My team here at Convio has started getting more and more invested in content strategy, and to be honest, I’m totally geeking out. As a technical communications major, I’ve always had a particular propensity for all things regimented about writing. I can’t help it.
I already was following RSS and Twitter feeds associated with grammar and writing, but I’m always on the hunt for more. Recently, I’ve become a big fan of the Word Spy site, or, more accurately the Word Spy twitter feed, which highlights new words and phrases (e.g., email apnea and nontroversy). As such am constantly on the prowl for new words and phrases.
So, you can imagine my utter delight when I stumbled across this phrase as I was reading an entry on Wikipedia: “This paragraph may contain unsourced peacock terms that merely promote the subject without imparting verifiable information.”
I can’t say I know the root origin for the word “unsourced”, but I was more immediately intrigued by the concept of peacock terms. Essentially these are adjectives or prepositional phrases that don’t really have any facts associated with them, but are added simply to be promotional. Examples of these include phrases like among the greatest, the most influential, and the most important.
Certainly there are some times when these are necessary or warranted (something can be the longest, the largest, or the finest), but this guideline is telling Wikipedia content contributors to focus on two core principles of content creation: know your audience and focus on your message. The point of adding information to Wikipedia is to give information seekers more information. Adding irrelevant words and phrases disregards these two characteristics, thereby weakening the information and defeating the purpose of Wikipedia.
Without arguing the merits of all Wikipedia articles as fact (see wikiality), I have to applaud a guideline that says that even though anyone can be a content contributor, there have to be rules in place in order to maintain the effectiveness of the site.
How many organizations and businesses can say that they have guidelines like this? I could rattle off a long list of websites that use a lot of words but don’t offer lot of content. These organizations have lost sight of who they are writing for and what they are trying to convey, and their websites are weaker for it.
Maintaining focus when you write content can be difficult, but losing focus on who the audience is for the content and why they are coming to your site can be detrimental to your mission. Take a cue from Wikipedia on this one, and check out your content. If you notice more conjecture than fact, it may be time to implement the peacock term rule and start trimming away some of the showy feathers.