Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tips for Better Blog Writing

The following is a guest post from Abraham Piper of the Desiring God blog:

The Desiring God blog started back in February as basically a revamped news section. I didn’t know how to blog, but I’m the Web Content Editor so it fell to me. Not that I minded—I just had a lot of learning to do.

As I scoured the internet for advice on better blogging, I discovered that blog-writing principles are pretty much the same as they are for regular writing. The difference, I think, is that there is less leeway given to bloggers by their readers than to most other kinds of authors.

Blog readers, I discovered, simply don’t have time for me to write any old way I feel like. They’re understandably impatient—but that doesn’t mean they’re uninterested. They want content—but they want it quick and easy.

So I created a checklist of blog-writing essentials that I try to follow with each post—the main question being: How can I write so that people will actually read this?

It’s motivated by the golden rule, really: I enjoy and am served by blogs that follow these writing guidelines, so I want to follow them, too.

Here’s what I preach to myself when I sit down to blog:

Be yourself.

You have ideas, and people are reading because they’re interested. So be you. (When I say this to myself, I don’t mean that everything I think is gold—I just mean that I shouldn’t pretend to be someone else, whether it’s gold or not.)

Here’s how I test myself: After I’m done writing, I pretend I’m telling the same content to someone. If there’s no way I’d speak it the same way I just wrote it, then I’m probably not using my own voice.

Write less.

Don’t write any more than is necessary to make your point.

This has nothing to do with whether or not long posts are good. People are just unlikely to read them, good or not.

Here’s how I test myself on this one: After I’m done writing, I go back and pretend I have to pay $100 for every word. Seriously.

And if I’m ever inclined to pretend I have a hefty vocab, I make myself pay per letter.

Write to be scanned.

Compose your posts so that your point is accessible to those who are not reading word-for-word, because most people aren’t.

Here’s a list of what will usually make text scannable:

· Putting your point at the beginning.

· Composing short, one-point paragraphs.

· Organizing with headers and sub-headers.

· Setting lists apart with bullets or numbers.

· Highlighting important words and phrases with bold or italics (but not all caps).

Use common keywords.

Vocabulary affects visibility; so usually it’s good to write with words that people are likely to search when they are interested in your topic. Using the most normal word, especially in your title, even if it is less interesting, will help more people find your post when they’re searching.

For instance, if someone is curious about the Bible, they will probably search “Bible,” not “Scripture” or “God’s Word,” even though these are perfectly good synonyms.

Link a lot.

With discretion, link to anything that will support your content.

It's good when a link itself gives some idea what you will find at the other end. So, as a rule, it’s most user-friendly to connect links to meaningful words rather than words like “this” or “here.”

· Least helpful – Go here:

· Pretty unhelpful – You may be interested in this.

· OK, but could be better – “Beckwith discusses his return to Catholicism. Read it here.

· Most helpful – “Beckwith discusses his return to Catholicism.”

Also, linking does not mean condoning; so don’t be afraid to send people to sites you disagree with. If you discuss the KKK, it may be useful to link to their site. (If only to show how lame it is—my goodness!)

Don’t tease with titles.

The best headlines are both eye-catching and content-rich. They are interesting and they state the main point of the post.

  • Bad: “Big News at Crossway!”
  • Good: “Justin Taylor Is Voting for Clinton”

Allow exceptions.

Guidelines are not commandments. Break these as necessary—but do it on purpose.

(More articles on better blogging: Problogger, Seth Godin, Frugal Marketing, Jakob Nielsen)