Great content starts with great writing and editing

What is great content? How do we know it when we see it?

As blog writers, we’re told by the experts that if we write great content, the audience will come. When we promote ourselves on social media, and when readers click through to our posts, our great content will hold their attention. Our bounce rate will be lower, and the readers will become subscribers and – we hope – customers.

A recent post by Jeanette Paladino on how to define great content got me thinking more about what great content is and how we define it. Jeanette cites the oft-said phrase: “Content is king,” but then says we should ask: “Why am I creating content?”

This speaks to knowing what your goal and purpose is as a blog writer. Is it to educate people? Is it to show your knowledge so you can get readers to buy a product from you? Or is it some other reason?

I don’t think the reason matters, as much as you knowing it matters.

Jeanette cites Jon Morrow’s post on the same subject. Jon questions what great content is and admits that even he doesn’t know the answer. He says you have to continually redefine greatness to stay ahead of other bloggers and stand out. Content that’s getting great response in 2014 has four components: drama, data, depth and design.

Most importantly, he says you have to work hard to build great content. I think this is true.

I’m not sure I have a definition of what great content is, either, but I have some thoughts about where it starts.

Great content starts with good writing and editing.

Great-content

Great content doesn’t have so many errors in it that it distracts your reader. Great content is not only well written, but also well edited.

Great content doesn’t have run-on sentences, misplaced or dangling modifiers, it’s/its errors, misspellings or apostrophes in plural words. Great content doesn’t distract me with too many errors for me to keep reading. Take these examples:

1. “If you don’t know anything about it, don’t worry that’s not Eishten stuff.” This is straight from a blog of someone who wants to give you advice on how to become financially independent. This isn’t great content because it needs a semicolon after worry, and I’ve never heard of Eishten. Have you? I have, however, heard of Einstein, and he is the genius usually cited when we want to imply something is easy. This author needs to check his spelling and punctuation to make his content great.

2. “Having been a search marketer in Denver for over 15 years, it is great that we have a digital marketing conference here today in Denver.” This is from a blog of a search marketing veteran and experienced blogger. The dangling modifier in this sentence tells us that the “it” was a search marketer in Denver for over 15 years. Search marketer is a job for a person. This content isn’t great because the person is missing from the sentence. The author needs to rewrite this sentence to make his content great.

I see many bloggers who are writing great content, and their posts aren’t full of errors that make me want to cringe or recommend that they brush up on their grammar skills. Here are a couple of good examples:

1. “The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the write to keep and bare arms. No, wait, that’s the rite to keep and bear arms. Crumbs—I meant right!” This is a hilarious introduction to a blog post on homophones. This author does a rare thing – she uses purposeful errors to make her point. And, you notice, she corrects herself by the end of her introduction, which makes it clear she really does know the correct use of the words right and bear.

2. “Roosevelt lived a life worth admiring, it’s true – he read thousands of books, wrote a bunch of books himself, served in various levels of government (including, of course, the role of President of the United States), fought in wars, and nurtured a lifelong love of nature.” This is from a post about six lessons on success and happiness from Theodore Roosevelt. This is a good explanatory sentence of some of the things Roosevelt did in his life, but it’s also an example of correct punctuation use. The commas, apostrophes, parentheses – and even a dash – are all used correctly.

Great content is compelling and interesting. It lets the writer’s voice shine through and engage the audience. Great content also has that other component: technical perfection. You can have content that is technically perfect – no grammar, punctuation, spelling or style errors – but isn’t very interesting to read. And you can have content that’s interesting to read, or should be, if only it weren’t so full of technical errors.

This brings to my definition of great content: It’s interesting, engaging and technically perfect.

As Jeanette and Jon alluded to, we can debate on what exactly makes content interesting and engaging. Maybe that’s in the eye of the reader. What I find interesting, you may not, and vice versa.

But the technically perfect part? That’s prescriptive. It’s in the rules of English grammar and usage. And too many bloggers aren’t getting that part right, which makes their content less than great. If you’re going to put your content out there for the public to see, you need to get the technical part right, as well as getting the interesting and engaging part right.

