How To Kill Your Content

    kill your content

    Have you ever met someone who instantly gave out a negative vibe? Have you visited a blog lately that gave you a feeling of being in a haunted house? What was your immediate reaction? I might guess that you clicked on the back button to flee the dreaded experience.

    Have you considered the reasons for your knee-jerk reaction? I have.

    The truth is a contradiction, but there are writers who crucify their own content.

    There are many reasons why content can create a negative vibe. Some writers – such as Hemingway – can instantly connect with us, whereas others stop us reading beyond the first few lines.

    In this article, I explore the characteristics of content that sends out an instant negative vibe and offer you helpful hints so that you can avoid this in your own writing.

    1. Complexity is toxic

    On a historic day, August 28th 1963, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech that transformed our world. He claimed that we should be judged by the content of our character. Well, the character of his or her content should judge a writer — simple yet powerful.

    When content is cluttered with powerful words, it creates a feeling of nausea. It’s good to have word power, but it is lethal if you confuse your readers. The ultimate goal of good writing is not to impress others, but to convey a simple message without showing off. Pompous language is a sure pathway to offend your readers. Why write, “At the moment” instead of simply, “now”?

    Helpful Hints –

    Simplicity improves readability. One of my favorite authors, James Michener, has the best advice for writers: write simply. A superlative scholar throughout his life, James Michener had no desire to display his word power.

    Good writing… consists of trying to use ordinary words to achieve extraordinary results.
    – James Michener in his memoir
    The World Is My Home.

    I have a mission statement for my own writing: I write so that everyone can understand it and derive some benefits from it. I try to read my own writing from the reader’s perspective to see if it meets my mission statement. I’m far from being the best as a writer but I’ve come a long way in just five short months of blogging.

    2. Adjective overdose

    Content is beautiful when it’s crisp and to the point. Often when I come across content that is overloaded with adjectives such as ‘fantastic’, ‘incredible’, ‘super’ – I start to feel bloated. Remember how you reacted to a burger-eating contest? Adjectives are important but overdosing on them is an insult to the reader who is taking the time to read your content.

    Helpful Hints –

    We can learn a great deal from the legendary writer Hemingway. His greatness was in his style to convey the message in short, familiar words. It’s like a light diet. No one likes several desserts after a heavy meal. Lighten up your writing with minimal words. Review your writing after making changes to see if you are still conveying the gist of your message clearly, so that your readers can understand it and derive benefit from it.

    3. Passive voice

    A good football team never wins only with a strong defense. Similarly, a good writer never wins the hearts of readers by passive writing. It creates a dull and ineffective message that fails to catch attention. For instance, “The lesson was learned by Harry.” would fare far worse than simply, “Harry learned the lesson.” When I come across a writer with a passive overtone, I sense a voice lacking the confidence and affirmation to convey a powerful message.

    Helpful Hints –

    A good writer always engages and entertains his readers at the same time.  A good writer also instills a voice of confidence with an active voice that motivates readers to interact. The lifeline of a good writing lies in the value it provides to its readers with an exchange of ideas to improve the human condition.

    4. Lifeless content

    When I read content that is rhetorical in nature, I get skeptical about its practicality. I’m sure that you have read content that conveys a great message but lacks human flesh and bones to its form. Without the use of any real life experiences, the text seems lifeless and boring. If a writer cannot blend their message with some examples from reality, he or she turns off readers by losing their appetite for interaction.

    Helpful Hints –

    Putting flesh-and-bones people into your articles gives those articles a life and a movement that set them apart from articles in which no one’s heart is beating.
    – Gary Provost, Make Every Word Count

    Your readers relate to your own life experiences far better than those writers who preach from the pulpit.  We are not preachers; we are most effective when we blend a sense of community in our writing with relevant experiences that our readers can benefit from.

    5. Over-promised Headlines

    Brian Clark has powerful advice for you,

    Your headline is a promise to prospective readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit that you will deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.

    When I come across a piece of interesting writing solely based on its headline or title, I am immediately curios. But when that writing gives a message at odds with its title or headline, I quickly lose interest. The title should be captivating and catchy but its fundamental function is to signal the gist of the content that follows.

    Helpful Hints –

    A Chevrolet engine tucked in the body of BMW can only entice someone to ride – once. Similarly, a writer promising to deliver BMW experience with a Chevrolet content can only breed a sense of annoyance and betrayal for his or her readers. Clarity and authenticity are the two pillars of good writing. An attempt to entice readers with catchy titles only to disappoint them with regurgitated content can be a lethal combination. Always beware of that trap.

    6. Hackneyed expressions

    Content that carries overused and overblown term lacks a light sense of freshness. When a writer indulges in too many trite sayings in his or her content, the central message gets lost like a needle in the haystack of the prose.

    Helpful Hints –

    Readers are seeking a fresh vantage point. Overuse of trite expressions can turn off the very readers you are trying to impress. Get rid of “in my humble opinion,” “fit as fiddle,” “a sight for sore eyes”. Review your writing several times to spot these bugs and squash them.

