One year at the Financial Blogger Conference my presentation included something I consider an absolute no-no: using a dictionary definition of the topic as the lede.*
Afterward a couple of people privately (and sheepishly) admitted that yeah, they sometimes did that.
Okay, I said. Just don’t do it again.
That sort of thing was fine in the fourth grade, when you wanted your teacher to know that you really, truly understood the topic at hand. But we’ve long since left elementary school.
Understand: I’ve got nothing against dictionaries. In fact, I love ’em. My father started college when I was eight years old and one of the books he brought home was a blue Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Dad showed me how to use the words at the tops of the pages to see how close you were to the words you wanted.
To nerdy little me, that book was pure treasure: So many words, all in one place! It’s possible that I began an occasional composition with a dictionary definition in the years to come.
If I did, that’s because I was 10 or 11 years old. As an adult, you should never, ever start a blog post with something like this:
“Webster’s defines ‘arbitrage’ as ‘the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices’.”
Dictionary definitions (like the one above!) are often cumbersome and could turn your readers off. So instead of letting Daniel W. do the work, get off your virtual behind and do it yourself.
Translate your topic
That means explaining the subject in everyday terms, preferably with an everyday example. Don’t write: “Wikipedia defines ‘sunk cost’ as ‘a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered’.” That doesn’t help a reader much.
Far better to illustrate the point: “After a year of dating and three years of marriage Alex and I fought almost daily. Counseling hadn’t helped. Alex was ready to walk but I dug in my heels, believing a divorce would mean I’d wasted four years of my life. That’s a prime example of ‘the sunk-cost fallacy.’ I could never get those years back – but I could choose not to waste any more of them.”
Translating a topic into regular-people-speak or illustrating it with an anecdote works for every blogging genre. Close the dictionary and do your own work, in your own words.
Incidentally, Wikipedia is not an approved academic source. You shouldn’t rely on it for blogging, either. But that’s another rant for another time.
*In newspaper writing, the “lede” is the opening paragraph of the article. It probably should be spelled “lead,” since it leads the piece. That’s just one more thing about newspapering that doesn’t make a lot of sense.