A few weeks ago I blogged about an unpleasant experience my girlfriend had looking for a good online tutorial. In that post, I mentioned how disappointing it is when writers post content just for the sake of posting content.* The sheer volume of information on the Web makes it a lot easier for readers to switch channels if you don’t give up the goods.Yesterday, Sharon gave some great advice on what to do when a post falls flat; today I’d like to point out five surefire ways to avoid just such a situation, by outlining five ways you can disrespect your readers, insult them, or just plain waste their time:
Don’t deliver on your title’s promise. The brilliant Copyblogger reminds us that every title we write is a promise to our readers — a promise that we will deliver to them as much value as we’re able. Don’t write a tutorial that doesn’t give detailed instructions, or a list post that reads just like every other list post on the same topic. As a writer, you’re asking me to spend valuable minutes of my life on your blog. Don’t waste my time with something I could have figured out on my own.
Write posts solely to generate hits and/or comments. You could get thousands of hits and hundreds of comments a day by writing a blog about how Ron Paul is the worst presidential candidate ever, or how Firefly wasn’t really a very good show, or how you finally played Halo and you don’t see what all the fuss is about. That’s because these three opinions have one thing in common: While most people in meatspace don’t really care about them, they’d be hotly contested on the Internet. Don’t broach overexerted topics unless you’ve got something truly original and inspiring to say.
Use grammar and spelling that defy human comprehension. Personally, I’m kind of hoping that when the Internet finally becomes self-aware and declares war on the human race, the first ones to be herded into the Robot Appreciation Camps will be those who perpetually misuse apostrophes. A typo here and there isn’t a dealbreaker, but if you’re going to try to make your living by writing, it’s pretty important that you master the basics of the language you’re writing in.
Pirate ideas, or just plagiarize wholesale. Yeah, this happens. And the worst part is, most of us don’t know if we’re reading a pirated post. The writer of the pirated material might not even know. But if you do it, you’ll know. And Santa will know. You don’t want to make that guy mad.
Let everyone know, without prevarication or hesitation, how unrelentingly awesome you are. There’s a big difference between personal, observational writing and self-aggrandizement. Don’t be shy about voicing your opinion, but don’t write down to your readers or assume you’re smarter than they are. And don’t get into flame wars with other bloggers (unless, of course, it’s very entertaining).
Looking at this list, I’m finding that much of what I’m saying boils down to one thing: Say something original and coherent. Look at the best content on the web — just about all of it stems from fresh, creative thought. It’s harder to generate, for sure. But your readers will thank you.
*A few commenters argued that the tutorial in question was actually perfect, because it drew visitors who would then search the site’s advertisers for an answer, bringing in revenue for the bloggers. I remind these persons that providing a substandard product in the naked pursuit of profit renders irreparable damage to one’s soul and integrity, and invite them to swim, Scrooge-McDuck-like, in their undoubtedly huge vats of gold Krugerrands, their self-worth untrammelled by the fact that they spoke out in support of offering a shoddy product in exchange for a few extra bucks.
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