Good Writing “A Matter of Opinion”?
A reader asks what we think of the comment:
In many ways, good writing is a matter of opinion.
It’s not a question that has an easy answer.
Opinion is a slippery word.
So is good.
Some opinions are founded on facts, knowledge, and experience. Others are based on nothing better than whimsy, rebellion or ignorance.
I had a tenth-grade student who objected when I tried to get her to stop using “me” as the subject of a sentence. I suppose she felt that correct usage was “a matter of opinion.”
As for good writing, what exactly is meant by that?
Every piece of writing has a purpose. How well the writing achieves its purpose is what determines whether the writing is “good” or not.
Ever since Reynolds Tobacco defied correct usage with its slogan “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should” in the Fifties, non-standard English has become a hook on which to hang advertising messages aimed at young people who like to think of themselves as “cool” and defiant of convention.
Apple’s “Think Different!” is ungrammatical, but it succeeds as an advertising slogan. Is it “good writing? The advertising and accounting departments probably think it is.
What good writing is depends upon purpose and intended audience.
Unless there is some artistic or commercial reason for breaking the rules of standard usage, good writing is grammatically correct.
I wouldn’t fault a mystery writer or a blogger for exercising a more colloquial style than what I’d expect to find in a biography or a book about stamp collecting.
Flowers for Algernon, which takes the character Charlie from semi-literacy to educated writing and back again, is good writing which breaks the rules of standard English for artistic effect.
A news story riddled with misplaced modifiers and poor word choices– even if the reader can figure out what the story is about–is not good writing, not even if the writer has a degree in journalism.
Good writers produce good writing. A good writer knows the rules of the language and never breaks them unintentionally.
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