Most books on the craft of writing suggest to readers that they read examples of good writing in order to improve. But at a certain point in your practice you can gain quite a lot from bad writing too.
How would you know the writing is bad? If any of the following happens:
You're not sure what the writer is trying to say
If you find yourself reading a sentence over and over again, it's probably not you. The whole point of writing is to communicate, and if that isn't happening then the default position is that it's the writer's responsibility.
You have to keep stopping to look up words in a dictionary
If the writer uses an unusual word because that is exactly right for getting the point across, fair enough. But if the writer's main purpose seems to be to display his supposed erudition, that's just annoying and inconsiderate.
The writer uses the wrong word
The number of times I've seen 'continuous ' instead of 'continual', 'incredulous' rather than 'incredible' or 'disinterested' when the writer meant 'uninterested' is astonishing.
You start to lose interest way too early
A good writer can make a lump of coal interesting. Long, complex sentences or, conversely, staccato ones, or just simply unjust leaden prose can kill off anything.
The writer relies on cliches
Saying that someone has an ego the size of Texas is no longer refreshing. It's just lazy.
The writing doesn't flow
I always think that a piece of writing should have a rhythm. It shouldn't jar.
The writing lacks beauty
I am not suggesting for a moment that writing has to be florid (see Purple Prose? Nay, Nay, Thrice Nay). A fine piece of writing will be a joy to read. If it isn't, well maybe it isn't the end of the world, but it is a shame and a missed opportunity. Here's a challenge for you: write a technical manual that is a pleasure to read. It can be done.
Tomorrow: How not to write a novel. despite the book's title, How not to write a novel contains relevant advice for the non-fiction writer too.