Coping with information overload

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Is your head exploding from all the “content” out there begging to be read? Top 5 this? 10 best that? 15 ways to (insert must-read topic here)? While more content on a topic is often helpful, there’s no doubt that information overload is a constant threat.

What about writing? Does the idea of writing or posting another “top 5″ or “10 best” article make you feel like you’re contributing to content overload instead of truly serving your reader?

Is there such a thing as content ennui?

Whenever content overload has me feeling overwhelmed or uninspired, I like to turn off the computer and grab a classic on writing, like William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. Dip into the book at any point and you’ll find ideas and inspiration.

Two tips for great content

Here’s Zinsser on two topics central to great content:

  • On addressing your audience: “You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.” Zinsser’s talking about nonfiction in general here, not content marketing. Still, he makes an interesting point. If we’re bored with our own content, chances are our readers will be, too.
  • On the importance of revision: “Rewriting is the essence of writing.” You’ve probably heard that one before, since it’s quoted so often. And with good reason. Most first drafts need lots and lots of work. Even if it’s just a simple “top 5″ list, we owe our readers clear, informative content that’s well thought out and meticulously edited. And that takes effort.

In Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition—a book Zinsser recommends we reread annually— White recalls Strunk’s sympathy for the reader, whom Strunk felt was “floundering in a swamp.”

Given that the swamp is now a tsunami, it’s more important than ever to write well. Classic books like these can show us how.

P.S. For more on Zinsser, visit his website.

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