Language is a virus (from outer space)

September 18, 2008

Hey – still not posting often enough, sorry… Anyway – here’s a little off-the-wall musing (do I ever do any other type of musing?)…

Techniques for “Writing for the web” are long established and well proven.

It’s not hard to do and a few points cover it: write short paragraphs with key words at the beginning of them, use headers and bullet point lists, avoid jargon, abbreviations, hyperbole and buzzwords… that’s about it.

It’s also our most frequently ignored best practice intranet guideline. Everyone thinks they know how to write, and ‘communicators’ seem to be unwilling to change their writing to adapt to the medium of the web – so they write with a style that assumes you are reading on paper, or a glossy brochure.

On our intranet we’ve got very well written guidelines about web writing. Most intranets do.

So why do – otherwise competent – writers not write well? I think the style guide is competing against something more pervasive, the house style is defined by a long tradition of previous writing – something can’t be important if it doesn’t have the whiff of officialese, if it doesn’t feel like previous writings. Bad writing is infectious.

Ironically some of the best writing in our intranet is emerging from social media, from less trained writers. Social media doesn’t encourage such a formal style and it doesn’t have the weight of history. But writing style is still infectious and the style adopted in a social media will spread. It’s best to make sure the good kind of writing spreads, so I suggest one of the first things to add to a wiki is a writing style guide. You may not ‘infect’ all the contributors, but you’ve set the tone and enabled the wiki gardners to do their work.


Its been a while since I did a quiz, so here’s a new one:

It’s about voices overs and so kind of fits with the theme about applying the right style to the context. Comments always welcome on the quizzes, so boast about your high scores in the comment box.

Pop music

My music choice for this post is from Laurie Anderson, indeed, the idea of describing web writing as a communicable disease comes from her song that gives this posting it’s title. I love Laurie Anderson, her Big Science album especially, but if you get the chance to see her you should do so, her performance at the Glasgow Concert hall (mid 90s? ) was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

Sometime the you tubeĀ embed doesn’t work so here’s a link