Robots Writing (and editing) Articles

Editors: Your job is about to get outsourced — and that’s a good thing. Because it means knowledge workers doing less monkey-work.

During my career as a carpenter, I felt like I was in a safe place because building houses could never be automated. 3-D printers are about to take that safety net away. Moving into an editorial career, again, I felt secure that my job couldn’t be automated away. I believe that still to be true, but the job is changing dramatically. Five years ago when one of my colleagues told me that he thought we (as editors) would be entering content directly into a CMS rather than Word, the idea sounded pretty foreign. But that was exactly the focus of my last editorial position, when Hanley Wood recruited me to move their residential construction group to a digital-first workflow.

An automatic copy editor?

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How to Write Blogs and Articles That Your Editor Will Like

Write whatever you want  (as long as it is what I want you to write)

As a web editor, I love bloggers. If they write good stuff regularly, I do not have to. I can develop and edit many more articles per month than I can write, so working with bloggers is a simple matter of editorial economics. And if I invest in the right authors, not only do I get a short term benefit, but I boost credibility for my websites and magazine, which pays long term dividends.

It is all about me

I love it when bloggers listen to my advice. I love it even more when they take my advice. I do not love when bloggers write about whatever they think is important and ignore the needs of my audience. I do not love when bloggers write articles telling half of the audience that they are wrong, dumb, or evil.

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How To Use Google Insights to Write Heds, Deks, and Ledes

Steady web traffic comes from knowing what people are looking for and having web pages waiting for them.

UPDATE: GOOGLE INSIGHTS HAS BECOME GOOGLE TRENDS. THE INTERFACE IS SIMILAR, BUT A LITTLE DIFFERENT;  THE LESSONS IN THIS ARTICLE ARE STILL VALID, THOUGH.
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Back in the 20th century, newsstands were the default distribution channel. Heds and deks could be written to entice newsstand browsers.

Here in the 21st century your heds and deks still need to entice newsstand browsers, its just that the browser is Firefox, Safari, or Chrome; and the newsstand is The Google. Instead of writing heds and deks to entice people who browse at Barnes & Noble, you need to write heds and deks for people who search on The Google.

That is the new reality of the digital newsstand — it is based on search, not browse.

In The Old World (print), heds, deks, and ledes tell readers what the article is about, why it matters, and if the article is worth the readers’ time to jump in.

In The New World (digital), Heds, deks, and ledes need to do all that and more. They are like billboards on the information superhighway, putting you on The Google road map so that readers can find information.

To do their job, heds, deks, and ledes on the web need to have plenty of relevant keywords to represent the many search possibilities flowing through The Google.

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Subheds: Road Signs That Help Readers Navigate

Subheds in the main text give readers clues about where to jump in

Beyond a clear, informative, and clever HED, DEK, and LEDE, another service you can provide to readers is to write subheadings that indicate what each section is about. Subheads allow readers to skim  the article for  parts that are most important to them (it is all about the reader).

Because people do not always begin reading at the top of an article and finish at the bottom, and because some readers will skip parts of an article that others will read first, articles should be easy to navigate. Subheads are like road signs on the information superhighway. And if your readers read anything like I drive, those road signs had better be clear.

Good subheads can begin the information delivery process one step earlier

Subheads can be either labels or sentences. Sentences are more interesting and informative than labels are. They are also harder to write. Labels list the elements of an article, sentences can summarize information or set the context. Labels are often vestiges of the outline; sentences are an upgrade of that.

Consider if the subheads that I wrote above were labels instead of sentences. Sentences deliver the bottom line up front.

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How To Write Great Lead Paragraphs (a.k.a. LEDES)

After the hed and dek, the lede paragraph is next on the information-delivery totem pole.

If the reader has made it to your lede paragraph, your HED and DEK have done their job—given enough information and intrigue to convince readers that it’s worth their time to read on. Either that or the HED and DEK are so unclear that readers are grasping to figure out what the heck the article is about. Hopefully, that is not the case, so I will move on.

The LEDE should put things quickly into context in an inviting way, not in a thick, jargon-y way. LEDEs don’t have to be flowery, anecdotal-laced writing as is common in many magazines, but real-world anecdotes are a good way to get in to a topic. Good LEDEs get into the topic quickly.

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A Thanksgiving ‘Thankful Note’

I am thankful for copy editors because they make me sound smart.

How to Write Headlines and Decks (Heds and Deks)

The hardest-working words need the most space and the best place, because they are the first line of defense against an ambivalent reader

If I were a pile of words, I would like to be a hed and dek because not only do they get the best seat in the house, and have the most responsibility, but they get to ignore some rules of punctuation and grammar along the way. Not that I am against rules of grammar and punctuation, but a license to break the rules is appealing to me. Heds and Deks are the 007 of the word kingdom.

With this extrordinary power comes great responsibiliy. If the hed and dek fail, the whole article pays the price. And because you wrote them, you have just limited your ability to get a raise. But worse, you have hidden information from people who need it.

There is a craft and an art to writing headlines—as editors and journalists, we get paid for the craft — putting together the structure of what information needs to be conveyed. The art is what we do to keep our jobs interesting — looking for the right words to speak to just the right audience, tying the topic to cultural icons of the audience. Speaking to the audience, rather than fumbling your way through an incomprehensible hed and dek.

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