Do you let weak writing tarnish your credibility and integrity?
Search engines and media web sites have been down on content sites since before I started writing on these sites in 2009. I can remember being irked by articles I would read that slammed the sites for accepting contributions from unqualified writers, and for allowing unverified content of poor quality to be published without editorial oversight. At the time I remember thinking that my articles were well researched and well written, and that most of my writing friends produced work that was as good as mine or better. So why was everyone down on us?
But there were a few web writers in those days who dashed off as many pieces as they could in a day, with no research and not even a quick spellcheck or proofread. With the advent of the so-called “penny writing” sites and the “social writing” sites like Bubblews, the number of writers who were pumping out poor quality posts only grew.
Eventually, that hurt not just one site but web writing in general. Content sites were penalized by the search engines, and advertising programs came out with differentiated pay scales that eventually led to sites banning whole countries and regions. These days, people who used to earn hundreds of dollars a month are hard pressed to earn a little pocket money here and there.
I’ve been party to a lot of conversations about whether the personal and social content was at fault, but I really don’t think that’s the problem. Even on sites that only published informational posts, I have seen the kind of writing that drags down a site’s reputation. Most of it is unresearched, poorly focused, vague, and weakly worded. I thought I’d offer a bit of help with the last two items on that list today.
Common Writing Pitfalls
Here are some of the pitfalls many web writers fall into when writing an informative post:
- Use of numerically vague expressions (“most women….”, “up to half of patients…”, “a lot of youth….”, “the vast majority of people…”);
- Using hedge words to cover for a lack of confidence or specific data (“allegedly,” “probably,” “may have,” etc.)
- Relying on rumour, old wives tales or folk wisdom, instead of researching specific data (“it is widely accepted that…”, “common sense dictates…”, “experience tells us…”);
- Use of the passive voice to avoid supplying a source for data (“evidence shows that….”, “there are concerns that…”, “it has been mentioned that…”);
- Masking the source of data with a generic description (“a leading scientific laboratory”, “a recent study”, “an award-winning researcher”)
Often a writer will combine two or more of these strategies to produce claims that are even more dumbfounding, for example:
“It stands to reason that at least half of those involved could have been aware of the problem.”
Sentences like this show that the writer has little authority or confidence in his own claims, and they don’t do much to inform readers either!
Folks, it’s OK if you want to write a post from your own experience or opinion. Just don’t try to pass it off as expert advice! And if your aim is to write an informational post, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do a little research. Once you’ve got the facts, take the time to report them appropriately.
We’ll talk about that in a future post, as it’s a whole topic on its own. But in the meantime, just try to be aware of the places where you might be writing vague, unsupported, or misleading statements into your posts. Challenge yourself to be more specific and accurate. I’m willing to bet you’ll be proud of the results!
Featured Image Credit: Rusted chain by Jaroslav Šmahel (aka cortixxx,) courtesy of Pixabay; CC0 1.0