Why Writing Well Matters (Even When You Give Away a Free Product)

Career Management

time to plan and write

Many organizations and personal bloggers share free content that you can download from their websites if you’re willing to share some basic contact information. I like this model of content development and sharing. I often sign up with my email address and some information about my company, industry, and interests to download content. However, I’ve noticed that not all content is created equal. I imagine many people would say I shouldn’t complain if free content isn’t that good. But I believe it should still be of high quality, not only for the fact that I don’t want to waste my time reading something that is hard to understand or provides little value but also because I know the developers are actually doing themselves a disservice.

The information in a free ebook might be valid and fairly useful; however, if it’s full of typos and misuses of words, or the design makes it hard to follow, the author(s) lose credibility and trust, which is likely not going to win them loyal customers and high sales volume over time. I’m not talking about one or two minor errors. I could get over that. We’re all human. I make mistakes, too.

If the author didn’t care enough to proofread, yet this is the author’s “sales pitch” or “can’t miss giveaway” that’s supposed to make me want to hire the author in the future, it’s ultimately a fail for me. I don’t want to work with people who rush and don’t send their best work out the door. If that’s the level of commitment to their own stuff, why would they work harder or better for me?

Am I being too harsh on writing and design quality? I don’t think so. Writing isn’t everyone’s best subject, and that’s OK. But, it’s so easy to use spelling and grammar checks that catch several errors. It’s so easy to look up the meaning of words and sayings–you can Google everything. It’s even easy to ask your friend, co-worker, or even someone online to proofread and edit your work. A special tip that I use: if I’m confused about how to use a particular part of speech or clause, I just rewrite the sentence using a different word or construction! That level of commitment shows that you not only care about the messages you’re writing but the package they’re in. I’m not talking about perfect sentence construction based on strict (or outdated) grammar rules. I end sentences with prepositions all the time. I’m also not suggesting that materials need to be formal or salesy or stiff. Posts like this one tend to be conversational, and I think that’s easier to follow and more fitting to our style around here.

Here’s a different way of looking at it. If I’m going to write about a topic I’m not an expert in, such as golf, I’m going to research and write and check my facts before I publish. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone on the subject matter, so I’m going to do my best to make sure it’s correct. A golf expert who writes an article should be equally concerned with how it’s written, guaranteeing that the words and punctuation are correct and that the article flows well for the reader. We all have strengths and we all have areas to improve to create our best work overall.

The moral of the story (not morale!) is that we should all do everything to the best of our ability, even when what we offer is free. Otherwise, why do it at all?

If you’re still not convinced that writing matters, check out this article on LinkedIn by Dave Kerpen, an author, speaker, and CEO. The comments beneath the article offer some insight into how others feel about writing, too. He explains that you need to write well to be taken seriously. He also provides some helpful tips for developing these writing skills. One tip that really helps me is to read what I’ve written out loud. I can read words quickly—the more familiar I am with my own work, the less I tend to catch how weird it sounds. When I speak the words out loud, I catch inconsistencies and problem areas. Then I can revise.

Just for fun, what words or styles confuse you? What irks you about other people’s writing. Any examples that made you take someone less seriously?