That’s a trick question. Not because it’s deceptive, but because of the way I’d like you to think about the answer.
What first comes to mind when you hear the question? The writing—a prize-worthy novel or a runaway bestseller? The writer—a master of words unlike ordinary mortals?
Your personal benchmark of good writing is likely to have been shaped by authors or literary works you admire. Our standards of writing are often based on works by authors who wrote to explore the beauty of language or plumb the depths of human experience. Writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Cervantes express themselves so powerfully they can engage us with their characters and immerse us in their world.
From the literary perspective, what seems to matter most is either the writer or the work. But writing is more than an expressive art. Words can also be transactional: a way to get things done and a tool for thinking.
For those who write to get things done, the focus shifts from the writer or the product to the purpose. Does the piece do what it’s intended to do? Can the reader understand it?
If you’re writing for business, the standard for good writing is not how well you structure your sentences or whether your presentation has pretty graphics. The benchmark is how well you serve your reader.