Time for Content to Become More Scientific

by Gerry McGovern

Originally published on the New Thinking blog on September 14, 2007.

Senior managers don’t take content seriously because people who write content don’t come across as being serious. If content professionals want more respect, they need to present content as a science, not an art.

I have spent most of my adult life writing content, or else advising people on how best to write and manage it. I have found it very hard to get senior managers to take content seriously.

Most senior managers simply don’t see the value of quality content. Sure, they don’t want their organizations to publish poor quality content. However, they are wary about really investing in content. Where professional writers are employed, it is expected that their salary will be modest. Why?

Part of the reason is that as writers we are often too precious about our trade. We are loath to admit that there are formulas. In fact, to say that writing is formulaic is a criticism, not a complement.

You wouldn’t criticise a headache tablet for being formulaic, would you? Let’s face it, most of us live in formulaic houses, drive formulaic cars, use formulaic computers, eat formulaic food, wear formulaic clothes, listen to formulaic music, watch formulaic movies, and read formulaic newspapers and books.

When a writer says to a manager that there is no right way to write a heading or summary, that doesn’t impress the manager. When a writer says to a manager that you can’t really judge the impact of a particular piece of content, that doesn’t impress the manager.

Managers must manage. To manage, you must be able to measure. That which can’t be measured, can’t be managed. Managers love formulas. They love systematic ways of doing things. Laws and regulations are formulas, and it would be impossible for societies to function without them. So why can’t content have formulas?

Some writers think that if their writing is shown to be formulaic, they will be valued less. Some writers have a fear of the quality of their writing being determined by its impact. Some writers look at writing as an expression of who they are, and that being able to write however they want is some sort of fundamental human right.

I’ve heard vigorous arguments over the years about website classification. I’ve heard people claim that everyone is different, that there is no ‘right’ way to classify something, and that to seek order and hierarchy for a website is somehow undemocratic and contrary to what the founding fathers, mothers and grandchildren would want.

I’m all for formulaic writing. I love hierarchies and classification. I’m all for measuring content. There is a ‘right’ way to write content. Sure, it may not be the ‘perfect’ way, it may not be the way Shakespeare or Joyce would have written it, but it’ll do. It’ll get results and deliver value. A production line can be set up where this content can be mass produced, tested, and measured.

Get that production line going, and I guarantee you, you will get the attention and respect of senior management. You’ll also get paid a lot more.

About the Author

Gerry McGovern has published five books about the need for customer-centricity in the online world. His last book, The Stranger’s Long Neck, helps you identify and measure top tasks. He used to be a rock journalist, interviewing the likes of Lou Reed and Nick Cave. His weekly newsletter was recently shortlisted for a Webby.

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