Introducing An Integrity-Driven Approach for Authors in the Digital Age
Are you there, web3 writers? It’s me, your conscience. I want us all to get REAL about the time and effort it takes to write interesting and original material.
This article was originally written for the BanklessDAO Writers Cohort. The Cohort has a specific purpose: to remove some of the hurdles faced by budding writers. The vibe is very much about planning but not agonizing; repeated exposure despite the fear of imperfection; a tiny but ever-present sense of competition; and lashings of positive and constructive feedback. Participants post weekly for four weeks, so there is not a great deal of time to research and develop each piece.
As the Lead Staff Editor for Bankless Publishing, I read all the incoming submissions and take a leadership role in the team’s assessment of whether each is suitable to proceed through our editing process. Sadly, a large proportion of the material we receive is rejected due to plagiarised content. While I can’t be sure whether these authors are intentional about this act of theft, I do know that many of the submissions I read would be better if the author spent some additional time crafting their own unique message.
It’s with this editor hat on that I now step up on my soapbox and provide four Very Important Points that writers in web3 must get REAL about. I’ve come up with an acronym which is hopefully memorable enough to effect a change in approach. As you may have guessed by now, the acronym is R.E.A.L, and it stands for:
Reading / Research
Evaluation / Evidence
Rather than representing four discrete stages, these describe overlapping elements of the approach I advocate.
Whether you are writing to persuade, educate, entertain, or all of these, your writing needs a focal point. It’s far more interesting and likely to impress readers that way. To add our contribution to this giant web3 ‘conversation’, we need to understand what has been said already, what points are accepted as fact, what ideas warrant further exploration, and where our own thoughts fit within all of that. In other words, we need context. Our readers need that context, too.
The meme of ‘Do Your Own Research’ is popular in crypto because it puts the onus squarely on the individual to find the information that will enable them to make an informed choice. As writers, though, we have a responsibility to bring the narrative to our reader, and (without giving financial advice) to provide the context for the thoughts we want to share through our writing.
Successful writers read, absorb, and then synthesise a wide range of sources into a piece which conveys their own understanding of the subject. Writing is not compiling. To draw an analogy to cake-making*: writing is not about adding all the ingredients together in the bowl and presenting it to the fam for dessert. It’s an act of sifting, mixing, taste testing (of course), and refining the ingredients to produce a delicious, unique, and more-ish cake. Now … does my analogy stretch to cover plagiarism too? Why yes, it does. Plagiarism is akin to buying the cake from the store and telling the fam that you made it yourself, and taking credit for it, too.
It’s helpful to approach research in two stages, particularly for a topic you know nothing about. If you are already well versed in the subject, maybe you could skip the first stage. To begin with, make some notes about what you already know, and in particular any key words or phrases that you think might be a good starting point for your research. Think about what sources you might need to consult for information — do you need statistics, technical documentation, a chronology of events, personal experiences, news stories, images, or diagrams? — you get the idea.
Once you have formulated some ideas, read as much as you can about the topic, mainly from ‘primary’ sources such as original documentation. Because we’re writing about web3 and crypto, you will also find many ‘secondary’ sources that provide commentary, opinion, and discussion. Educate yourself about how to evaluate the credibility of various sources; for example when reading about a protocol would you trust the developers’ documentation or a third-party blog post? What if the developers had just been arrested for fraud — would that change your perception of the trustworthiness of each source?
The second stage of research is when you try to answer some of the questions that have occurred to you during your reading so far. By this time, you will have developed a thesis — the main idea you want to focus on or persuade your readers about. Read with a different purpose now — having formulated some ideas about your approach to the topic (your thesis), you are reading to find material that supports or disputes this approach. Make a note of this, so that when you are writing you can refer to it as evidence to support your thesis.
Learning to express your own view or understanding of a topic, while also presenting the reader with credible evidence to support that, is not easy. It takes practice (and the more you read the work of experienced writers, the more you will see how it’s done well). Successful writers paraphrase and/or directly quote the work of other authors without losing their own voice. Having said that, it’s imperative that you make it crystal clear whose voice the reader is experiencing at all times. This is known as attribution.
Attribution, or the act of giving credit where credit is due, is a mark of respect to other writers and also helps you to build credibility with your reader. While copyright laws around the world may allow for some sort of ‘fair use’ principle for the intellectual output of others, there is almost always a provision for the moral rights of the creator, which include their right to be recognised as the creator of the work.
I mentioned paraphrasing and direct quotes earlier; these are the chocolate chips in your cake, not the flour and sugar. My analogy may be stretched a little thin there, but the idea is that all the reading and research you have done enables you to write without constantly referring to someone else’s work. Writing with your source open in front of you will just about guarantee that you will end up plagiarising — how could you avoid mirroring structure and word choice when the recipe is right there in front of you? This doesn’t mean you can’t look at your evidence while you write. You want to incorporate it, also known as synthesis, but not copy it — and always, always, with attribution.
The way to give immediate attribution in the web environment is to use hyperlinks. Reference lists have a place, especially if they include additional reading on the topic, but anything referred to directly, or paraphrased, or used as inspiration, should include a hyperlink to the source. Even in situations where the source is not open access or available online, include a link to a landing page or information about the source. The goal is to assist your reader in finding that context they so desperately desire, while giving clear and direct attribution to the original creator or author.
Apart from the definitions and resources I have linked to, I have written this article without needing to refer to any external material. That is because I am writing about what I know. A decade of experience as a library and information professional means I don’t need to look at someone else’s interpretation of this subject to know what I want to say. I’m not suggesting you take a decade to write your next web3 article, but do your research, keep it real, and publish with pride.
After writing this article, I did a web search to find the best way to use the phrase about the cake-making analogy. I wasn't sure whether to write "to draw a cake-making analogy" or "to draw an analogy to cake-making". I found this student blog post which uses cake-baking as a metaphor for the writing process. I'm including it here as evidence that such things can happen, but as you can see, my expression of the idea is very different.
Author and Designer
Trewkat is a writer and editor at BanklessDAO. She’s interested in learning about blockchain and NFTs, with a particular focus on how best to communicate this knowledge to others.
Hiro Kennelly is a writer, editor, and coordinator at BanklessDAO and the Editor-in-Chief at Good Morning News. He is also helping to build a grants-focused organization at DAOpunks.
BanklessDAO is an education and media engine dedicated to helping individuals achieve financial independence.
This post does not contain financial advice, only educational information. By reading this article, you agree and affirm the above, as well as that you are not being solicited to make a financial decision, and that you in no way are receiving any fiduciary projection, promise, or tacit inference of your ability to achieve financial gains.
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