Four lessons from Wikipedia on writing with credibility

by David King on Sep 18, 2012

Many Wikipedians have strong opinions about language.

We strive to use neutral language, but are choked by the impossibility of the task. “Claimed” implies doubt, “stated” implies officiousness, “said” implies the message was spoken.

Neutrality is an impossible objective, when even the most basic statement is filled with innuendo.

Wikipedia and its choice of words can teach us a lot about writing credibly.

Wikipedia has no credibility, but individual articles that are of high-quality do. Self-written brand pages on Wikipedia are often dismissed by readers, not because of who wrote them, but because of how they are written.

Even Wikipedia itself recognizes the quality of content as one of its three criterion for establishing how trustworthy a source is.

In public relations we try to get influencers to repeat our words, because those influencers are deemed credible as an author. Now that the publishing model has shifted, we need to focus on being credible ourselves. This means changing how we choose our words.

There are at least four things we can learn from Wikipedia about writing credibly:

1. Use less common words

In philosophy they teach us that the more a word is used, the less it means. When competitors all use the same words, prospects are drowned and products are indistinguishable. Find words your competitors have not discovered yet.

2. Tone down the marketing-speak

On Wikipedia solutions are mixtures dissolved in water, not products.

3. Defend your adjectives and evaluative phrases

Strong evaluative phrases require strong, authoritative sources on Wikipedia. We need to bring the same credibility with defensible bias to how we market our products.

4. Be informative

Our chief objective on Wikipedia is to be “informative.” This style is underrated in the modern marketing mix. In a competition against infotainment news and building a personal connection through social media, informative is a less popular, but more serious style of writing.

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David King is the founder of Ethical Wiki, a professional services organization that helps companies improve Wikipedia ethically by offering content, requesting corrections and discussing controversies. Learn more at ethicalwiki.com or read our eBook on Wikipedia & marketing....

  • http://twitter.com/LeftofLeftField David Farrell

    The section in Strunk & White’s ‘Elements of Style’ re: writing tips, remains to this day, the best advice on writing across-the-board.