The business of writing

Using and abusing technical words   Recently updated !

Good writers use words precisely. We know that we may lose things if we loose them. We know it’s a sad and messy occasion when someone literally explodes. Technical terms can be trickier to get right. They have complex definitions which not everyone understands. But they’re precise definitions, and it’s a shame to throw that precision away. Sometimes, too, people use those words to appear precise when they aren’t. That’s just another kind of imprecision. Let’s look at a few ways writers fall short of the accuracy which tech talk ought to have.

The tyranny of SEO

A huge amount of the text on the Web is written more to satisfy Google than to please or persuade readers. The name of this game is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. Websites maintain blogs not to inform, but to get in keywords that will improve their search ranking. There are sites that have blogs for no reason except to improve their search ranking. Writers make money from this — or at least they will till AI does it better. (Having machines create text to please other machines seems entirely appropriate.)

There is software to enhance SEO, analyzing pages and suggesting keywords to add. At the same time, Google’s software includes tests to detect keyword stuffing, repeating phrases incessantly for their own sake. I’d give an example, but that would hurt my search engine rank. :) There are WordPress plugins dedicated entirely to SEO. It drives trends, sometimes in a good way; people who wouldn’t add HTTPS support for security reasons will add it to get a slight boost in search rank.

Don’t be an accidental plagiarist

In the strange world of “content creation,” freelance writers often see requests to “rewrite this article” or “write an article similar to this one,” with a link to an article that the customer didn’t create and doesn’t own. They border on requests for plagiarism and sometimes step over the line. Is this a request you can fulfill in good conscience?

I’m going to skip over the issues of legal liability here. That’s for lawyers. Whether you get sued or blacklisted or not, plagiarism is appropriating the work of other writers to make money for yourself. It’s wrong.