When you decide to hire a content writer, how do you find a "good" one? It is difficult to define good writing and many say you just know it when you see it. That's probably true for someone who is a decent writer or who reads a lot. But what if you aren't a writer or reader? How do you tell if purchased content is good enough for your website or blog?
Good writing is subjective in the sense that we all have certain styles we like better than others. However, you can objectively "grade" writing the way a teacher grades an essay test. Or you can think like editor deciding whether to accept an article for a magazine.
Use some sort of ranking to measure hired writing against the following criteria. You might use numbers or check marks – two for great, one for good and zero for bad – and then average it out at the end. Decide what's acceptable to you. Perhaps a total score better than 65% is good enough, and anything over 80% is great.
Characteristics that are more important to you can be weighted more heavily or rated first. For example, if you have more of a need for highly structured articles or a style specific to your industry or audience, place more emphasis on those components, and tolerate more spelling or grammatical errors.
1 – Is the topic clearly defined?
Great writing sticks to the subject from the title to the end, giving you a clear understanding of the topic and ideas.
Bad writing goes off on tangents or skips from idea to idea, and by the end of the article you find yourself wondering what it's about.
2 – Does the piece evoke an emotional response or give you a plan of action?
The best writing makes you feel something such as joy, sadness, or anger, or it motivates you to take action.
Bad writing leaves you indifferent, or worse, evokes the wrong emotion, like when an intended joke is insulting or embarrassing.
3 – Is it believable or credible?
In a good piece, you know the facts to be true or you can confirm them with other credible sources.
A poorly written article is just not believable or you feel like someone's trying to put something over on you.
4 – Does the article grab and keep your attention?
When the title and first sentence or two hook you in and you're compelled to keep reading, it is great writing.
If you are too bored to finish or you start skimming through, it's not worth it.
5 – Is it easy to read?
Read the article out loud or better yet, have someone read it to you. If you stumble over sentences and words or have to reread sections to understand it, it's not well-written.
Great writing flows from sentence to sentence and there's a smooth transition between paragraphs. It all makes sense together.
Online there's also a visual component for reading ease. Headings, bullets, and whitespace contribute to a look that's easy to read and easy to skim.
6 – Is there a structure?
Good writing has a beginning that introduces the topic, a middle that explains it, and an end that summarizes or concludes the topic.
Bad writing skips around, has no logical order, or ends abruptly, without a conclusion or call to action.
7 – Does the writer stick to a style and voice throughout, and is it one you want to portray?
Style is the way in which something is said. It may be formal or informal, concise or wordy, or serious or humorous. Voice is the way of expressing yourself. It's your writing personality. Your voice may be described using terms like friendly, cheerful, supportive, argumentative or egotistical.
8 – Does the writer use proper grammar and spelling?
Most writers use a spell checker, so you shouldn't see many misspellings, but mix-ups such as their and they're, or to and too aren't always caught by spelling tools. You may also find some commonly misused, similar-sounding words such as accept and except or principal and principle, and other grammatical errors such as mistakes in the use of who and whom.
An excellent resource for understanding common writing errors is Grammar Girl
9 – Are the word choices right for the topic, style, and audience?
Word choices vary widely depending on your audience. Generally speaking I advise against the use of slang, unless your audience is teenage boys or some other group that uses specific slang. The same is true for colloquialisms – a national or international audience won't understand your local jargon, but readers of a blog about your city or town will know exactly what you mean. Buzz words and industry acronyms should generally be avoided, except in cases where it's expected, like for a gaming website or a financial blog.
Also be on the lookout for an attempt to make an article seem more intelligent or technical by using a lot of big words.
Simple is better. For example, instead of using "unprepossessing," write "ugly."
10 – Is the article the right length?
More important than word count is efficiency of length. The article needs to be just as long as necessary to make the point.
Any article with a decent rating on these 10 components should serve you well. There are times when breaking the rules, or publishing a piece or two out of character can serve a particular purpose. If you're willing to take the risk, sometimes shock value rallies your audience to take action. You'll know if you've made the right choices through direct feedback from your readers or by watching your audience grow or not.