E-News Survey Finds Original Content Shortfall and Brevity Glitches

By Howard Rauch

When it comes to e-news delivery, many articles don’t adhere to published recommendations pertaining to brevity and originality. I alluded to the brevity problem in my previous blog post. Now, with two e-news studies completed, there’s more evidence that room for improvement exists.

During the past month, I conducted two separate e-news studies. The first was a pilot project involving seven e-newsletters. Each newsletter carried blurbs for five or more top news articles. I followed each link – 46 in all – to the full article appearing on the website.

Each e-news item was judged against eight factors. I’ll provide details here on the four most critical considerations: high relevance, enterprise, lead value and average sentence length.

Regarding the first factor – high relevance – various degrees of relevance exist. News items exhibiting the “high” quality provide information that conveys an important benefit or threat. Of the 46 articles reviewed, 32 made the grade, 12 earned a “no” and another four were doubtful.

Enterprise reflects evidence of original writing as opposed to reshuffling a press release. Only three of the 46 articles involved extra digging.

Lead value indicates the number of words required to arrive at a key story point. Because website visitors reportedly are scanners, each article must corral their attention within the lead’s first 10 words. Thus . . . a lead falling within the -21 to -30 range wastes 20 or more introductory words. A -5 lead would be dynamite, especially if you could do it every time.

Among the 46 article leads reviewed, 27 stayed below -10. Another 12 were in the -11 to -20 range. The other seven were higher. As an aside, some feature article evaluations have encountered several cases of -100 leads or higher. How come? It’s those verbose opening anecdotes that invariably have difficulty connecting to the story focus.

Average sentence length traditionally is a high hurdle. In my sample group, only 16 articles had ASL of 20 words or lower. Another 12 fell into the 26-30 word range. Six more had discouraging ASL’s exceeding 30 words.

Most recently, I finished a more extensive study involving 67 websites. In this case, evaluations covered the top news story highlighted on each site’s e-newsletter connection. There was evidence of enterprise in only 10 cases. This study involved Fog Index calculations, where the preferred grade-level of writing falls into the 10-12 range. Over half of the articles reviewed could not meet the challenge. Several articles clearly ran amok, ending up with grade levels above 17.

Even articles that stayed within the 10-12 range reflected too high a preference for long sentences (25 words or more). The 67 articles reviewed collectively used 975 sentences. Of that number, 336 sentences – 34.5 percent – ran 30 words and beyond.

Obviously you can’t draw a hard conclusion about lack of merit based on one news item per website. However, the four factors used for review purposes are worth employing during your next website news section post-mortem.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B magazines. Rauch is the 2002 recipient of ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. You can contact him directly at howard@editsol.com.

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4 thoughts on “E-News Survey Finds Original Content Shortfall and Brevity Glitches

  1. Thanks, Howard — and good points.Can you provide a few links to newsletters (or even sites, feeds, messages, tweets, etc.) that you’d consider best practices to this regard? Thanks!

  2. To: T. StasiekFor openers, please check out my website: http://www.editsol.com. On the Editing Tips page, I just posted the first version of a scoring system I’ll be using for e-news competitive analysis purposes. If you give it a shot,let me know how it works out.Aside from that, I suggest you do what I did when I first started investigating website writing technique.I entered “writing for the web” on a few search engines; there’s all kinds of useful input if you have time to look through some of the sites listed.For example, suite101.com had a very good piece on how to use keywords, if that’s an area of concern.Frankly, I’ve read a lot of stuff about how writing for the web differs widely from writing for print. I don’t agree. Most of the principles stressed by the web gurus — original writing, relevance, brevity, etc — apply equally to print.Regards,Howard Rauch

  3. Thanks for the reply, Howard. I agree. But who out there is doing a good job at this? Who were the top performers in your survey?

  4. March 9, 2009 To: T. StasiekThanks for the additional response. There is a certain confidentiality involved with my web studies, so I’m not inclined to reveal who did well and who didn’t.If you want that answer, subscribe to a bunch of e-newsletters, then read the full articles the blurbs link to.The other thought is that the companies with dedicated web editors are in a better position to deliver a regular menu of e-news exclusives.Regards,Howard R.

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