Sunday, May 31, 2009

Be careful: Content writing encourages bad prose

We all know that content writing isn't exactly art. The goal is to write as many stories as quickly as possible. The pay just isn't high enough to justify artfully written pieces.

(Some content writers might disagree. But let's be honest: The stuff we're writing isn't meant to be read. It's meant to get people to specific Web sites. If we write pure gibberish, but it brings in the traffic, we've done our jobs.)

Writers just have to be careful that they don't take their bad content-writing habits with them when they're working on legitimate magazine or newspaper writing.

When writing content stories, the goal is to get to that required word count. That leads writers to produce sentences that are far longer than they need to be. Here's an example from my own work, a content piece about shopping for big screen TVs: "Shopping for the right big screen TV can prove to be a challenging task."

Now, that sentence isn't great. But it has a good amount of words in it. That's all I wanted. If I was writing that same thought for a real magazine, though, it'd go something like "Shopping for big-screen TVs can be challenging."

The first sentence has 14 words. The second has eight. The second is also a better sentence: It gets to the point quickly. That's what we're supposed to do in journalism.

But content writing, of course, is not journalism. It's filling space. Just remember to change your approach when you're writing anything else.

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