How to Write a Blog Post

I’ll probably never write a book, or at least I don’t think I have one in me right now, but I’ve spent years writing scientific papers and reports, and although I don’t do that any more it probably has affected my approach to writing blog posts and webmag articles.

I’ve spent the last (nearly) two years working with (getting close to) 200 writers who are gracious enough to share writing with the websites I’ve helped run, Catholic Stand, Ignitum Today, and Catholic Lane. I’ve worked hard at my own writing, with some success and much growth. I’ve learned from people along the way.

Taken all together, I’ve been able to study how to get a reader’s attention, so here are some writing suggestions for anyone new to the blog world.

First the expected, but necessary, tips:

1) Write what you are passionate about. I know that is obvious, but I’ve got to say it. If you try to write about issues and objects that don’t interest you, it will come across as flat and forced. If you write about what you know and love and care about, your passion will fuel your finger-tapping pen. [1]

2) Use good grammar. Take the time to review what you learned in high school and apply the basics. Know where commas go. I love Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips and Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog. Who couldn’t use a good review of the lost art of diagramming sentences? Make sure subject and verb agree. Be consistent with tenses. “Everyone got their plates fixed and Dan will find a table.” Just barf already. [2]

3) Do not overuse punctuation. For most of your writing, use commas to break up thoughts, and use ellipses, dashes, hyphens, semicolons, and colons rarely. Nothing shouts  — unpolished like a bunch of … symbols and (no-idea-what-I’m-doing) remarks that say this: Help me! You don’t need to color up your sentences like that; it is … distracting if overused. It jars the reader. Instead of becoming captivated by your writing, the reader tries to figure out what dramatic point you were making with those symbols. Use them like spices, for flavor. ALL CAPS are like habañero, they burn. And please, only one space between sentences. Here’s why. [3]

4) Break paragraphs up. In the blog world, people jump around fast. Walls of text make your thoughts seem too surmountable. There’s a place for fuller paragraphs, but in general a blog post is not the place for it. If your post is an in depth treatment of a subject and leans more to the academic side, it is probably okay, but you risk losing a reader if you ask for too much attention, at least in the beginning of the post. Be conversant. When you first meet up with someone, do you talk for ten minutes straight without stopping? No, you introduce, give some space, pull her into a dialogue. [4]

Now here are a few other things I’ve learned:

5) Make yourself say the idea of your post out loud, and say it in Twitter form, i.e. 140 characters or less. So many great ideas in posts get muddled because they are cast in with two or three (or a hundred) other ideas. Focus on a single point to make, begin with it, drive it through to the end. Nail it. If you have other points tangent to the main point, save them for follow up posts. Keep it cogent. This post could include tips for using images, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

6) Before you write a word, form the idea in your mind. Fill out your thoughts, explore the objections St. Thomas style, even for informal writing. Think of what someone who doesn’t agree with you would say, and address it systematically. This will transform your post from a ramble to a thoughtful reflection. While you are thinking of your post idea, go ahead and submarine all the tangent currents you think of. Your writing will be compelling if you are only touching the waves, but riding on the ocean that causes them.

7) Do your research. It doesn’t matter if your post is just your opinion, use the internet and research other opinions too. The only time you don’t need research is when you are doing a fun post all about your life, friends, or family, but for anything that involves commentary outside your inner circle, look it up and see what you find. If you begin with, “I’m no expert, but…” then people will tune out. Strive to write with authority. [5]

8) Most of the time a 1,000 word limit is best (this post is). 1,200 is pushing it. 1,500 is fine if you are on a roll, but 2,000 puts you at risk for loosing readers unless your writing is really good. But hey, don’t be afraid to try it once in a while. Don’t limit yourself, but 1,000 word posts are generally the ones that get read to the end. Plus, forcing yourself to cut words forces you to polish your writing. 400 word posts are hard, try it.

9) Your title is 80% of getting clicks, if not 19% more. Imagine your title as a Tweet. Is it going to get someone’s attention? Poetic titles may not be best because if it’s not immediately clear what your post is about, people may not click on it. Save the poetic titles for when you are more established and people will click on anything you write just because they know it’s you. Long titles work, but personally I like shorter (but not too short) titles better. It makes it easier for someone to link to you.

10) Read your post out loud. Trust me, nothing will expose awkward structure or confusing words and typos like speaking the words yourself. It is the best way to proofread your own work.

In short, paint with words. Having a command of the technical aspects will allow you to create art with your ideas. Next time maybe I’ll address images, how to get a discussion going, or how to build traffic. Any interest? Any more tips?

Who Taught Me?

[1] Tito Edwards, Founder of Ignitum Today and Catholic Stand

[2] John Darrouzet, for the diagramming book, Columnist at Catholic Stand

[3] Mary Kochan, Editor-at-Large and Katherine Andes, SEO Consultant, Catholic Lane

[4] J. R. Baldwin, Managing Editor, Ignitum Today

[5] J. R. Baldwin, Managing Editor, Ignitum Today

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