Spinning: Not Your Grandma’s Content Writing

When Article Replication Goes Wrong

I gave myself a crash course in spinning this week. Not the thing you do on an exercise bike, but the creation of multiple versions of an article for purposes both duplicitous and decent (questionable). I did this because a colleague found and shared this page. Thanks to my newfound expertise in article spinning, I can confidently declare that this is one of the worst examples you will find of the practice. Whoever made the software that created this should have all computers removed from their possession. For instance (I don’t need to tell you which is the spun version):

Ok, so first you get a jar or vase or something (something glass with a wide mouth). Fill it 3/4 full of water, and mix in some coloring for . . . well, color.

Vs.

Ok, so prototypal you intend a blow or vase or something (something render with a panoramic mouth). Fill it 3/4 flooded of water, and intermixture in whatever foodstuff for . . . well, color.

Spintax: The Thesaurus as Writer

How did that horror come into being? Spintax, a system using sets of synonymous words, created it. And then some idiot actually published it online. Spintax tags are the basebone of article spinning software. Tags can be more complicated than single-word substitutions–nested spintax creates multiple options for phrases within a sentence. It’s also possible to include optional words or phrases. Here’s a brief technical explanation and a dizzying example of spintax (be warned, the page will periodically pop up an irritating spammy kind of window when you try to close it, but it is safe to visit).

I sincerely hope the above example was, in fact, the work of a person with a thesaurus and very little English fluency rather than of software. Thinking about the effort put into creating such software leaves me despondent about our chances of avoiding the fall of humanity to computers as the Singularity nears. (Sorry, Ray, I don’t buy the whole bit about computer intelligence allowing us to transcend our biological limitations.)

Vigorously (hey, thesaurus.com lists that as a synonym of “seriously”), spinning as a practice is questionably ethical at best and an example of the complete degradation of the web at worst. It could be ruining the Internet on the magnitude of SOPA and PIPA. Okay, that’s hyperbolic. Maybe more on the level of the online culture of misogyny and shameless trolling.

Opinions on the ethics of spinning run the gamut from “spin like a pro” to “mostly a scam” to “spinning insults intelligence.” I don’t care about all that. I’m just here to tell you what spinning can teach you about content creation.

Spinning Thrives on Jargon

Accordingly, specific is better for good content. Use your adjectives and adverbs (sparingly) to describe specific features and actions, rather than to stand in for them. A spun version of this kind of writing will make less sense than one that relies on marketing drivel. Can you tell which is the original and which is the spun version of this excerpt from an A+ product page?

If you desire your music with a little more thrill, you can activate Dynamic Bass Boost (DBB) with the push of a button. DBB assists highlight the low content of music, permitting you to feel the bang of the bass even when the capacity is muffled.

Vs.

If you prefer your music with a little more kick, you can activate Dynamic Bass Boost (DBB) with the touch of a button. DBB helps emphasize the bass content of music, allowing you to feel the ‘thump’ of the bass even when the volume is low.

How about this one?

With the Apple seal of approval, you have the ultimate assurance that your speaker will work flawlessly with iPod and iPhone.

Vs.

With the Apple stamp of approval, you have the absolute guarantee that your speaker will work perfectly with iPod and iPhone.

These examples make it clear that more words makes a piece of content harder to skillfully spin. BUT, more words is only better if those words have real meanings and talk about specific ideas. Focus on nouns and verbs. Avoid jargon. In case “jargon” is too jargony for you, Webster’s definition will clarify my point. One more thing about spinning, from a copy editor’s perspective: It’s irritating to read and to edit and usually pretty obvious.

In the spirit of the Socratic method: Would a song with this refrain earn the adoration of the youthful masses?

you rotate me right backward, baby
absolute reverse like a record, kiddie
right spherical round round