Content, as Ahava noted earlier, can be good and, um, not so good. Here are a few examples I’ve come across recently that are just plain bad.
1. The Information Pile-Up
This happens when people want to tell you every single feature and benefit of their product or service RIGHT NOW. These writers seem to be deathly afraid that if they pause to breathe, readers will move on. I notice this phenomenon when I work with IT people who’ve created a fancy application. They’re justifiably proud of what they’ve made, but display an insecurity about selling it. The Information Pile-Up may work for other technically minded readers, but not for a business executive who’s trying to understand the underlying value of the app.
How to avoid: Rank the benefits of the solution, then trot them out one by one. No one wants to be overloaded. It’s confusing and sounds slightly desperate.
2. The Overly Legalistic
Sometimes the subject matter experts (SMEs) generating content are used to qualifying everything they say because they are used to providing material for specific business purposes. They have a tough time switching to writing for a more general audience. As a result, what should be a 400-word introduction to a topic becomes a 1,000-word piece that reads like a training manual. For example, instead of saying that some states follow one approach, others follow another, they’ll list every single state for each category. Most of the time, this information is not critical to the audience.
How to avoid: This requires an editor who’s seasoned enough to have a dialog with the SME and advocates for stripping out the non-essential info. A relatively inexperienced writer may struggle to know what to include and what to cut. But someone with communications expertise can advocate for a simpler piece and persuade the SME that not all of the qualifying information is necessary.
3. The Flat And Boring
Not everyone can write. There are weak writers who have trouble constructing a well-organized piece. Even those who write clearly and accurately may lack any writing flair. Readers might be able to wade through The Flat and Boring, but they might just yawn and shift to something else.
How to avoid: The good thing is that if a writer is at least clear and accurate, it’s not too difficult for someone else to make the writing sparkle. If it’s in the budget to do so, organizations should consider hiring someone to punch up the writing and make it compelling.
The tricky part about all of these examples is that the people who write like this frequently don’t recognize their limitations. They’re like those “American Idol” contestants in the preliminary auditions that have no idea they can’t sing. So making the case that help is needed becomes a delicate negotiation.
My final piece of advice: Have third parties take a look at the writing in question. If it’s not working, those with no emotional investment in the writing will say so—even if they can’t put a label on what’s wrong.
Michael Blumfield is a content strategist and copywriter based in St. Paul, MN. His website is www.mb-bc.com.