If there is anything I have learned over the past year, it is that excellent content writers seem to be few and far between. As I have become more active in honing my writing ability and practicing the skill of writing lengthy articles, I have had many experts on Google+ to learn from. However, outside of that environment of self-betterment and constant learning, I have realized that it is very rare to find people who can sit down and spit out 3000 words on a familiar topic. I am constantly keeping my eyes peeled for fellow writers amongst my college-aged peers, many of which are owners of blogs and post around once a month. Thus far, I have been disappointed in the fact that very few have a true desire to write. Most of their blog posts consist of meaningless blabber, either to complain about something or to update friends and family members about what they’ve been up to while they’re thousands of miles away from home.
I’m not bashing their efforts at all – I certainly don’t expect every college student to frequently produce in-depth content as many don’t have the desire or reason to. I’m also not considering myself to be an “excellent content writer” or putting myself on a pedestal above anyone else. But the fact remains that as a whole, the art of writing at length has become irrelevant in today’s society. It is my belief that there are certain reasons why the art of writing in-depth is becoming lost on college students and adults alike.
Reason #1: Reading in Depth is a Lost Art
First and foremost, it is important to recognize that the key to a healthy writing ability is reading as much as possible. It is impossible to write in-depth if you do not read in-depth. This is why my mother encouraged me to read novels at a young age and why I try my hardest to foster a love for reading in my younger sister. It truly makes all the difference in the world.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I have major problems with the public school system in my home county. I attended a public high school that was extremely small. It received very little funding, and as a result, the budget was so small that there weren’t enough textbooks to go around. Don’t even mention AP classes! At the time I attended, there was only one AP class offered, and that was calculus. Regardless, I had quite a few teachers that I loved. And while they certainly didn’t make up the majority, they always encouraged me to pursue a career in writing.
But as we all know, there is a lot more that goes into making a school environment than the teachers or the textbooks. And no matter what grade level I was in, there was never an environment where the value of reading was fostered. I still have vivid memories of my senior-level honors literature class, where the book Pride and Prejudice was an assigned reading. After reading the first chapter for homework, the class came back complaining that the language was “too difficult to comprehend.” The teacher promptly eliminated it as an assignment.
There are a thousand people and causes that a finger can be pointed at as the antagonist here, but the fact remains that the value of reading doesn’t remain a priority in most public schools. I can’t speak for every school, of course, but in my hometown I see the same cycle being repeated over and over. I can’t tell you how many of my classmates struggled with reading contemporary novels and classics alike. And, not shockingly, these same students had difficulty writing a six-page research paper on a future career – to the point that the teacher reduced the word limit as well as the weight it would have on our class averages.
The same sequence of events is occurring as my sister goes to school. If a child fails his or her end of grade tests, it is possible for that child to retake the test multiple times until he or she passes. It is almost impossible for a child to be held back a grade. A broader truth is that the public school system doesn’t teach its students the rewards that are obtained from overcoming a challenge. And no matter what outstanding teachers become employed in the next several years, I feel sure that the cycle will continue.
Children are also taught at a young age that going to school to obtain a degree in English or Literature is worthless. After all, we live in a math and engineering world, don’t we? I can still hear adults telling 10-year-old me, an aspiring author, that I should direct my attention to something else. “After all, you want to make money, don’t you? You’re too smart to be a humanities major.” The value of literature pales in comparison to most everything else. The art of reading is becoming lost, and in turn, the art of writing is suffering.
Reason #2: We Live in a Headline Society, Not a Paragraph Society
Yet another lesson learned from a year of content writing is that there’s a certain formula to learn if you want to draw readers in. And by drawing them in, I mean just to get them to click on an article period – to get them to read the whole thing is a stroke of genius!
As websites have had to adjust their content to be marketable on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, there is one component that has taken precedent over everything else: the headline. If an article does not have a catchy title, then it’s doomed from the start, regardless of how excellent the content of the article is. In fact, I named this article somewhat facetiously. The most successful articles (in terms of virality) often utilize this type of gimmick – Seven Reasons Why Valentine’s Day is the Worst Holiday, or Ten Facts About Congress That Will Make You Hate the Government, and so on. I can’t tell you how many Buzzfeed articles I see daily on my Facebook news feed or Twitter timeline. All that these pieces consist of are GIFs and one-liners, and yet they’re wildly popular.
I once heard someone compare the title of a piece of online content to the short summary that’s on the back of a novel – when trying to convince a reader to give it a shot, that’s the only sales pitch you’ve got. The difference, of course, is that a title is considerably shorter and should accurately describe the focus of the article in one sentence.
We live in a headline society, where the author has one shot to distinguish his or her work from the countless other pieces of content that are floating around on the Internet. Even beyond the scope of the World Wide Web, this is a trend that can be witnessed in newspapers and magazines alike.
How does this affect the art of writing in-depth? It’s a reflection of the fact that most readers want their information concisely and quickly. Five Reasons Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats? Excellent. I know roughly how long the article is going to be and exactly what it’s going to be about. No need to read halfway into it and realize I have no interest in the topic. And if it includes nonsensical cat GIFs, all the better!
It’s a symbol that the article that’s sold in the flashiest package will win, regardless of how well-written it is or how groundbreaking the arguments are. And to the aspiring content writer, that’s a daunting task. In order to keep your voice from being drowned out in the ocean of content that is the Internet, you’d better have the whole package – bells, whistles, and all.
