Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What Blogging Is Ruining Now, Pt. 2: Writing.

When I was at the Ben McConnell lecture, I was sitting with a bunch of KSU folks. The lunch discussion alone gave me ideas for three or four posts, which I look forward to writing if I ever find the time.

Among other things, I learned about Tough Sledding, a blog run by Bill Sledzik a PR prof at KSU and apparently quite popular in the PR community. I checked it out and will continue to do so. In addition to opening a window into a world about which I know little, the blog is well written, entertaining and hosts a community of smart commenters.

And as so often happens, I’m writing it up now because the author has said something with which I disagree. In post last week that has apparently lost him friends, Prof. Sledzik wonders if blogging is ruining good writing. He notes the abundance of grammatical and typographical errors in blogs written by his students as well as those posted online and frets about the demise of writing.

Because this argument touches the same nerve as mainstream media outlet complaining about losing traffic to online sites, I’m introducing the blog by arguing with it. And arguing with a week-old post to boot.

Admittedly, he’s right that blogging puts a premium on speed and volume. Want to be the first up with a post? Jump on the issue as soon as you get the press release. Want to increase traffic? Post more often.

Want to have a life besides blogging? Don’t spend too much time proofreading.

So he’s right that sometimes bloggers sacrifice formal correctness. He’s wrong to conclude that blogging dooms good writing. Blogs encourage good writing because they encourage writing.

Let’s step back a bit. The most important aspects of good writing are clarity and readability. Good writing accurately conveys the point the author actually wants to make and does so in a way that’s easy to read. Grammar is often, but not always, an important element in clarity and readability, but not always. Similarly, typos can hurt the readability and change the meaning of a sentence sometimes, but not always. In other words, the most important aspects of good writing are not excruciatingly correct grammar or perfect typing.

What’s more, because blogs are self-correcting, a successful blogger’s readers will constantly challenged him to improve his writing. When I look over a piece before hitting publish, I’m asking “Does this say what I mean? Will it be misinterpreted? Can I make the argument stronger? Does it read well? Can I shorten it?” (Frequent readers will be surprised by that last one, but yes, I really do ask it.)

When I make a point that’s not clear, I hear about it immediately. In the post previous, I mentioned how intensely I dislike my argument being misrepresented. At least half the time I am at least partly to blame for misinterpretation. But I’m getting better and am doing so because of the instant feedback I get when blogging.

So blogging strengthens a good writer’s skills. And with 62 million blogs and counting (according to McConnell) certainly, more people are writing now than would be without blogs. I certainly write more now than I ever did, and I’ve always written. Whether doing motion practice when I was a lawyer or writing newsletter articles as a volunteer, writing has always been an important part of my vocation and avocations. But nothing compares to running a blog for

Years ago the author Alex Haley spoke at my college. Among other things, he talked about being a writer. He was the first to tell me what others have said since – if you want to be a good writer, write. There are books and classes and such, but they all tell you the same thing – write. With all this writing happening

MSM types worrying about blogs make the same essential mistake that Prof. Sledzik makes. News consumption isn’t declining because of blogs, it’s declining because people don’t read – they watch TV, they play video games or they simply try to keep up with their increasingly demanding work lives. The same with writing. Life in the twenty-first century throws all manner of distractions at people that discourage them from honing writing skills. Blogs do the opposite. Typos and all.

4 comments:

Jill said...

Yup.

ohdave said...

I really agree with you here, and I can point to several examples of really fine writing on the web, led by Digby and Pierre Tristam. Admittedly, there is a lot of bad out there also, but I think in any large creative market you will get a lot of junk. We have a lot of bad movies, books, TV shows, and music out in the American marketplace, and it's just a big market with wide ranges of quality. Same with blogging. 50 million blogs... a lot are going to be bad. But to suggest that it's ruining writing, well, that's simplistic.

In fact I think the blogs, as lots of people have noted, serve as a quality control for the mainstream media. In that sense it is improving the quality of writing.

Thanks for the tip; I'll be checking out his site.

redhorse said...

The problem with writing on blogs is not the writing per se, but the low entry bar.

When a bad writer wants to start blogging, it takes him/her about 5 minutes effort at Blogger. Viola, instant bad writing by the bushel.

[Kafka would be proud: the gatekeeper is gone.]

The quality of writing I see in blogs varies little from the quality I see in my students and even colleagues. In other words, blog writers are representative of writers in general.

Bill Sledzik said...

Great points, all, Pho. And clearly you are not among the language-challenged bloggers I reference. My rant on writing serves two purposes.

1) I'm a writing coach, and too many of my "team" members don't follow basic rules of language unless I beat them into submission. And I do. My students are headed into professional positions where precise usage is absolutely critical, unlike the blogosphere. In fact, our grads often take on the role of "grammar cop" in the offices there they go to work. That's "value added," to use the marketing cliche.

2) People will read good writing, and be put off by bad. Research is clear on this. But you are dead-nuts on when you say that good writing (or at least good communication) isn't dependent on some anal-retentive adherence to the rules. In my blog, I break those rules all the time, but I do so deliberately. Plenty of good writers don't get commas or quotation markets.

The other tough thing about blogging is that it's self-edited. It's hard to catch your own errors, since you often have internalized them.

Glad we connected. I'll put you on my feeder and try to keep up. I know only handful of local bloggers at this point. And if most of them like beer, we can start meeting F2F.