How good are you, anyway? I'm referring to your writing.

Let's look at the five elements of writing: command of the rules and conventions of language; presentation of message or central argument; organization of material; vocabulary, tone or expression; and ability to engage the reader.

Rules and conventions

Identify the errors in the following sentence: "After a hard days work, treat yourself to a complementary beverage, but don't drink to much."

The errors are days for day's, complementary for complimentary and to for too. Give yourself one point for each error you identified.

Your score indicates your level of proficiency: 1 = better get cracking; 2 = OK, but not fantastic; 3 = marvelous.

Next, consider the three statements in each of the elements below. Mark each "true" or "false." Award one point for each statement you mark "true" and assess your performance on the three-point scale above.

Presentation of message

"I write with a sense of purpose, which I can summarize in a single short sentence."

"I offer examples to illustrate my points."

"I present my material in paragraphs."


"I begin most of my paragraphs with topic sentences that introduce the main point of the paragraph."

"I sometimes introduce my paragraphs with transitional topic sentences that link to previously developed material before stating my new topic, as in 'Despite these benefits, the computer often leads to sloppy writing.'"

"The arrangement of my material, sentence by sentence, is logical and sequential, with one thought linked to the next. For example, I would change 'We must do three things to increase our profits' to 'To increase our profits, we must do three things.'"

Vocabulary, tone, expression

"My word choice is appropriate to my audience, purpose and topic. For example, when addressing someone who has a limited vocabulary, I write, 'This scheme is evil' rather than 'This scheme is nefarious.'"

"I write at the appropriate level of formality. For example, when addressing someone I don't know well, I write, 'We need to cooperate,' rather than 'It is my recommendation that we work in a collaborative fashion' or 'It's my way or the highway, buddy.'"

"When writing to the general reader, I define technical terms that may not be familiar. For example, rather than 'As a general rule, gerunds take possessive pronouns,' I write, 'As a general rule, gerunds or verbal nouns such as speaking take possessive pronouns such as your, as in 'Your speaking without thinking is a problem,' not 'You speaking without thinking is a problem.'"

Attention to the reader

"Before writing, I think about how much my reader knows and how much I will need to explain."

"I write with my audience in mind, trying to appeal to my reader's interests, concerns and values."

"In correspondence I often use the word you, as well as my reader's name, especially in my openings and closings."

So, how did you do?

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at