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David Lee King

Librarians were trained to Write the Wrong Way



Just thinking about writing for the web. My writing developed this way: I went to school, and learned to write academic papers and speeches. Ok, I also took some poetry and creative writing type classes. And a couple of journalism classes so I learned the inverted pyramid thing.

But other than that, it was pretty much formal academic-type papers. I also learned highly useful stuff … like how to graph out a sentence to discover proper sentence structure. Yikes.

I learned to write in a way that required citations and quotations, which I refined in grad school (I even used one of my class papers as my first official published article). Then the web hit, and I had to learn to write in a new way.

So now, I work hard at writing like I speak. I try to “write it like I say it.” For some people, actually reading what they just wrote out loud can help develop that voice.

Why work at this? Because that type of writing is conversational, social writing. And that’s the type of writing we want on the web – especially in places we are looking for conversations (think blogs or social media spaces).

We are now writing out our conversations, and asking our patrons to respond. To continue the conversation.

How are you learning to write for the web? Have any resources to share?

pic by vial3tt3rs

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://moonflowerdragon.blogspot.com Moonflowerdragon

    Considering the title of your post, would it be your suggestion that librarians ought to be trained to write for the web *and not* or at least *and less* for academic papers?

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Yes – very much so! I suppose I’d be ok with the “and less” version of that.
    But if an MLS program is supposed to train librarians to work in libraries
    … which will you be doing more of – writing academic papers, or writing
    help guides, blog posts, Facebook status updates, or descriptions of your
    services?

    If you’re an academic library, and tenure is part of the deal, then you’ll
    probably be doing some of both. But if you’re a public or special librarian?
    You probably need to learn to write for the web.

    My guess, anyway.

  • http://profiles.google.com/elizabethannechase Elizabeth Chase

    This came through on the Library Link of the Day listserv recently:
    “Teaching to the Text Message” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/opinion/20selsberg.html

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    That’s a great article – thanks for sharing it!

  • http://twitter.com/jjackunrau J Unrau

    In our LIS program there’s definitely a shying away from traditional academic papers. We’re writing policy documents as wikis, disaster-planning documents, blog-posts, booktalks and lesson-plans to name a few from this semester. I feel like there are some courses that lend themselves to academic papers, but most of them don’t, even though our faculty is pretty research-focused.

  • Wil Peters

    That is an inspirational article. Thanks !

  • Wil Peters

    Thanks, David. This is good–it makes me think, re-think. Conversation implies the willingness to listen and to be receptive to the other’s experience.

    The NYTimes article (exciting !) “Teaching to the Text Message,” stimulates me to rethink how I have composed my LibGuide tutorials on our webpage. Also how I talk to students in our library or on our webpage (LibGuide) about resources.

    This is all good. Learning to write concisely, to be “economical and innovative with language,” is all part of allowing the library experience to evolve. It’s about engaging creativiely with patrons and with each other.

  • Greg Schwartz

    I’ve always written with what Walt Crawford would call “strong voice.” I just can’t help it. I’ve always thought it was probably seen as a weakness from a writer’s perspective, but I’m basically talking to myself as I type. It’s a few milliseconds and punctuation marks removed from stream of consciousness.

  • Cwood

    I used a zen strategy in submitting my ala grant app today. I’ll just have to wait and see how the “in the moment writing style” is received. It was fun using different fonts and links to demonstrate how far printing has come since the early days of the King James Bible. All they can say is no, right?

  • Meryl McCay

    There’s a great book written by Ginny Redish called “Letting go of the words : writing web content that works”. Check it out at http://www.redish.net/writingfortheweb/index.php/about-the-book.

  • Erin Seeger

    This post is one of the many reasons I read your blog on a weekly basis. Thank you for sharing this thought!

  • Evelyn Shapiro

    I just checked this out through inter-library loan! It looks terrific.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    You are welcome!

  • http://variegatedstacks.wordpress.com/ Variegatedstacks

    You absolutely nailed this post!!!! I think this is the one reason why blogs die before they have a chance to flourish. I originally created a blog because I saw so many blogs that I wanted to contribute to. Often times, I think that in MLS school, the learning outcome/model are blurry. The expectation levels from faculty do not match the needs/learning environment from the various library-type jobs after the earned MLS. It doesn’t surprise me that there is a large learning curve for many entry level positions or that new MLS holders are fighting to find employment. Perhaps we need to continue to raise our voices as current students to be active participants in re-constructing MLS curriculum. Isn’t the whole point for our profession to stay relevant, teach, provide resources, stay technologically knowledgeable. I wonder how radical it would be to create a week-long MLS institute Unconference which focuses on MLS curriculum specifically?

  • http://variegatedstacks.wordpress.com/ Variegatedstacks

    You absolutely nailed this post!!!! I think this is the one reason why blogs die before they have a chance to flourish. I originally created a blog because I saw so many blogs that I wanted to contribute to. Often times, I think that in MLS school, the learning outcome/model are blurry. The expectation levels from faculty do not match the needs/learning environment from the various library-type jobs after the earned MLS. It doesn’t surprise me that there is a large learning curve for many entry level positions or that new MLS holders are fighting to find employment. Perhaps we need to continue to raise our voices as current students to be active participants in re-constructing MLS curriculum. Isn’t the whole point for our profession to stay relevant, teach, provide resources, stay technologically knowledgeable. I wonder how radical it would be to create a week-long MLS institute Unconference which focuses on MLS curriculum specifically?

  • http://www.logixml.com/libraryinsight Will Marlow

    Very well said. I would add that, if the goal is to keep readers engaged, another important skill is to learn to weave photographs (or other images) naturally throughout your writing. You obviously understand this, but a lot of people who are new to writing for the Web don’t realize the importance of using images to make their pages friendlier to readers…

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Definitely – great point. I often use images to illustrate the point – these
    days, that’s good blogging practice.

  • Pingback: Writing for the Social Network - Things of interest to a medical librarian. - Krafty Librarian

  • Guest Librarian

    I think this might go both ways. I supervise some staff members who aren’t able to write formal reports for the library and administration because their writing is too conversational and they do not format the documents well, nor do they proof read for grammar. When I then try to suggest changes they become resentful and defensive. Writing socially is fine for the Web and social media but formal writing still has its place.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Guest Librarian – most definitely. I’m talking about customer-facing
    conversational writing. Those defensive staffers – I’d tell them to get over
    themselves. I’ve written for publication quite a bit, and here’s the deal -
    once you turn it in, it’s no longer yours. The editor makes it fit their
    organization’s format, styleguide, etc. They might not like the way you
    phrased something, and will change it. If you throw a fit over it, they
    probably won’t invite you back.

    It’s the same with internal documents – the goal is to report info or
    results, or convince the board about a new project. Not to be un-edited.

  • Heather Ganshorn

    I did my undergraduate degree all the time, and I’ve often commented that a lot of librarians are bad writers. And I don’t mean poor spelling and grammar (though I do see more of that than I’d like from people who are supposed to be bookish). I mean their writing is ponderous and verbose. They don’t consider their audience: what that audience knows, doesn’t know, wants to/doesn’t want to know. And I think the problem goes way beyond “how to write for the web.” It manifests itself in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink instruction sessions, tedious instructional handouts, and poorly worded marketing materials and reports. Very few librarians know how to communicate a message well to non-librarian audiences.

  • Heather

    Oops, sorry – poor editing on my part. How embarrassing! I meant to say, I did my undergraduate degree in journalism and communications.

  • http://www.softagenda.net/microsoft-office-2010-c-1.html Azebra111

    Thanks for sharing.