| This 39 message thread spans 2 pages: 39 (  2 ) > > || |
|Why is Writing So Neglected?|
after all, "Content is King", is it not?
I stroll around to a number of webmaster sites and generally find that there is very little emphasis on written content. Just one example is the piddling number of posts and replies here on WW. Even in this "Content, Writing and Copyright" section, there is more about plagiarism and content theft than about writing. It doesn't get much better elsewhere.
I am aware of a few copy writing sites. But it seems most of those folks are peddling solutions that purport to tell others how to make money and have less to do with discussing good and effective web content and sales copy.
How much of the web is written content? My guess would be a few billion pages. But how much of that content is well written? My guess would be somewhere between 1 & 5%. Written really well .. .5%?
I'm just curious why so little attention is paid to the art and craft of writing quality content.
There are different kinds of content that match the different motivations for writing it.
What is quality content?
- Is it something useful that helps others achieve happiness in some way but doesn't earn you a cent?
- Something useful that helps others find their way to your affiliate link to satisfy their primal hunter/gathering (shopping) joy?
- Something that is a pleasure to read, helps others achieve happiness in some way and earns you a cent?
- Is it beneficial to be useful- why or why not?
- Is being useful it's own reward?
- Is being useful a long term strategy and earning a living the reward?
Exactly, no one stresses on the writing techniques, writing styles etc but are more concerned with content theft and plagiarism.If you are original no one can take it away from you, it remains your throughout.
good thought bizminder... agreed with you!
Sad thing is if that if you are the "content writer" all those scrapers will take it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Go from there.
old_expat I agree with you...not much is said about the importance of writing good web content and the techniques that should be used. Most writing related websites today offer detailed articles on writing quality content. Those interested in expanding their knowledge on such topics simply subscribe to these blogs and websites and prefer to read articles delivered to their inbox.
I'm quite interested in the actual writing itself, too. I feel that I can write some good content, but it's such a painful process for me that I end up neglecting it. I'm hoping to become a little more inspired by participating in the forum.
I bookmarked a thread on here in the past about writing. It's since been de-bookmarked and I can't remember what it was about. But I do remember finding it useful.
It would be fabulous to have more posts on here about writing, but I can't imagine what I would start such a thread about.
Writing is a pain for me - I need to be in the mood, and it ends up being something I do in the winter.
Nothing is more important than content. It's funny to watch the search engine forums, while all of these self-proclaimed SEO's freak out every time there is a Google update and their rankings drop. Meanwhile the sites that were ranking because they have lots of quality written content and didn't rely on backlinks are staying the same or moving up.
|My guess would be somewhere between 1 & 5% |
I'd guess that it's way below 1%, possibly 0.1% or less.
I have spent a significant amount of time studying the tutorials on a certain tech site. The prime reason is because the tutorials are so well written.
To me, well written tutorials sort of assume that the reader does not yet have a basic grasp of the subject. Really good writers have the skill / knack / ability to make the complex seem simple.
I wish I had that ability. I'm not sure if it is learned or innate.
Does anyone here have suggestions on how I might become a better 'explainer'?
One of my better writing related 'aha' moments came when reading Surarrae's blog. She was talking about unique content and how originality does not necessarily equal 'uniqueness'. (hint: google)
Once I got my head around that concept, my writing improved .. I think. ;)
|Does anyone here have suggestions on how I might become a better 'explainer'? |
I don't know know how much experience you have with explanatory writing, but I can offer general advice based on web content writing mistakes I see a lot:
1) Avoid verbal fluff, such as qualifications and extra words. It's easier to read the previous sentence, for example, than: "Although there are exceptions, a person should not qualify everything he or she says. It's also a very good idea not to add words that are not necessary, or else an excerpt of writing will constitute what's - correctly or incorrectly - deemed in some semi-literary circles to be 'purple prose,' for what it's worth."
That kind of "clever" writing just hurts to read, but I see that sort of thing all the time. And yes, SEO writing does require more verbiage, but it should be no more elaborate than "Web content writers should avoid writing verbal fluff. Articles should not contain busy language or extra words."
