The Best Article I’ve Read About Writing for the Web

At least, it’s the best article I’ve read in 2006. It’s by Mark Bernstein (not that Mark Bernstein), and I wish I’d written it. There are a few points I disagree with, but they’re well argued. It’s full of excellent advice:

If you don’t really care, don’t write. If you are a student and everybody is talking about exams and papers and you simply don’t care, let it be. If your job bores you, it will bore us. (If you despise your job with a rich, enduring passion, that’s another thing entirely!) Write for yourself; you are, in the end, your most important reader.

The only mistake Bernstein makes is an awkward and crass plug for his company’s product late in the piece:

New tools like Six Degrees and Eastgate’s Tinderbox can make it easier to keep track of categories, to find where new things fit and to find old things that need new links.

First, these tools aren’t new. Six Degrees has been out for four and a half years, and Tinderbox is roughly the same age (scroll down). (I totally missed that the article is four years old, sorry about that). Second, he references these tools like everybody’s heard of them. I’m guessing that eight or nine out of ten readers haven’t. I only know of Six Degrees because I know some people at Creo. I’d never heard of Tinderbox until I’d read this article.

Finally, and most importantly, he doesn’t indicate in situ that he’s the ‘chief scientist’ at Eastgate. Yes, it’s in his author’s bio, but only a fraction of readers get that far. Bernstein wants us to “write honestly”, but he hasn’t been honest enough himself.

Despite this misstep, it’s an excellent, readable piece, and I’d recommend it to bloggers, journalists, marketers and anybody else who writes for the web. Thanks to Karen for the pointer.

7 comments

  1. Darren:

    You’re right it is a good article. The #8.”Be Sexy” section was unanticipated, but I did laugh at the invitation to the discussion section at the bottom which said “Was it good for you too?” I wondered if the 2 were connected…….

  2. The article appears to be dated August 16, 2002. That would explain the discrepancy about “New”

  3. Jack: You’re absolutely right. I totally missed that. I went looking for where I originally found the article, and it was in a new blog entry. That led to my incorrect assumption that it was current.

  4. Good writing is showing not telling. It is hard to do and takes more time than glibly dashing off a piece filled with cliches and platitudes. You might want to read
    On Writing Well By William Zinesser.

  5. I wouldn’t call the Tinderbox reference a mistake, it’s just something that you happen to disagree with. In other words, his reference to what it provides is correct, but in your view, inappropriate. “Mistake” is too harsh.

    Unless, of course, you consider all views contrary to yours to be wrong.

    And yes, this is my opinion. I’m not labeling your mistake a mistake.

  6. Gordon: Thanks for that. Here’s the definition I found for mistake:

    “An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness.”

    I definitely meant “an error resulting from defective judgment”.

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