How To Kill Your Content

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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?


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