2) Say things three times: the first time, say the general gist of what you mean, or specify the precise concept; the second time, say it all again in plain-speak, the third time, give examples. As in the following explanation:
Explanatory writing should reflect the needs of the person who's reading, not the knowledge of the writer. In other words, don't write what you think is interesting, and don't try to include everything about a topic. Instead, imagine what your reader must be wondering; read his mind.
In explaining to beginners how to prepare an apple pie for the first time, for instance, you might have the urge to describe the aromatic spices that go into the filling or the kinds of apples used, and all the different kinds of sweeteners possible. But a beginning baker wanting a basic apple pie recipe really wonders how to make that awesome flaky pie crust, so needs only minimal explanation of the ingredients but lots of attention to cold butter, cutting in flour, etc."
3) Watch for multiple interpretations of what you're saying and especially lack of clarity due to sloppy punctuation. People tend to be really casual about punctuation in online content, but it can confuse readers. Compare these:
"In that case are the pages we need all assembled."
"In that case are the pages we need, all assembled."
"In that case, are the pages we need all assembled?"
4) Write as though you're explaining the concept to a child of about eight. This is not meant to insult adult readers; it's just that we're all children when we're learning a new subject. If you look at children's books, you'll see they don't talk down to kids. They just make sure to put things in context or define them.
Or write as though speaking to a non-native English speaker. Define words. Don't use colloquial terms or terms that only people "in the know" would use - for example, don't use "in the know." ;)
Thanks, Lapizuli. Nice tutorial.
|Or write as though speaking to a non-native English speaker. Define words. Don't use colloquial terms or terms that only people "in the know" would use - for example, don't use "in the know." ;) |
Living in Asia, I get quite a lot of practice explaining colloquialisms. ;)
Content comes in a variety of styles. Finding the passion is the goal of all writers. However, few writers can do it all:
Business (not the same as any on this list)
Each has a "style" and accepted set of rules. One can learn the rules for any of the above, but unless there is a passion for the effort of writing and the subject, getting good results is problematical. Also essential is full knowledge---or at least a working knowledge---of any subject/theme for the author to be convincing. Sometimes experience is required.
Not all can write, just as not all can sing, or act, or run multi-national businesses, or---websites. However, one can't find out until one makes the effort and then gets feedback on the results. We do best when we recognize our strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths. Which brings me back to why one should write: passion. Have that, a reasonable vocabulary (middle school), a logical mind, and great things can be done.
|We do best when we recognize our strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths. Which brings me back to why one should write: passion. Have that, a reasonable vocabulary (middle school), a logical mind, and great things can be done. |
I totally agree with Tangor on this. Instead of trying to do everything and failing at them all, it is best to find your own niche and make a success of that.
|Does anyone here have suggestions on how I might become a better 'explainer'? |
Read some of the great authors...
I personally really like L'Amour, Christie, W. Smith
They tell great stories, which is accomplished through their ability to 'explain' and draw you in to a situation... Watch how they use punctuation to 'pause' or 'enhance' an illustration or setting using only words. L'Amour is probably the best I've read, because he could 'paint a picture' using only words like no one else I can think of.
Content IS king, and it will remain so. Not only content but content written in a manner that engages the aimed for audience.
Lets take a "straw man" poll.
How many readers know their content is crap but after 5 years are still earning a good living from their websites?
How many readers believe their content is reasonably well written and after 5 years earn a good living from their websites?
I'm in the second category and I believe good content will always win the day. The day that crap content wins the day over the long term is the day I give up.
Writing for the web is like writing everywhere. One big different is you have to worry more about how to control the context.
There is some good writing here at WW: I went looking for an example and easily found one.
This is pretty good writing:
First, a clear and concise question.
Second, a colorful statement that puts the question into the right context.
Third, argument is backed up with detail.
Finally, another source comes in with their own similar but different experience, again, in context.
Note that this post is full of jargon. Many will say to avoid that, but here is provides color and insight to even the casual reader. In this context, this example was perfect.
My sites are primarily my writing. I've been at it for several years and it's paid off in inbound links including some from some universities and government sites.