Jeanette’s and Jon’s questions about what makes great content are worthy of consideration. After all, they inspired this post. Now, I’d like to pose a new question: What is your writing and editing process to make sure your content is great?

Readers, what do you consider great content? Do errors take away from your enjoyment of what would otherwise be great content? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

Great content starts with great writing and editing — 15 Comments

  1. Grammar is very important, and I must admit I am a little worried about this when I write in English, which is not my first language.. Hope to do it in the right way! :)

    • Ilaria, English is not the easiest language, even for native speakers. I don’t know a second language, so I write only in English, and I don’t have the experience of trying to write in another language. I admire your efforts to write in my crazy language.

  2. A lone sane voice in the wilderness! Thank you for this. It brings all my pet peeves to mind. The one that irks me most is when people use: your instead of you’re or you are.

  3. I write more in my second language these days than I do in my first, and these two have some differences of grammar. I do my best not to confuse them, but mistakes happen. A few days ago someone sent me a message that I should switch “in” with “on” (or vice versa) in one of my blog posts, and I couldn’t help but thinking whether that one letter actually ruined their whole reading experience and was just too much noise to actually learn anything from the post…

    If the content is interesting and exciting per se, I tolerate a lot of mistakes and would even categorize it great. Also vice versa: if there’s no substance to begin with, no amount of editing makes it great. What others might find significant is that I never share poorly edited content with others, no matter how fantastic the topic and perspective.

    Am I the only one thinking this way?

    • Eve, I agree with you. I won’t share or comment on a poorly edited post. If the writer hasn’t taken the time to edit, I’m not taking my time to comment, and I’m sure not going to help spread badly edited posts around the Internet. A mistake or two, I’ll overlook, but if there are so many mistakes that I can’t figure out the message, I’m not sharing it with my followers.

  4. Great writing goes beyond phrasing and punctuation. It can be awe inspiring, stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. The classics, Hemingway, Mitchell and Neruda all take you beyond reality to another place and time.

    • That’s a good definition, Lisa. You’ve hit upon another one of my beliefs: To be a good writer, you also have to be a reader. One author I’m partial to is fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. His books are not only well edited, but his worlds and characters are fascinating and believable. I’m working my way through a 1,000-page novel of his right now.

  5. Because I am dyslexic, spelling and punctuation have always been a bit of a stumbling block for me. After proofing my posts myself a few times, I run my blog posts through spell check, grammar checking software, and have them proof read by two editors prior to posting.

  6. Interesting article! I’d start with brainstorming the title and then list down the pointers I would like to expand on. I tend to spend quite a lot of time proofreading and making edits as well as adding new points along the way. I always send the finished piece to a couple of colleagues to review before publishing it.

    • That sounds like a great system, Dylan. I usually wait until last to write my title. I write a working title, then I go back and finalize it after I’m done. I think it’s a leftover habit from my newspaper days – the headline always got written last. It really doesn’t matter which way – as long as a good title gets written and the post gets edited!

  7. Thank you, Jennifer, for referencing my blog post. I agree that poor grammar and punctuation can detract from even the greatest content. I also cringe when writers over- use the passive voice as in “Up the hill he walked.”

    • There is a time and place for passive voice, but most of the time, it’s wordy and weak. I also had an editor at one time who called your example backing into a sentence. Write it direct, with the subject first – He walked up the hill.

  8. I proofread a couple times. And, I don’t follow all the strict rules of grammar. I will start a sentence with ‘and’ like I just did. It’s OK to do that – Jon says so, I took his blogging class. What is more important to me is engaging, entertaining content. That is what my blog post is about this week, as a matter of fact. I am a spelling bee champ, so correctly spelling words is absolutely necessary, and, I am a comma queen. Use one wrong and I cringe!

    • I’ve read that starting sentences with “and” and “but” is acceptable now, and I do it. So is ending sentences with a preposition. I was also a spelling bee champ! I was nicknamed “The Human Dictionary” in grade school.