"Write" (no) "Me" (no) "a Web Page" (no): all business writing is content

Business writing has changed into something unrecognisable: content. The ironic book title Write me a web page, Elsie! reflects a 20th century viewpoint and a world that has gone forever.

The manager who says, Write me a web page, Elsie! has no concept of the nature of the internet. As content strategy, Write me a web page is disastrous. It generates ROT, it undermines information architecture, it ignores accessibility, it stomps on customer service.

Write? Wrong word. Staff don't just write stuff. They record video and audio, they create forms, they do business with forms and apps, they get involved with customers through Twitter and Facebook, they upload photos. They do their daily work on the internet or intranet, some of which is writing.

Me? Wrong again. If you create content at work, you had better not regard yourself as addressing your boss. And you should not be writing what that kind of boss wants to read. You are addressing a particular audience, who will expect to promptly answer back and tell the world exactly what they think.

A web page? Wrong again. The boss assumes the content will be popped in a single place and appear as a web page on a computer. But the identical content will be viewed on mobile phones and tablets—whether you like it or not. Millions of people can access the internet only through a mobile phone, and their number is growing. They never use a laptop or a desk computer.

And what is a web page, anyway? It's not what you see on a tidy single screenshot. It includes metadata, words, photos, video, audio, forms, transaction apps, help messages, and every PDF or other document that people might download from the web.

The world of business communication has changed beyond recognition. No doubt we can expect further radical changes—and yet, in a sense, the dust has settled. We can now be sure of the following.

Every business document is digital content—something contained in a system, not written or printed on a piece of paper.

Every business document:

  • is web content
  • is mobile content
  • is an assemblage of parts
  • is a 2-way thing
  • is found by its metadata.

And that is why it will take more than a 2-day training course for 20 people to fix the communication problems in your organisation. A revolution is needed. Starting with the manager who says, Write me a web page, Elsie!

What brought on this rave? I'm revising Write me a web page, Elsie! for publication as a web-based book on PressBooks. So soon it will become ... web content.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine



Trish Anderson
Trish Anderson

February 19, 2013

Spot-on summary of what content is today.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

February 19, 2013

Thanks Trish!

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