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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news

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  • Content-free prose: The latest threat to writing or the next big thing?

Comments Jun 25, 2011 11:51 pm

I don't know that this will be the end of writing as we know it--except in the sense that it will expand the scope of purposes we can pursue through what we call writing. Each new thing doesn't displace the whole thing. Let's think of it as a kind of enrichment of the possibilities of writing. The people who do it should also be very good at writing essays to be scored by machines.

Reply to at 11:51 pm Jun 26, 2011 2:00 pm

I'm posting this comment sent in by "name withheld":It just occurred to me that I'm part of this!For a couple of months now, in the total absence of any other work and the pesky insistence of our landlord that we pay our rent, I've been writing some owner reviews' for a consumer website startup (which will remain nameless). I've been instructed just to aggregate other genuine owner reviews from other sites, into more substantial, more readable reviews. The whole thing is just designed to drive up the visitor traffic for this website. I justify this to myself (!) on the basis that ultimately the information is based on real people's experiences, and nobody is paying to access what I write.Meanwhile, however, I've registered for a few freelancing websites where I have seen a lot of recruiting for exactly the kind of really shady work mentioned in your article. I don't go in for any of that stuff myself, thankfully I've been able to exercise some kinds of moral standards, but there is a lot of it out there. I've also managed to steer clear of writing people's undergraduate essays/presentations for them, but there's a whole load of that being recruited for too.Two of my friends are doing these owner reviews too, and one is in the essay mill. Both of them, like me, are looking to work from home due to ill health, while also failing to find any other appropriate work 'in the current climate', argh... hate that phrase.Not really sure where I'm going with any of this... I'm certainly not spoiling for an argument! Your article makes a lot of good points. I'm just musing on a theme, with some personal experience. Another thing: I can say that there certainly are a lot of 'courses' out there, of varying levels of genuineness, teaching how to write for the internet in that way. The high-end, professionalised form of this is 'search engine optimisation', basically writing web copy (and also coding the back end of websites that search engines also sniff around) to maximise the likelihood of your page getting high up the search results. That is a big industry in itself. Here's a great article by one of my favourite satirists on the subject:

Reply to at 2:00 pm Aug 6, 2011 7:14 pm

As someone who tutors and studies the English language, I have noticed a disturbing trend amongst modern writers, whether they're lay or students, and that is plagirism and poor grammar/spelling. This problem has been developing for sometime, and I feel it is a direct reflection of our growing dependence on software to tell us how to spell, how to write, and even how to generate documents without taking the time to actually learn how to do it on our own. I can't begin to tell you how many students have balked at the idea of using a dictionary or thesaurus, even though both are online, because "the computer does it anyway". Not to mention the use of text language, and advertisement spelling such as "lite", "tonite", and others that they are referencing from pop culture in order to build their vocabulary.Therefore, in my mind, this degredation of prose is a symptom, the cause is the increasing reliance upon computers to do our writing, and thinking, for us. If we want people to learn how to spell or write, at a competent level, then we need to curtail the use of software that frees a person from taking the time to figure out if the correct spelling for a phrase is "c u" or "see you", and whether or not they need to use a pronoun, adjective, verb,or adverb in order to properly convey their train of thought.Just my two cents.RJK

Reply to at 7:14 pm