In the 1960s, a researcher named Paul Diederich asked a group of professionals to identify what makes writing effective. He got hundreds of responses, ranging from strong metaphors to correct semicolons. But no writer can keep hundreds of things in mind simultaneously, so Diederich grouped the responses into six traits:
Effective writing presents interesting and valuable information about a specific topic. It has a clear message or purpose. The ideas are thoroughly developed and hold the reader’s attention.
Good writing has a clearly developed beginning, middle, and ending. Each main point and supporting detail is arranged according to the best pattern of organization.
In the best writing, you can hear the writer’s voice—a unique way of expressing ideas and emotions. Voice gives writing personality; it shows that the writer sincerely cares about the subject and audience.
Good writing contains specific nouns, active verbs, and clarifying modifiers. The overall level of language helps communicate a particular message or tone.
Effective writing flows smoothly and clearly from one sentence to the next. Sentences vary in length and beginnings. The writing has rhythm and is enjoyable to read.
Good writing follows the basic standards of punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar. It is edited with care to ensure that the work is accurate and easy to follow.
Researchers in Missoula, Montana, and Beaverton, Oregon, replicated Diederich's study, settling on the same basic set of traits. All writing—from essays to reports to stories, plays, Web pages, instructions, and so on—exhibits these traits.
For more than 50 years, the traits have provided the foundation for state writing standards, and as a result, they have been rolled into the Common Core. At lower levels (below 5th grade), the Common Core focuses on just three of the traits: ideas, organization (structure), and conventions. We call this reduced list of traits the "qualities of writing."
You can use these trait-based rubrics to evaluate writing.