I do think writing for the web is different.
I think it's a matter of merging good writers with good webmasters. Typically good writers tend to write way to much in paragraphs that are way too long. They want to tell all they know in their area of expertise.Most writers need to be partnered with someone can edit for the web.
Here are the guidelines I've built for my own writing.
1 - start with a short blurb that will grab the reader's interest. If there is something unusual about an article I mention that there. Compelling quotes are another possibility.
2 - I put short headers in bold before each subtopic so when people skim they can easily find the aspect of the topic that they are looking for.
3- Keep the paragraphs short. Long paragraphs look a lot longer on a web page than on paper.
4- Keep the lines short. People can read faster and easier if the lines aren't too long.
5- If the topic will go past around a thousand words break it into two subtopics and put them on two separate pages.
6 - As for the actual writing it needs to be compelling, well organized and concise.
With all the writing skills one may garner, though, it may come to naught where the client is concerned.
I may write like Hemingway. My client writes like Bulwer-Lytton, but with poor grammar and spelling.
The client insists upon copy-and-paste of verbal content. TCIAR.
There used to be more threads here about good writing, but then the plagiarism and other similar types too over so guys like stop contributing.
|. Meanwhile the sites that were ranking because they have lots of quality written content and didn't rely on backlinks are staying the same or moving up. |
The only time you'll rank primarily due to content is in very uncompetitive markets. So the people that are crowing about how their quality content kept them ranking are either ill informed, actually have strong backlinks, or are not in competitive markets.
We needed some technical press releases writing, we hired someone. As they themselves said, their writing and their book of editorial contacts was all that they brought to the table. But that is actually plenty. It would take me ten times the time to pen an acceptable article.
I agree old_expat, The content writing forum is a bit slower than others. I think a lot of people learn writing in a different way than web design. I personally seek out advice on code and technical matters, but rarely do for writing in general.
But there are special aspects of writing for the web that differ from writing for print. These need to be discussed. It is a new medium and a new format. Everyone is making it up as we go along.
1 - The layout dictates things. In a book, if the page is wide and the eye gets lost, you can have columns next to each other. If you do that on a web page the reader has to scroll back up and then down again. This becomes tiring and boring. I find myself writing shorter and shorter items as I try to keep my essay in one slim column.
2 - For some reason, reading on a computer is uncomfortable. If I fill a web page with the equivalent of a books full page, it feels like it takes forever to read. I find myself writing shorter pieces.
3 - For some other reason, it is harder to scan a full length page on computers. I find myself writing shorter and shorter paragraphs. I also use bold and italics much more.
Here's my 2 cents-
In every writing course or book I have ever looked at, they always stress a common structure. The introduction, the body, and the conclusion. It is the same in a film script, a poem, or a news story. These words are so abstract that it looks meaningless. I think the principle can be better seen in the structure of a joke. The set-up, the development, the punchline. This is a richer vision and makes the intent clearer. Anyway, if you keep this structure in mind as you write, it enables you to pace your work and make it fit.
The outline is our friend. I have had much success using it. It helps organize work and thoughts. It is possible to sit down with very little in mind, and by writing random thoughts in outline form, actually lay a good solid base to start from. This always helps get a project off the ground when I really have no idea what to say or how or in what order. Just write down the 2 or 3 points you can think of and use them for top level items. Then think of details about those three as second tier items, and so on. Before you know it, you've fleshed out a good basic concept. Even if the subject bores you stiff !
Finally, another good subject for writing for the web involves SEO and advertising. I have begun thinking about ways of 'salting' my writing with words that I hope will light up the machines. Can using less descriptive words and more nouns help SEO? Is it possible to write prose so that it effects the type and quality of advertisements?
Is it possible to write in such a way that the page is more attractive to advertise on? Etc. Writing for Adsense is a new art form. If I put more nouns in my text, will that result in more interesting ads being placed on my pages? More clicks? More pennies?
There are a lot of things to talk about when it comes to writing for the web.
