Is 'formulaic' writing such a bad thing?

On the heels of our member Webinar on the topic of "quality content," I heard about a recent blog post by Gerry McGovern, a UK-based firm which specializes in Web content. Shel Holz from "For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holz Report" of one of my favorite podcasts, read Gerry's post in it's entirety during a recent episode (# 277) - (Note: FIR is a superb podcast...tons or great content).

Gerry's post, titled "Time for content to become more scientific," challenges writers who answer to organizational managers. I encourage you to read his post, excerpted here:

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.

He goes on to say:

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.

Gerry makes several compelling points here: writers of all sorts do use formulas. Formulas can make for consistently good and effective writing. Here are a few we all see and use quite regularly:

Poets have elevated formulas or rhyme schemes to high art: abab, sonnets, pantoums, haiku. As my colleague Heath points out, formulas are efficient and they're mostly unconsciously embedded in people's brains such that they expect content to be delivered in a certain way.

For some reason, perhaps a (somewhat ironic) desire to classified among the artistic over the industrial, writers may deny the measurability and repeatability which a formulaic approach to writing affords. Perhaps it's the prospect of being judged by marketing metrics (page views, clicks, conversions, downloads, leads, sales), I'm not sure. I'm more certain that many organizations don't produce sufficiently good content, or enough of it to satisfy the demand of their marketing goals.

Over half of our Webinar participants responded to a poll stating that their organization struggles with creating good content.

As we stated in a previous post, we take the stand that the ability to develop quality content is the most critical marketing capability a B2B company needs to master. Your products and/or services must deliver value to your customers. Your content must deliver value to everyone else as part of the process of winning new customers. It's the raw material of marketing and PR.

Odds are that quality content is undervalued in your organization.

Posted by Jonathan Goodman

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