.

Contact center management must define the business requirements, which must be aligned with well-defined processes, to identify appropriate technology solutions.

Business requirements that contact centers needs to discuss include the following:

  • What channels of communication will the technology support?
  • What information will appear on automated dashboards and reports?
  • Will automated workforce management be used?
  • What systems need to be integrated with each other?
  • How will customer inquiries be routed?

Technology may be customer facing to assist in self-service or may be internal to streamline contact center operations.

Technologies that assist in self-service include the following:

  • Interactive voice response. IVR lets customers speak -- or use touch tone -- with an automated system. It provides preprogrammed responses for appropriate situations. It can also hand off the call to a human agent.
  • Chatbots. These can engage with customers over the phone, on a website or via SMS.
  • Web portals. These provide customers with access to a secure personalized website.

Technologies that help streamline internal contact center operations include the following:

  • Contact center software with skill-based routing. This is a method of routing customers to the next-available agent with a specific skill set.
  • Workforce management software. This automates and optimizes agent scheduling in the contact center.
  • Call monitoring software. This streamlines the process of listening to and analyzing agent phone calls with customers.

Measuring performance

Contact center leaders must measure performance to determine how well the department is operating in relation to specific goals. Contact center management is responsible for establishing and reporting KPIs to identify where the contact center is performing well and where there are opportunities for improvement.

Contact center performance should be measured across a variety of levels -- including department, team and agent. Actionable KPIs must be controllable at the level being measured and therefore some KPIs can be used across all levels while other KPIs should only be used at specific levels.

Examples of department metrics include the following:

  • Call abandonment rate.
  • Cost per call.
  • Customer effort score .
  • Net Promoter Score .
  • Number of calls abandoned.
  • Number of calls handled.
  • Service level.
  • Speed to resolution.

Examples of contact center agent metrics -- many of which can also be used as team metrics -- include the following:

  • Average handle time.
  • Average hold time.
  • Average talk time.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Escalation rate.
  • First-contact resolution.
  • Occupancy rate.
  • Quality monitoring score.
  • Schedule adherence.

What are the benefits of contact center management?

The key benefit of contact center management is to provide focus on the key components of a contact center operation. It places accountability for execution and defines specific action steps for each of those components.

Contact center management is the conductor of the contact center symphony, ensuring all the individual pieces are working in harmony to support the larger goals of providing an outstanding customer experience in an effective and efficient manner.

Additional contact center management benefits include the following:

  • Increased revenue. Happy customers will continue to spend money with an organization and possibly refer others to do business with them.
  • Reduced expenses. Happy employees who work hard will stay with an organization and focus on resolving customer issues. Employee satisfaction means less turnover and less money spent in the hiring and training process.
  • Improved bottom-line results. This is the result of streamlined operations.

Skills needed to be a successful contact center manager

Some qualities needed to be a successful contact center manager include the following:

  • Must ensure exceptional customer service to prevent bad experiences .
  • Must be able to coach and motivate team members to accomplish a common goal.
  • Must be able to develop and implement processes to drive efficiency and quality.
  • Must excel at workforce management .
  • Must have strong communication skills to relay business goals and policies to team members.
  • Must be able to determine which technologies -- such as workforce management, quality monitoring and multichannel routing -- will benefit the organization.
  • Must be able to identify key contact center metrics -- such as first-contact resolution and customer satisfaction -- to measure the success of the organization.
  • Must be creative and have problem-solving skills to manage conflict.

Continue Reading About contact center management

Call center vs. contact center: what's the difference.

  • Important contact center AI features and their benefits
  • How agent assist technology works in the contact center

Related Terms

Dig deeper on customer experience management.

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    Writing is a complex intellectual task involving many component skills, some of which students may lack completely, some of which they may have only partially mastered. These skills involve, among other things: Reading comprehension. Analytical skills. Writing skills, including: writing mechanics: grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc.

  24. GEEF: : A neural network model for automatic essay feedback generation

    In this study, we address the problem of essay feedback generation by proposing an encoder-decoder neural network model called GEEF (Generate Essay Feedback) and suppose that feedbacks are written based on the source essay text and the grading of important writing skills. Besides from the text of input essay, our model also takes in additional ...

  25. What is contact center management?

    Must ensure exceptional customer service to prevent bad experiences. Must be able to coach and motivate team members to accomplish a common goal. Must be able to develop and implement processes to drive efficiency and quality. Must excel at workforce management. Must have strong communication skills to relay business goals and policies to team ...