Reason #3: The Average Attention Span is Shrinking – It’s Science
The final reason shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. Almost everything in our fast-paced society is focused around this simple little fact: the average attention span is shrinking. And fast.
It’s been scientifically proven. It’s the reason why the average TV commercial has gotten shorter. (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/advertising/2010-10-30-shorter-v-commercials_N.htm) It explains why the average length of online videos watched by Americans has dropped to a measly five minutes, down two minutes from last year’s statistics. (http://www.thewire.com/technology/2013/08/internets-attention-span-video-quickly-shrinking/68114/) Look around at our world, and I guarantee you that you’ll find countless examples that prove this point.
Social media is full of case studies of the shrinking attention span. Twitter, with over 555 thousand registered users, based its entire business model around this fact. If you have something to say on Twitter, you’re only given 140 characters to do so. That’s it. And while that may sound stifling and inhibiting, it’s the main attraction for most of its users. It eliminates the need to put great consideration into what you have to say. It reduces the amount of details you can include. In other words, it’s the ultimate simplifier for a person’s thoughts. As a result, the Twitter timeline can be seen as a stream-of-consciousness conversation between a person and his or her followers.
Snapchat is another excellent example of social media users wanting content in a small, easily comprehendible package. As discussed in a previous article (http://wojdylosocialmedia.com/speed-snapshots-secrecy-snapchat-changed-communication/), Snapchat users have the ability to send friends pictures or videos with text or drawings at the push of a button. But here’s the catch – this picture will only be available for up to ten seconds at a time. After that, it is deleted and is no longer accessible. This is an application that has become incredibly popular since its release, mainly among the younger demographic. One of the many reasons for its success is the fact that it serves as a communication method that is quick and effortless.
The same thing can be said for Vine, a video-sharing app that reached its peak over the summer of 2013. Though it is certainly not as popular as it was several months ago, its claim to fame was the fact that videos could only be up to six seconds long. That’s an incredibly short video! Yet its users absolutely ate it up when it first came out. These six-second videos were a speedy way to observe your friend’s going-ons. They also became somewhat of a challenge for some users to demonstrate their creativity in such a limited form of media.
That same challenge can be seen on Twitter, as many of the most successful accounts are able to show their wittiness in less than 140 characters. It’s the same task that advertisers must rise above when trying to sell a product in a 15-second television ad. It’s the same obstacle that content writers must overcome when titling their articles.
The average attention span is shrinking, and it’s a direct result of the methods that we use to consume information and communicate with each other. Between text messages, tweets, Snapchats, and more, we are teaching our youth that these methods are considered healthy forms of communication. (http://www.wojdylofinance.com/is-todays-youth-communication-illiterate/) The value of pen and paper is becoming lost. The worth of telling a full-bodied story, in paragraph form with elaborate settings and rich characters and delicate details, is becoming depreciated. The art of writing at length is a lost art.
Do I realize that I’ve made some overgeneralizations in this article? Of course. Over the past year, I’ve met authors that have astounded me with the way that they can craft full-fledged worlds out of thin air. I’ve read books that have left me speechless. I’ve been amazed at the ways that words can be placed in the most perfect arrangements, the ones that make your heart hurt and bring tears to your eyes.
By no means am I trying to say that there is no one left who can write something amazing and in-depth. But as a whole, it is simply not an art that is fully supported or encouraged in today’s society. We are starving the skill of writing, and we are feeding the importance of shock value and making things short and sweet.
I will forever believe that the ability to spin words into gold is the most priceless gift that one can own. And regardless of the values that society teaches, I have no doubt that it’s a gift that will always manage to outshine the rest.
Additions by Jesse Wojdylo
The Origins of This Topic
For many years I have believed that ranking in Google search takes depth. One of the first articles I ever read about SEO was by Steve Pavlina. He wrote a 5000 word article explaining that SEO was simply creating good content. You do not need to worry about all the bells and whistles. You definitely don’t need to spend countless hours going out and seeking links. Over the course of my five year Internet Marketing career I have read thousands of articles about gaming the system to rank in Google search.
Every time I read one of these “expert” SEO articles I simply laugh. The SEO article written by Steve Pavlina is still the most meaningful to me. All the tricks that “gurus” use to game the system may work for a month, a year or possibly even a decade, but the cream will always rise to the top. It is very hard to create quality content without depth. Just this morning a friend of mine messaged me excited to announce that you can copy and past Instagram links. That is all fine and dandy but Instagram takes little to no effort. If you are hoping to gain reputability with Google an Instagram photo is not the way to go.
Sit down, take an hour or two to write 3500 words on your topic of expertise. Think of creative ways to enhance the content. By thinking outside the box you will be able to add great depth. This will cause readers will come back over and over to digest even more of the information. Any active Internet user has that article they continue to go back to because it has so much juicy content. Your goal should be to have multiple “juicy” articles on your website. If you can do this you will never have to hire an SEO agency or firm. Heck, you will dominate your niche and, most likely, won’t even know why.
My advice to anyone just starting in Internet Marketing is to learn to create content that has depth. If you struggle to write 300 words in one sitting you are going to greatly struggle to rank in Google search. Make the commitment to read more. Find an area of interest. The more interested you are the easier it will be to produce 5000 words or more. Writing at length is truly a lost art but that means there are opportunities for those that have this skill set.