CT No. 26: The only web writing technique you really need

Identify the sensation and name it.

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This April I’m speaking at ContentTech, the software- and innovation-focused conference from Content Marketing Institute. I’ll be speaking about customizing your content tech stack for your team: huzzah!

The conference runs from April 20-22 in sunny San Diego, which sounds positively brilliant on this -5 degree Minneapolis day.

We can hang out and I’ll buy you a drink. Along with your free drink from me, you can get $100 off your registration with the code CARVER100. Early bird rates go until February 14.

Another type of workout: The top web writing tip for 2020

Like many of you, I work out to get away. I get my heart rate up, move muscles, lift heavy things, hit the ground with sticks, squats, lunges. They’re routines I’ve learned over time, bolstered by really loud pop music, always. Going to the gym allows me to reset.

Those workouts make me focus on my body and sweat and stamina and burning and pushing. In those workouts I forget the life of the mind (aka sitting in front of a computer all day).

Me, to my brain, mid kettlebell swing.

For about 18 months I’ve complemented those workouts with occasional yin yoga sessions. I stumbled upon yin quite fortuitously during some gym experimenting. Yoga, sure! People love it. I entered the class thinking I was going to learn another sun salutation. Instead I let the sounds of waves, gongs, and the dulcet vocals of Cheryl, the instructor, absorb me as I twisted my spine along the floor, thinking about how deliciously luxurious I felt, wondering how I would escape without pain if some kid suddenly rang the fire alarm and I had to sprint to the door.

Yin yoga is slow. You hold positions for five minutes or more. The focus is strengthening fasciae, or connective tissues. In yin, you “value a dull sensation,” as Cheryl says. There’s no room for comparison to others. It’s just your body and your mind and the teacher’s guidance.

I became addicted to the spinal twists, the forced and needed calm, the surrender to the position. Also, yin drastically alleviated my burgeoning back pain from my sedentary lifestyle. Now during Yin sessions, I elongate and I dissolve. I have a conversation with my body. My body and my mind collaborate.

My favorite yin teachers use this advice: while you’re breathing, scan your body. Identify what you are feeling, the location, the shape of it. Give it a name.

That’s called a swan pose, but my name for it is “being long is refreshing.”

Maintaining stillness for five minutes in any position that’s not “at a desk typing” is incredibly difficuly for me. (I have a lot of energy.) Paying attention to sensations in my body long enough to identify, define them, and name them was revolutionary. Five minutes in a spinal twist is a long time. Now I consider those twists next to necessary for sanity maintenance. I understand how long, strange movements affect my feelings and emotions. I take the time to sort the difference between feelings and emotions. The vocabulary of my body is more precise.

Yin connects the corporeal to the life of the mind. Identify the sensation in your body. Use your intellect to give it a name.

WTF, how does this connect to web writing?

Naming anything is a risk. What if you use the wrong word? What if someone questions your name? What if your name takes on a life of its own? Many content creators shirk from those risks, from fear or lack of time.

Writers avoid naming with phrases like “there is” or “there are.” Cliches and prepositions and conjunctions that lack specificity. Here, there, everywhere, everyone. Is, can, be. Very, just. Perhaps it. Idioms. Pronouns. This and that. Each, more, less. The royal “we.” Optimize, synergize, engagement, innovation, leverage, utilize, learnings. All of these. Pretty much. Something for everyone. Language without precision is jargon.

Morla from The Neverending Story is the jargon monster.

So your number one web writing tip is: use precise nouns and verbs.

The number two web writing tip is: Use your audience’s precise nouns and verbs. Do research to figure out what those nouns and verbs are.

Use the signifiers that mean something. Only connect.

Understanding connotation and context for precise nouns and verbs means that you, the creator, have to work to clarify what you are saying and why. But that precision of language is worth the risk. Turns out it’s also great for SEO because precise nouns and verbs are what make your search queries and entities visible in search results.

Move slowly. Hold the position. Identify the sensation and name it.

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Be your own content algorithm: MaxQDA review

This tool’s for the researchers, the interviewers, the collectors, the ethnographers and the meta-analyzers. Do you want to turn your large qualitative content dataset and want to transform it into quantitative data? MaxQDA’s got your number.

MaxQDA lets researchers apply custom metadata and codes to large content datasets, such as interview transcripts, PDFs, tables, Tweets, web data, structured data, piles of words that you have no hope of sorting without a computer. It’s desktop-only software — nopers, no cloud anywhere — so you know it’s for very serious researchers. (Also, wow, I forget about the quickness of desktop-only software. If I were dealing this much data I would be into this kind of speed.)

MaxQDA’s sample dataset from their free 14-day trial is quite robust and displays a strong use case for what users can manually code or find and replace.

With MaxQDA, users can quickly append metadata and margin notes to large amounts of text. Define your own code systems, add them to text, then export that metadata to statistical analysis tools like SaS. Append “memos” or comments to content as notes, rather than as the comment conversations that are super helpful in track changes/Google Docs, but not so much for researchers.

I would have loved a tool like this back when I was manually sifting through blog posts and interview transcripts for my master’s thesis. (Ten years ago we had to apply our metadata by hand with pencils on print outs of blog posts. I hand-wrote notes on print outs of blog posts and then never referenced half of them again! Think of the better data I would have gotten if I’d had more flexible methods of organizing and assessing taxonomies! Think of all the time I wasted writing on paper when I could have been… probably at a bar, because I was 25 and kindof a late bloomer. Anywho our automated present is much slicker.)

The functionality reminded me of Adobe Premiere (the video editing tool) but for text datasets. Assess many types of content, mark ’em up and combined into one program that can organize them into some sort of code/narrative story applied to disparate formats. You can share the markup files with other research teammates if needed.

MaxQDA at a glance

I tested MaxQDA by analyzing my folder of “PDFs to read,” containing all the marketing lead gen ebooks I downloaded but never bothered to open.* The program scanned and imported all the contents in about 20 seconds (desktop software! what a concept!).

I decided to check out the context of how these whitepapers used “analytics” and “metrics,” with the five words before and after throughout with the Keyword-in-Context feature (one of the add-ons available in MaxQDA Plus and MaxQDA Analytics. The tool spit out a nice jargon analysis!

Other features include identifying word frequencies, statistical analysis on applied metadata, side-by-side display of marked-up content. Conduct an automated similarity analysis. Create your code systems. Export your code system. Complete some multivariate analysis on your code system. And of course you can make a fuckin’ word cloud. It’s a metadata nerd’s dream.

MaxQDA can intake many data formats, including SurveyMonkey data. It integrates with common academic tools, like Mandeley and Endnote.

It’s not the cheapest software in the world, so I’d recommend MaxQDA for the following types of content projects:

  • Academic or book-length research that requires a user to understand large amounts of content

  • UX, market research or ethnographic research with more than 50 transcripts

  • Anyone who wants to conduct some meta-analysis of large amounts of web, Tweet or YouTube content.

  • Understanding the content of YouTube comments, Twitter feeds, or other troll and bot cesspools

  • Cleaning up a content archive or database

  • Applying a new taxonomy or content hierarchy to 200+ documents or pieces of content

So yeah: this tool is for projects with lots of content or lots of metadata. It’s for organizing big content. But it might be perfect for your next ambitious project. It’s the new year, after all.

*Put your articles on the web if you want the digitally savvy to read them. Let’s get rid of PDFs this decade, please.

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