    7. Need for invention

    The greatest folly of a writer is the constant need to be inventive. We all have a fair understanding about life. Why spend endless hours and effort in the vain hope of shocking the world with new revelations when all we need to do is to portray the existing human condition more effectively? The pursuit of invention often leads to dubious content in the eyes of the very readers you are trying to engage.

    Helpful Hints –

    Writing is an art. A writer’s mantra should be to depict a vivid and accurate view of the human condition. The self-imposed pressure to always create an original story is misguided.  Shakespeare was not the first writer who wrote about the family feuds, jealousy and murder. He became one of the greatest writers in history by writing about human frailty with a remarkable clarity and insight so that readers instantly relate their problems to those characters. This is what made Shakespeare an immortal writer.

    In this article, I have considered several characteristics of content that send out negative signals to your readers.  By following the hints I suggest, you can attract, rather than repel, your readers.

    Let’s have a conversation. What turns you off a writer’s content when you read it? How do you avoid crucifying your own content?

    About the author
    • Hallo aus Deutschland! Hello from Germany!
      Hallo aus Muenchen, ich bin die Susan und war ein wenig im Internet unterwegs. Da mir diese Seite sehr gut gefallen hat musste ich einfach einen Kommentar hinterlassen. Ich freue mich auf einen Gegenbesuch auf meiner livesex sexcams mit livestrip und sexchat Seite. Hello from Munich, today I was a bit around in the internet. Because I liked this site very much I was not able to go without writing a comment. I am happy if you take a look at my site too. Gruss Susan. Geetings Susan Camtastica.

    • geld lenen says:

      Very nice improvent tips. Deliver value is the most important thing.

    • I noticed that especially the use of headlines should be limited to necessarities.

    • Hypotheek says:

      these points are actually also real good in giving presentations and such.

    • Passive voice and Lifeless content – those 2 most important issues.

    • I agree with MIKE above.

      I am going to quote Einstein again, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    • J.D. Meier says:

      I like the way you integrated your own lessons and the lessons from others.

    • Mike says:

      Speaking of hackneyed, there is an INCREDIBLY hacneyed list of “writing tips”: this is, in essence, “Writing 101 for People Not Really Interested in Learning Much About Writing But Interested In Feeling Like They Are”. First of all, these “tips” are so badly over-used (passive voice, for example) that they over-simplify the complex form of art that is “writing”. Second of all, the Hemingway-thing. This is SO over-cited it’s laughable. What Hemingway was doing WAS NOT GETTING RID OF ADJECTIVES, he was using an editing technique that was meant to teach the writer to edit out 7/8’s of what he wrote (sometimes called the iceberg theory). Though adjectives and adverbs often fell to the side, what really fell to the side was the “editorial voice” (which, btw, is THE voice of blogging). It also meant that for any piece of writing, 7xwhat you finished wouldn’t appear. Don’t reference Hemingway while teaching bloggers how to write: he would have absolutely HATED the blogging voice, adjectives or no.

      This entry is really, really poorly informed and SO incredibly generic (You might even say full of “lifeless content”….) that it does more to mislead writers than educate them. I know lists are important to bloggers, but seriously: if you are going to write lists (which are surely blogging’s most hackneyed form), at LEAST write a list that is both knowledgeable and…..NEW.

      Though apparently the “need for invention” is a minor part of “art”.

    • DeeK says:

      Not much new here, but don’t see this opinion as criticism. Keeping my writing simple returns as my biggest challenge. Your advice confirms its importance.

    • Good points to crucify your content! Thanks for you helpfull insights!



    • Al at 7P says:

      Hi Shilpan, Mary,

      The last point (#7, Need for Invention) is the classic mistake when the author tries too hard. The material will be forced and won’t be authentic. I really like the point you’re making. Most stories have been told in one form or another, so the originality is with how we present it.

    • Mme.G says:

      For me, I hit the ‘back’ button when I come across a writer who is trying too hard to be liked by his or her audience. There’s a site that is a popular source of weight-loss tips and the author also has quite a business going with email newsletters several times a week to her readership. I had to stop visiting the site and receiving the emails when I could no longer stand the ‘magazine-speak’ style of her writing. Every sentence seemed as though it needed to be punctuated with an exclamation point (or four) and every other word had to be capitalized for emphasis. It was exhausting to read – I felt as if the author was a cross between a sorority sister, a puppy and a used car salesman.

      While it was appropriate to use a less formal style of writing for her purposes, she alienated me by trying to be my ‘girl-FRIEND!!!!’. I just want information; spare me the histrionics!

    • Emil – I agree with you about writing based on the type of readers you expect. Technically savvy readers expect complex issues as their intellect and knowledge demands more than average. However, my intent in this article is to emphasize that the art of writing is in making complex simpler to understand by even those who are not technical savvy.

