writing matters

Quality of writing matters online and off.

A recent and somewhat shocking post over at Skelliewag attempts to convince web writers that quality writing, good grammar, and spelling do not matter online.

In a post titled, “Why Great Writing Doesn’t Matter Online,” Skellie declares that web writers do not need to adhere to the same level of standards as other writers.

While the Internet is notorious for its lack of great writing, and for its abundance of low quality content and complete disregard for good grammar, there is no need to encourage producing anything less than one’s best writing – especially when someone is paying you for your work. And let’s face it, the better your writing, the more it’s worth.

Forget About Great Writing

Here are a few statements pulled from Skellie’s post:

  • People don’t read online. Nor do they scan.
  • Good writing, clever writing, beautiful writing — all of these things are unnecessary in the creation of great web content.
  • Clarity is the only necessary characteristic of good web writing.
  • Good ideas will shine through ‘bad’ or just ‘OK’ writing… Good writing can’t save bad ideas (or a lack of ideas).
  • In truth, though, truly bad writing is rare.
  • Average writing abilities are more than enough to write great web content. Average ideas are not.
  • Shelf The Elements of Style (aff link). You don’t need it.
  • Your readers aren’t looking for great writing — if they were, they’d look inside a broadsheet newspaper, a well-loved magazine or a Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Who Needs Good Grammar?

In other words: Hey everyone, since the Internet is already so jam-packed with inferior writing, why bother putting out great writing? Just be average. Here on the web, that’s more than enough.

As I read this post, I found myself in a complete state of disbelief. I was literally speechless, and it was all I could do to muster up a comment in response. Turns out I need an entire post to respond in a manner that I feel is adequate. It’s unfathomable that a person who has set herself up in a leadership role advising bloggers and other web professionals, and who offers professional writing services, would publicly declare that great writing — online or anywhere else — is unnecessary. Since Skellie shows more skill in writing than the average blogger, the post was especially hard to digest. In fact, I had to check my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1st.

Perhaps I simply operate from a different set of ethics, a different philosophy. I believe in encouraging people to be the best they can be, to constantly grow and consistently improve. Can an average writer become a huge success? Of course, but an above average writer has far better chances and will enjoy a better level of credibility and respectability. Does web writing have its own special set of rules? Yes, of course. Every type of writing, whether it’s fiction, technical, or copywriting, has its own style and standards. But writing is writing, and for it to be considered great, online or off, it has to be a lot more than just clear.

Here’s what I think:

Great Writing Matters and Good Grammar Does Too

  • People do read online. They also scan.
  • Clever and beautiful writing is not a requirement for any type of great writing. Sometimes, simple and direct gets the job done. Whether it’s web content or an erotic romance novel, great writing is great writing. Period.
  • There are very few writers who have truly immaculate grammar. People with good grammar skills and flawless spelling are called editors. Still, anyone who calls herself a writer should have a firm grasp on spelling and grammar, and should understand that poor spelling and grammar can alter the meaning of an entire concept. Don’t believe me? Read Eats, Shoots & Leaves (aff link). Hell, just read the back flap.
  • All good writing requires clarity. A writer’s duty to her readers is to make sure that her words make sense. However, clarity alone does not make for good web writing. There are sites with pages and pages of information about products and services. There are blogs about every subject under the sun (including literature), and there are millions of articles, essays, and even books being written and published online. Saying that web writing only needs to be clear is like saying all I need in a car is good gas mileage. It’s just wrong. I need that and a whole lot more.
  • If writing is bad, or just average, good ideas will not always shine through. There are plenty of readers (I among them) who will click away as soon as it becomes apparent that the quality of the writing is poor. This is one of the reasons that many people believe that the web as we know it is going to collapse under its weight of low quality content.
  • Conversely, good writing can and has saved many bad ideas. Readers like to be entertained, so if a writer has a humorous, witty, or sarcastic voice, there’s a good chance that she’ll build up a decent sized readership regardless of the ideas that are presented.
  • Truly bad writing is prevalent all over the web. It’s everywhere and it’s annoying. The good news is that this gives average or good great writers an edge.
  • Average writing abilities produce average web content because average writing is… well, it’s average. Can you succeed with average writing? Yes you can, but the content is and will always be average, no matter how much money you make from it. If you have a truly stellar idea, you’d be smart to publish it in a truly stellar writing style. Don’t have the chops? Hire a writer or an editor.
  • Do not shelve The Elements of Style. Keep it handy, and add to it: The Chicago Manual of Style and The Gregg Reference Manual (aff links).
  • There are two types of readers: those who care about good writing and those who do not. Here’s the thing: if you produce great writing, you can appeal to both types of readers. But if your writing is sub-par, you’re only playing to half the crowd.

I’d like to note that great writing and great content do not always equal success. Achieving success involves many additional factors, such as marketing, networking, and more than a little luck. Poor quality writing has earned millions of dollars for many a writer but producing great writing means having standards and creating something that you can be proud of, regardless of how much money it makes.

And let’s face it, quality has longevity. Do you want to be a disposable writer? Web writers need to do exactly the opposite of what Skellie proposes. I for one, am tired of the way that traditional writers and journalists look down on blogging and other types of web writing as sub-standard. I’m not interested in being a B movie. I want to be a blockbuster, an Oscar winner, and you should too. So instead of shelving your grammar guides, and settling for being average, reach for the stars and be the best writer you can be.

After all, bloggers are writers too.

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