All forms of content are valid. On one of my sites I write REALLY LONG content (many of the "pages" running between 87,000 to 116,000 words) as a single document. Offered as fluid HTML and PDF. Those interested in that content would be mighty p]ssed if offered in 500 word chunks which forced them to load a web stripper to get it then assemble it (you do know that's what some do with what thrills them). That LENGTHY content is the hardest hit by all my visitors, though they do read the shorter works as well.
It's all a krap shoot. What the leeches seek they will find, and if you offer it, and it is well written, they will tell others---and at the end of the day that's what we desire.
Just speaking from the other side, eschewing the shorter and shorter sound byte pages which irritate me personally and, I suspect, a significant portion of the web.
Ultimately, it all comes down to diarrhea of the keyboard. Can you continue to spew? Can you maintain the pace? Can you have fun doing it? Last time I looked the carpenter who kept hitting their thumb with a hammer wasn't having very much fun and switched jobs to become a politician. :)
added: If you are writing for SEO you are not an author. You are a mechanic. See my "passion" post above. Nothing wrong with that, but if writing for SEO you are a copy writer, an ad man, a snake oil salesman (and all of those are COMPLIMENTS for that trade). Just don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.
I think the best thing I can say about wrining on the web, is to read this.
|I write REALLY LONG content (many of the "pages" running between 87,000 to 116,000 words) as a single document |
Here's a good subject - So I wonder, do you have a way of breaking this text up?
I have two different considerations in this regard.
1 - Visual cues for the reader. For instance, the reader looks to the scroll bar and back to the text, and they have lost their place. I try to use all the html stuff - subheadings, paragraph indents, blockquotes, an occasional list, a horizontal rule. But I can't say I have a proven system for it. I try to be consistent and predictable, but that's it. Otherwise I'm making it up as I go. Do you feel the need to use any tricks or techniques in this regard?
2 - Layout - I am obsessed with making my pages shrink/expand, or rearrange to fit all screens. Handheld has thrown a new twist on things.
I feel a simple full screen width text area is just too big. Modern laptop screen are much wider than most book pages. Wide enough to cause the reader to get lost repeatedly as they go. So -
I have small divs which rearrange themselves as screen changes. Thus smaller articles.
I have large blocks which resize. But these don't work well as they shrink to fill 40% or 60% of a handheld screen, leaving the rest empty with words hanging over the div border.
I have generally chosen narrow fixed width columns (handheld size) which can float underneath each other if necessary, but are rather unwieldy and messy looking. These work fine on all screens. But I still have the pressure to end the piece before the reader winds up scrolling forever down the column. I resist breaking a long piece into two of these columns. When not on handheld this requires the reader to scroll back up and look for clues as to which column contains the rest of the article. My articles are getting shorter.
And in short, I am not at all happy with any of the choices I have learned to code.
How do you lay your long pages out ? Do you find that the issues I have mentioned are important? Or have you found that your readers do not actually need this kind of structuring?
|That LENGTHY content is the hardest hit by all my visitors |
I put a 20% margin left and right and run the text fluid. As for scrolling, most mice these days have scroll wheels and no use of the scroll bar is required. Will this work for all text? Probably not... the type of content is what drives the decision.
|Sad thing is if that if you are the "content writer" all those scrapers will take it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Go from there. |
Not necessarily. If your site is strong enough in its niche, the scrapers will never come close to you in the serps.
Lots of great advice in this thread. Nice to see it happening.
|My sites are primarily my writing. I've been at it for several years and it's paid off in inbound links including some from some universities and government sites. |
Yes, perfect - that's what true orginal content is, and it really pays off. In my case, it's mostly reports for the ENGO website group, but also advisories, guidelines, etc, all with much pertinent, unique text. We get unsolicited inbound links all the time from blogs, educational sites, wiki, tourists, you name it.
With regard to style: Just make it original, interesting, and don't worry about perfect grammar. Even if your first lanquage is not English, it doesn't matter if there's good info, or a good story associated. People will find it, like it, and link to it.
Wrt to format: I really think plain html is best, with no code bloat or flash. Everything finds it, and no one is annoyed it when it loads.
Again, great thread, and thanks for starting it old_expat.
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