Six + One Traits of Writing

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Ideas and Content


Word Choice



Sentence Fluency 


All traits will be grade using this five point scale.

5 - STRONG : shows control and skill in this trait; many strengths present.

4 - COMPETENT: on balance, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses; a small amount of revision is needed.

3 - DEVELOPING: strengths and need for revision are about equal; about half way home.

2 - EMERGING: need for revision outweighs strengths; isolated moments hint at what the writer has in mind.

1 - NOT YET: a bare beginning; wrier not yet showing any control.




The Ideas are the heart of the message, the content of the piece, the main theme, together with all the details that enrich and develop that theme. The ideas are strong when the message is clear, not garbled. The writer chooses details that are interesting, important, and informative - often the kinds of details the reader would not normally anticipate or predict.  Successful writers do not tell readers things they already know; e.g. "It was a sunny day, and the sky was blue, the clouds were puffy white. . ." They notice what others overlook, seek out the extraordinary, the unusual, the bits and pieces of life that others might not see.


organization is the internal structure of  a piece of writing, the thread of central meaning, the pattern, so long as it fits the central idea. Organizational structure can be based on comparison-contrast, deductive logic, point-by point analysis, development of a central theme, chronological history of an event, or any dozen other identifiable patterns.  When the organization is strong, the piece begins meaningfully and creates in the reader a sense of anticipation that is, systematically fulfilled. Events proceed logically; information is given to the reader in the right doses at the right times so that the reader never loses interest. Connections are strong, which is another way of saying that bridges from one idea to the next hold up. The piece closes with a sense of resolution, tying up loose ends, bringing things to closure, answering important questions while still leaving the reader something to think about.


Word choice is the use of rich, colorful, precise language that communicates not just in a functional way, but in a way that moves and enlightens the reader.  In good descriptive writing, strong word choice clarifies and expands ideas. In persuasive writing, careful word choice moves the reader to a new vision of things. Strong word choice is characterized not so much by an exceptional vocabulary that impresses the reader, but more by the skill to use everyday words well.


Conventions are the mechanical correctness of the piece - spelling, grammar and usage, paragraphing (indenting at the appropriate spots), use of capitals, and punctuation.  Writing that is strong in conventions has been proofread and edited with care. Handwriting and neatness are not a part of this trait. Since this traits has so many pieces to it, it's almost a holistic trait within an analytic system. As you assess a piece for convention, ask yourself: "How much work would a copy editor need to do to prepare the piece for publication?" This will keep all the elements in conventions equally in play. Conventions is the only trait where we make specific grade level accommodations.

The voice is the writer coming through the words, the sense that the real person is speaking to us and cares about the message. It is the heart and soul of the writing, the magic, the wit, the feeling, the life and breath. When the writer is engaged personally with the topic, he/she imparts a personal tone and flavor to the piece that is unmistakably his/hers alone. And it is that individual something - different from the mark of all other writers - that we call voice.


Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of the language, the sound of word patterns, the way in which the writing plays to the ear, not just the eye. How does it sound when read aloud? That's the test. Fluent writing has cadence, power, rhythm, and movement. It is free of awkward word patterns that slow the reader's progress.  Sentences vary in length and style, and are so well crafted that the writer moves through the piece with ease.


Presentation combines both visual and verbal elements. It is the way we "exhibit" our message on paper. Even if our ideas, words, and sentences are vivid, precise, and well constructed, the piece will not be inviting to read unless the guidelines of presentations are present. Think about examples of text and presentation in your environment. Which signs and billboards attract your attention? Why do you reach for one CD over another? All great writers are aware of the necessity of presentation, particularly technical writers who must include graphs, maps, and visual elements.