      A leader’s test is to address complex issues in simpler terms so that everyone understands and participate in the resolution process.

      Thank you,

    • Emil Hunefalk says:

      Hi Shilpan,

      Thank you for an interesting post.

      I would like to add that the simplicity/complexity depends on the target group, who you expect to read it. In my own blog I have noticed that the most technically advanced post is also the most read and most commented – commented by people who study or work in the field the post is about and want more of the same, or my thoughts on a related subject.

      If the reader is used to a certain type of language, he/she will prefer and probably trust more in the post than if the language is over-simplified. In other words, if you write to “the man on the street” I can probably agree with your thoughts, but if writing to a certain group with a higher level of knowledge of the specific interest, it becomes a completely different matter. For example, I wouldn’t trust a scientific article when the language used is that of a sports journalist (I do enjoy reading the sports section though, but probably wouldn’t be as interested if it was filled with scientific facts)

      Keep up the good work


    • I think that using active voice and fewer adjectives is essential. But the one point that really brought all of this home for me was that we need to make our writing human. I often need to be reminded of that. 🙂

    • “How long is too long for you?”

      Well. Hard to say. If the material is of high quality and demands the added length, I’ll stay on board.

      But when it’s really really long – I sometimes lose my motivation.

    • Hi Daniel!
      I think the worst overpromised title I did was one for a guest post at Dumb Little Man: How to Strip 10 Years of Your Age in 10 Days

    • Woah. Over promised titles. Hmmm. I could do with some of those. Thanks Shilpan for these tips. 😀

    • Hi everyone! Zoe asked about editing. I’m just writing a new article about editing. But you can also find some important tips in an ariticle I wrote a while ago for WTD:

      Juicy Writing: 5 Ways to Glue Readers to the Page

    • Hi Zoe!
      Oookaay…when the Muse calls…one must respond.
      Especially if the Muse is called Zoe 😉

      I’ve started writing the post on editing.

    • Zoe says:

      Mary, I’d love to see that article. I’m beginning the process of editing a few not-quite-finished short stories, and it’s tough work. I can’t help questioning every addition/deletion I make!

    • Hi Eugene!
      Oh, that’s a fantastic quote!

      When I think about everyday life that holds true, too. When we feel something deeply, we can say it with simple words.
      When we pretend to be other than we are, we get pompous.

      I would say that long words and complicated structures are connected not just with insincerity, but also with insecurity!

    • Hi Bamboo Forest!
      My benchmark for blogposts is about 700 words. But I sometimes find myself at 1500 and still writing furiously…

      How long is too long for you?

    • Hi Zoe!
      There are some fantastic tricks to editing our own stuff. Maybe I should write an article about that 🙂
      Ok – I’ve put it on the list!

    • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” – George Orwell

    • I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my writing. You’ve provided some very good points here.



    • Zoe says:

      It helps to have someone around who’s willing to read your text and point to where you must trim the fat. If no one’s around, I go with Mary’s idea: reading aloud.

      This post covers all the major points that bug me, but it’s good to get a reminder on how to avoid those weak points myself. To add to the list: excessive exclamation points and using all-caps — rarely necessary.

    • What turns you off a writer’s content when you read it?

      When the article is too long – I’m often turned off. There are times when it is justified, but more often than not, I think a blog is wise to make their articles succinct as that is the nature of blogs and probably what the readers wants.

    • Hi Writer Dad!
      I think Shakespear wasn’t only a fantastic writer, he was also a prime experiencer.

      What I’m getting at is that to write with depth we also have to experience with depth.

    • Hi Scott!
      I find it difficult to be completely ruthless the first time I edit a piece I’ve written. That’s why I go at it again a couple of days later. Then I prune viciously.

      I find that reading aloud really works. It shows up the brittle bits.

    • writer dad says:

      Creativity is borrowed. It isn’t necessarily about what you say, but rather how you say it. Shakespeare said it better than most can ever hope to. That’s why he’s endured.

    • Hi Shilpan!
      Thanks for a great article. What tends to put me off are long paragraphs with sentences that I don’t understand and have to read again.

      Your article is a welcome reminder to check my stuff for stuffiness and that dreaded passive voice.

    • Scott McIntyre says:

      These are very interesting features of crucified content, Shilpan.

      I’m intrigued by the notion of writing being ‘destroyed’ by the writer, either by lack of care or skill.

      As a writer, my ultimate goal is to create a pathway through my words for the reader to travel. Any of the points you mention can act as stumbling blocks for this journey.

      After I’ve written a piece, to avoid breaks in the flow, I aim to read the passages through.

      I try to do this as if I was coming to it for the first time. I will make changes as I go to parts that don’t carry me along smoothly.

      I wait awhile- sometimes a few days- and return, following the same process as above.

      Only when I am assured that my writing moves along without awkward blocks, will I be satisfied that my self-editing is complete… and, even then, I might change it again! 😉

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