I’m glad to be back after an unexpected and lengthy break when I needed to care for a relative during a complicated emergency. I’m sorry I didn’t have a way to let you know in the midst of it, but it looks like things are slowing down and stabilizing. I’m back in business—able to encourage and support you and your writing again.
Before my break, we were discussing how to be a better writer. I focused on small, quick wins to help you improve your writing right away with tips and tweaks. If you implement them, you will see a difference in your writing right away.
But I realized I want you to see how all writing advice fits into the bigger picture of how we arrive at great writing, so I wanted to share with you the 6+1 Traits. Boost all seven traits, and you will be a better writer.
6 + 1 Traits of Great Writing
I used these categories with high school students and found that whatever their projects—essays, term papers, and creative writing projects like poetry and short stories—the seven traits gave me a way to instruct and provide input. And the traits gave them a way to think through how to make any given piece clear and strong.
Not Just for Kids: Use the 6+1 Traits for Your Own Projects
While it may be geared for training young writers, the categories are useful for all ages and all levels of writing experience. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a social media update, or a book—fiction or nonfiction—the 6+1 Traits serve as useful reminders and guides for all stages of the writing process, from idea and developmental stages down to the final proofread.
I love that they don’t focus disproportionately on conventions—usage, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. It includes that as one of the traits, but only one of the key characteristics of writing.
By exploring each trait instead of fixating on one or two, we don’t neglect areas that need attention. In fact, examining all the traits, we identify strengths and weakness not only in a given project but also in ourselves as a writer.
They help us move toward excellence.
What are the traits?
- Word Choice
- Sentence Fluency
- The “+ 1” trait is Appearance. Appearance is optional because it doesn’t relate to the writing itself—it’s about how we present our writing.
Ideas form the core of our writing.
When developing your project and later when you’re editing, start with the idea. To be crystal clear on it, express the big idea succinctly—in a sentence—and then read your piece in light of the idea.
In nonfiction, is your writing clear and focused on that idea or are you veering off into the weeds? Do your main points and examples offer convincing support? If your idea isn’t clear to you, your idea won’t come across clearly to the reader.
In fiction, ensure your short story or novel idea is strong and clear: Does your plot work? Your character arc? How about theme?
When you clarify and solidify your idea, you can turn to the second trait: Organization.
You can start thinking organizationally about how to present your idea starting with the title and subtitle (or headline, depending on what you’re writing). And then your introduction with a thesis. Will you create subheadings to chunk your ideas and present them logically?
In fiction, you organize the piece starting with the title, subtitle, and the opening scene and the hook. You move through, scene by scene, organizing your story in a way that best fits, whether chronologically or using flashbacks. You decide how to structure and which POV will you take.
As you experiment with organizational options, you’ll have to decide which choices best order the ideas or plot so the reader tracks with the piece all the way to the end.
While maintaining a natural tone, have you selected words that suit the audience and purpose of the piece? This trait reminds us, among other things, to read through in search of general nouns and flat verbs, and transform our writing by replacing them with specific nouns and vivid verbs.
Read through your sentences to listen for the musicality. Is it there? The music? Can you hear it? Or is it clunky or choppy? Do you stumble through a section? Or have you revealed a series of medium-lenth sentences all in a row and you need variety?
This trait sends you back to the piece to find flow at the paragraph and sentence level, so that within sentences you feel that pulse, and from sentence to sentence your piece flows. Sentence variety is often critical.
After addressing higher level concerns such as ideas and organization followed by word choice and sentence fluency, voice may come naturally. Or we could consider voice when we draft—before worrying about sentences and words—and write in a comfortable, conversational, natural tone true to how we sound.
Though voice gets a category all its own, the point is not to be an original or unoriginal voice. It should match the purpose of the piece and the audience and sound like you on the page—you’d want your friends recognizing you when they encounter your words.
Then there’s conventions—the last main trait, listed among the primary six.
So often educators and editors zero in on conventions. Conventions are important—that’s why they get an entire category dedicated to issues such as capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. But they’re actually one of the last things to consider. We need to figure out our ideas and reorganize content before we nitpick conventions, but they are attended to, in due time, with this approach.
The 6+1 Traits has a seventh optional trait: appearance. When I taught high school students, I included this trait and requested they submit their projects in MLA format.
Adults can consider appearance, as well. After all, we have to pay attention to submission requirements if we’re about to submit an essay to a publication. We have be precise when studying those. Or when we prep a query or proposal for an agent or publisher: Did they want it double-spaced with one-inch margins? Times New Roman font?
Give it to them the way they ask. That’s tending to the seventh trait.
Appearance doesn’t affect the quality of writing or the content, but it does matter to the audience. Appearance matters when prepping social media and blog posts. Will you add visuals to your next article? Ask yourself what enhances a particular piece of writing so that the appearance reinforces the written words.
Boost All Seven Traits to Improve Your Writing
While I do think you can get some quick wins if you apply some of the tweaks I recommended in Episodes 167 and 168, evaluating your piece from all seven angles can really help you become a better writer.
Follow through the traits and you’ll work your way down from high-order concerns like the idea development down to lower- or later-order concerns, like conventions and appearance.
Check Out the Traits for Yourself
Again, I want to give full credit for the terminology to Education Northwest, and I’ll send you to them for some original documentation you might like to review. Don’t be thrown off that it’s designed for students—when you read through the rubric, you may find yourself inspired, even challenged, to hit level six, the highest level, in every trait to achieve truly exceptional writing.
I’d like to run all future tips through these traits. When you boost all seven, you will be a better writer.
- The Education Northwest 6+1 Traits Rubric pdf
- National Education Association (NEA) page with 6+1 Traits links and information
- All things 6+1 Traits at Education Northwest
- Ep 166: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 1): Start with the Right Mindset
- Ep 167: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 2): 3 Simple Tweaks You Can Try Today
- Ep 168: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 3): Write Tight
- Ep 169: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 4): Boost All 7 Traits of Great Writing
- Ep 170: How to Be a Better Writer (Pt 5): Four Writing Tips
- Ep 95: Focus on Your High-Level Edits First
- Ep 94: Grammar Matters: Why Concern Ourselves with Commas?
- Ep 46: What’s the Big Idea?
- Ann’s Patreon account
- All podcast episodes
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Before we part ways, I want to let you know I have a free mini-course available to you called:
Make Your Sentences Sing:
7 Sentence Openers to Add Music to Your Prose
Go to annkroeker.com/sentenceopeners to learn more and to enroll for free. If it looks interesting, you can dive right in.