Four Cs Of Good Writing
Just Like The Four Cs Of Good Diamonds
Did you know that there was no consistent way or system to grade diamonds until the early forties?
Diamond merchants used various, usually broad- terms to talk about the quality of a diamond. Words like “river” or “water” were used to describe colorlessness.
The term “Cape” was used to describe pale yellow diamonds from South Africa following the 1867 discovery of diamonds in the Cape Colony. The terms “Without flaws” or “imperfect” were used to describe clarity. And subjective terms such as “Well-made” or “made poorly” were used to describe the cut of a diamond.
As a result, it was challenging for jewelers to communicate a diamond's value to the customers.
Then in the early 1940s, Robert M Shipley, a former retail jeweler, came up with a system to consistently rate a diamond. He called it the four Cs of diamonds. The four Cs were — Colour, Clarity, Cut, and Carat.
The concept was simple but revolutionary. Soon four Cs became the universal markers to determine the quality of the diamonds.
I am of the view that writing also needs markers to determine it’s quality.
After long deliberation and reading what prolific and established writers have been saying about writing, I concluded that writing too has four Cs that can determine its quality.
What are the four Cs of writing?
- Good writing is clear
- Good writing is clean
- Good writing is concise.
- Good writing is compelling.
Clarity is the first goal of writing.
Clarity is about you, the writer. You need to be clear about what you want to say. If you are not clear about what you want to communicate, you will not be able to write clearly.
Clarity is also about the audience. Whether it is an article or a story, every piece of writing is for a particular audience. As a writer, you need to know who you are writing for. What does your audience want to know? And how can you explain that so that the information is understood effortlessly?
Know your subject well and write it as if you are describing it to someone you know. Articles are written with one person in mind, always read well explain more clearly than the articles written for a generic audience.
Use examples, metaphors, and stories to illustrate your point.
Don’t make assumptions: research, and research well.
Write what you know and write with authority.
Cleanliness is a virtue, even in writing.
When you are communicating verbally, you have the luxury to use broken sentences and body language. You can speak in a roundabout way and still be understood. But when you are writing, the only tool you have at your disposal is the “well-constructed sentences.” You need to learn to use them well.
Write good sentences.
Write easy-to-understand sentences.
Write grammatically correct sentences.
Being concise is being a good writer.
Good writing is concise.
Make your writing tight. Tightness comes through editing. Learn to edit your work. Edit your draft several times.
Editing is done at three levels — words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Go over your article word by word. Choose the right words. Cut superfluous words. Make every word count.
Sentences should be crisp and correct. Use sound and rhythm to make them sing. Learn to use literary devices to make them effective.
Paragraphs are the building blocks of communication. Make sure that each paragraph contains just one idea or a point. Wordy paragraphs are confusing and ineffective. Cut repetitive words and sentences. Cut redundant paragraphs too.
If you’re unsure whether to cut something or not, cut it and see if your argument still works.
Use the 50% rule: Once you have the first draft, cut 20 percent in the first edit, then another 20% in the second audit, and finally 10% in the third audit.
You are writing to make a point; make it compelling.
Good writing presents an argument. With your writing, you are either trying to influence, prove, or share your perspective. Make sure your argument is compelling.
At the beginning of every article, you are making a promise to your readers. You need to make sure you deliver on that.
It helps to state that promise at the beginning before you commence writing. You may or may not use it in the article but having it written stops going off the tangent. It could be as simple as:
In this piece, I will _______________ so that the reader can _______________ .
You should write down the promise statement for every article, every blog post, every book chapter, virtually every piece of writing you create.
There are only two ways to make an argument — influence or enable. You can’t do both at once. If you try to do both, you will confuse your readers. If you are influencing, you are writing a “why” article. If you are enabling, you are writing a “how” article. You shouldn’t mix the two.
Many writers tend to jam pack all they know in one article. That is a big mistake. You’re done when you’ve made your argument.
I have covered a lot. Let me summarize.
Like diamonds, the quality of writing can be determined by four Cs — clear, clean, concise, and compelling.
Good writing is when the writer can convey her message clearly.
Good writing is clean, easy to read, and grammatically correct.
Good writing is concise, and it takes several edits to achieve it.
Good writing presents a compelling argument.
Like a good quality diamond, good writing creates a sense of awe in every reader's eyes.
And just like good diamonds, good writing takes a long time and a lot of pressure to materialize.
Concentrate on the four Cs — clear, clean, concise, and compelling — and you will be able to make your writing worth cherishing.
This article first appeared at www.neeramahajan.com.
Subscribe to Neera Mahajan's newsletter at www.neeramahajan.com