Content in the shallows

October 9, 2013 § 10 Comments

My daughter is working on a huge project for English, so big that the teacher insisted that each child hand in a section halfway through to ensure everyone was making progress.

My child is diligent and creative, and she spent hours painstakingly putting the first part of her project together, and making a beautiful cover that I know I couldn’t even have conceptualised, let alone executed. And on the appointed day she took her partial project in for its first assessment.

The teacher, by all accounts, cast a cursory eye over the content of the project, gave her 9/10 for the work submitted so far, and sent her away with the admonition that she needed to work a bit more on her presentation.

Even with a good dose of parental bias thrown in, I was gobsmacked. First, what kind of message does that send to a child – that 90% is not good enough? No wonder we have kids committing suicide over school marks.

More concerning, though, was the emphasis on presentation over content that I’ve seen before: a book review earlier in the year had to be presented as a scrapbooked page, for example, and some children were made to redo their page because the scrapbooking wasn’t up to the teacher’s standards. I would be far more concerned with which books the kids had read, and what their impressions were given that the subject is English and not Art, but perhaps that’s just me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m the last person to suggest that things should be presented in a slapdash way. But it got me thinking. All of this is a microcosm of the world we live in, isn’t it? We live in a world where form seems to be trumping content more and more, and I find it desperately sad.

As one wag quipped on Twitter recently, it’s depressing that some people have a favourite Kardashian. Paris Hilton is famous for being famous . People who can’t really sing are making money hand over fist as singers, but they are autotuned in studio to such an extent that their ‘live’ performances either feature them lip syncing to everything, or singing live and making a mess of it. And let’s not even begin to talk about politics, which is all about smoke and mirrors.

I’ve even encountered it in my own career – a few years ago I gave up paying work when a magazine asked me to take the little parenting column I’d been writing for them for years and “make it more boutiquey – feature cute prams and dresses and stuff”. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I could go on, but there are too many examples. I think it suffices to say that we appear to be getting more and more shallow, and on a global scale.

So, it’s taken me a while to get there, but all of this has relevance for business communication. Think about some of the company websites you encounter. They’re beautiful, they have all the bells and whistles and features that open and shut, until you try to find some useful information, or engage with the content in any way. Within minutes you find yourself floundering in a sea of business buzzwords and platitudes that say precisely nothing and leave you feeling bewildered and confused.

Here’s the thing: if you focus too much on what things look like, and less on what they say or how they work for those reading or engaging with them, one thing is certain – people will move on, and they will move on quickly. The distractions of modern life mean that we imbibe an enormous amount of information daily, and if something is confusing, insubstantial and not useful to us, we move on to the next thing very quickly. And when that happens, you’ve lost a potential client, or perhaps even an existing client.

So I’ll just continue to beat the same old drum in the hope that someone out there finally gets it: content is king, plain language rocks, and adding real value to your clients’ or customers’ lives is what you should be aiming for with your business communication.

Once you’ve done that – and only then – do you start to worry about making it look pretty.

PS. Here’s a free tip: if you have a ‘contact us by email’ form where people can make enquiries, do make sure someone monitors it at least on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how many companies I’ve asked to contact me about a product or a quote and the deafening silence continues years later.


Tagged: , , , , , , ,

§ 10 Responses to Content in the shallows

  • jabedi says:

    As always, I love your “voice of reason” We have become so shallow that common sense is hailed as “profound new thinking” So sad that “cut and paste” content in a pretty presentation has more value than well researched useful information in an easy to understand format. Fools attracted to shiny things for a brief moment before flitting on to the next more shiny thing. How sad that your child is at the mercy of a so called English teacher who loves scrapbooking. Imagine a world where an English teacher loved books, and words and creative thought *gasp* what a silly notion!


    • Thanks for your kind comments, Di. In fairness, I’m sure she does like books and words and creative thought, but it’s just that things have become skewed everywhere towards the external. It’s a global malaise.


  • I think this is why so many parents end up doing the projects for the children which totally defeats the purpose. Huge problem with ADHD kids and those with poor fine motor skills as they struggle to translate what is in their brains to the pretty format desired by teachers. They give up and don’t hand anything in unless Mom or Dad come to the rescue.
    Re 90% – ridiculous though I also don’t understand these days how students get more than 100% in exams. 100% = 100%


  • Superb piece and on-the-money observations.


  • Hello again. My first thought is that someone must find out where that teacher was educated/trained/molded, and go nuke the place so it cannot do any more damage to young aspiring teachers,(if there are any!!).
    Your thoughts about the encroachment of ‘appearance’ over content make me think of the damage done by the “Powerpoint” form of communication, which buries content, or hides lack of content, in a magicians swirl of deception. Sometimes “selling the sizzle, not the steak” is most appropriate, but you gotta be a real communicator to know when.
    Something else: the concept of ‘becoming educated’, or of ‘being successful’ has been contaminated by the concept ‘more accessible pass-mark (say 30%)’, and ‘nice curtains in the windows, but no sheets on the beds’.
    You have rightly drawn attention to something bad that has ancient roots, called “gilding the lily”.
    Thanks for your post.


  • Great, there’s maybe 10 subjects here. I’ll pull one out, “how it works”
    that’s everything in the universe. OK, not here in a blog response, thanks for bringing some needed attention to content.


  • Caron Andrews says:

    Hi Mandy! I think what you’re saying is 100% correct! 🙂

    Being a teacher myself, although you are wanting to teach children the importance of making an effort and doing their work with pride, it’s more important that they do it themselves!
    In doing it themselves it often doesn’t make it perfect, but at the end of the day four things should be the focus: 1) have they learnt something from it and understood the information? 2) have they been able to follow the instructions/brief? 3)have they given their best effort? 4) have they had fun and enjoyed doing it?

    If she achieved all of those things …..the teacher should be ecstatic! (And I’m sure she has:)!)


What’s this?

You are currently reading Content in the shallows at mandycollinswriter.


%d bloggers like this: