Demand Media Studios — Getting Hired — Part Tres — CONTENT IS KING!

Posted on December 3, 2010


At this point, you should have three headings created. Keep in mind, DMS guidelines state to be as brief as possible when creating headings. I can tell you by experience, however, some copy editors (aka CEs) often expand the heading if you leave it brief. Don’t worry about that, though, since I’ve never seen it cause a rewrite or rejection.

Content is King

The next step in your quest to become a DMS writer is to address content. You’re heard the old cliché “Content is King.” Well … it most certainly is!

Creating quality content is not that hard once you get the hang of it. It just takes some practice and determination, especially for writers with little experience. One thing I do when writing content for DMS is to first create it in a Word document. I insert the title I selected from the pool of articles in the DMS system and headings I created. The content comes next.

Write Deliberately/Less Is More

In writing for DMS, you must, and I cannot stress this enough, MUST write deliberately. What do I mean by that? DMS guidelines state the following:

  • Demand Media Studios’ goal is to provide the reader with information to help him make decisions. Use active verbs and strong nouns. Keep the content short, simple and easily digestible.
  • Always write for an American audience, unless the title specifies otherwise, such as “Grants for Businesses in England.”
  • Write in a “conversational” voice, and speak directly to the community in an inclusive tone.
  • (BULLET #4 — CRITICAL) Write in the active voice, using the traditional “subject-verb-object” construction. Avoid passive voice when necessary.
  • Do not include empty adjectives, such as “fun,” “easy,” “great,” “terrific,” “fantastic” or “unique,” the most misused word in the English language.
  • Don’t make unsupportable claims about product performance. The Zone Diet isn’t a “great” or “effective” way to lose weight; it’s a method for losing weight.
  • All articles must contain evergreen copy that will read just as fresh five years from now as it does today. For this reason, avoid dating your copy with years and words like “new” and “hot.” For example, if a place has been open for 10 years, write “since 2000,” as opposed to writing “It opened 10 years ago.”
  • Write articles in the second or third person to pull the reader into the piece. Never write in first person (unless otherwise noted in the format style guide or site-specific guidelines), and don’t use the impersonal “one” as a subject, a construction that invariably leads to awkward, stilted phrasing.
  • Start sentences with actionable verbs, which encourages lean prose. For example, write “tear open the package” instead of “you can then tear open the package.”
  • Humor may be used sparingly to add personality to the article but shouldn’t be tangential.
  • Don’t reference the layout or the article’s position on the page; these elements could change. Likewise, don’t refer to the article’s content anywhere in the body copy. For instance, phrases such as “all of the items included in this article are pet-friendly” are prohibited.

Bullet #4 correlates to writing deliberately and the term I mentioned briefly at the end of the previous getting hired by DS post – less is more. DMS states, “Write in the active voice, using the traditional “subject-verb-object” construction. Avoid passive voice when necessary.” This should say, “Avoid passive voice when possible.” I don’t believe it is ever necessary to avoid passive voice in writing content, but it certainly is possible and should be done.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides good examples of passive voice usage. If you want to know what to avoid, check out their webpage. Do an Internet search on “passive voice,” and you’ll find other good examples. Understand the meaning of passive voice, and you’ll be equipped to avoid it unless it’s unavoidable.

For example, write “You [subject] can build [verb] a retaining wall [object] almost anywhere,” instead of “Retaining walls can be [passive voice] built almost anywhere.”

Here are some other examples of what I call writing deliberately versus using passive voice and more words than needed:

  • When building a retaining wall, [“you” is the implied subject] select [verb] the product [object] with which you will build it. Instead of, “When you build a retaining wall, pick out a product that you will build your retaining wall with.”
  • A retaining wall [subject] not only accents [verb] a yard or garden [object], but it helps disperse [verb] standing water [object]. Instead of, “A retaining wall is not only a nice accent to a yard or garden, but it also will help disperse standing water.”

As evident in these two examples, less is significantly more. If you can delete a word or consolidate several words into one, you have a stronger article. This tone is more authoritative, direct and powerful.

After creating the content to your sections, read your article out loud. Are there words you can delete? Can you replace several words with one word? Ask yourself those questions when listening to yourself read the article. I still sometimes do this.

When writing an article, regardless of what company for which I write it, I try to make it as strong as possible when writing the first draft, but don’t give it too much thought. When I edit it, I look for ways to make it more concise with more punch.

Providing quality information in your article is critical, but writing in this voice is equally critical. If you get the hang of it, you will get accepted by DMS and have less rewrites and rejected articles.