How to Write a Blog Post

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At WordCamp Ottawa on April 27, 2013, I talked about how to write a blog post, which is a topic that often gets lost among all the discussions on design and functionality. The quality of content is really one of the core reasons people come to a website. A lot of us get stuck when writing posts, so I came up with some ways to generate ideas, decide how to package them into a blog-like format, and then finally write them. There are also some tips for streamlining your workflow in WordPress.

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  • This has been a fantastic day of I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many new people, and seeing some wonderful presentations – if you’re like me your head might be reeling from all the ideas presented. So, I’m very happy that you didn’t run out and start coding your website or get a headstart at the Heart and Crown. Thanks for staying for my presentation. It’s a great honour to be at the first Ottawa WordCamp – the first of many, I’m sure.In this presentation, I want to give you some of the tools to write your own blog posts. You won’t become a great writer overnight – I don’t think I’m bursting any bubbles here – but I’m hoping that you’ll learn a few things to make your blog better and help you better express yourself online.
  • Before we go any further, let me introduce myself.I’m David, and I’m a word nerd. I’ve been a professional writer for about six years – most of them as a copywriter, journalist and blogger. Yes, I’m lucky enough to get paid to write.I feel incredibly grateful to have grown up in an era when so many different stories and experiences are made available through the Internet. And despite going to journalism school and being bummed out about the shrinking newspaper and magazine industry, I do think there are great opportunities for telling stories in new and exciting ways that include more voices.Perhaps expressing yourself online is more important than ever, and blogging is a great way to do this. And it means you have a voice, and you’re part of the conversation.So, with that out of the way…
  • What is a blog? Good question. “A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list…. Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘blog’ is a fool’s errand.” – Jeff Jarvis (Source: http://www.ojr.org/p050929/) Blogs can really be anything. And a lot of people think it’s useless to define them. As soon as we define what a blog is, there will be one that comes along and surprises us.Also, the blog is constantly evolving. There are new-ish forms such as video and photo blogs emerging, which enable different types of expression. You can certainly think of a blog that hasn’t been done before and go out and make it. It might even catch on.But most of the top blogs tend to have some similarities. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re less creative or worse, but there are some common conventions that work well for blogs – just in the way that TV programs use conventions. So, while blogs have a lot in common with diaries, newspaper articles or columns, op-eds, magazine features, memoirs, etc. they combine a lot of these elements in a form that is rather unique. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message”. This basically means that the form of a medium (in this case, a blog) embeds itself in the message. This causes a relationship in which the medium influences how the message is perceived. So, the perception of what you’re saying, and also how you can say it, is influenced by the fact that you’re writing it on a blog.People are going to react differently if you’re talking to them on a street corner, than if you’re talking to them from a podium. Likewise, people are going to come to a blog with certain expectations.So, I hope to convince you that blogs are unique. I’ll start by explaining the general qualities of a blog….
  • These are what I call “blogish tendencies”. Blogging can aspire to be different things, but let’s talk about some of the defining characteristics:Get personal!A blog is personal or informal! There’s often an expectation of self-disclosure – or writing from personal experience. Using formal language or a formal approach makes people feel like you’re filtering yourself. And that they’re further from the “actual” you. Writing from a personal space can help you gain trust.Publish regularlyMost popular blogsare published regularly – there are exceptions like a hockey blog that slows down in the offseason, but most are maintained regularly.Unconstrained by LengthThere’s only so much paper in the world to print a book on, but blog posts can be any length. And while we way not have length constraints, there ARE attention constraints! When someone ceases interest in what they’re reading online, it’s easier than ever before to flip to something new. You can’t take their attention for granted.Most posts are short,but a long post is fine if it’s interesting. There’s a movement towards valuing long-form writing on the web. “Read it later apps” such as Instapaper let you save long posts and articles to read later when you have more time.But, for most people, it’s easy for people to click away. And it’s your job to keep them from doing that.Hyperlinking to other resourcesHyperlinks are links to other websites, and they’re relatively new for writers, and huge opportunity.Hyperlinks often acts as footnotes to your post, letting you forgo longer explanations. This way your post doesn’t get bogged down by tedious definitions and descriptions of videos and theories. And it can often be more effective to just have a link to something rather than describe it.Community InvolvementPublishing has a community element that many other forms of writing don’t have. You’re posting something for EVERYONE to see, not just people who agree with you. This definitely affects the way you write. I’ll talk more about this later.Blogging is less institutional than traditional media. You don’t necessarily have editorial oversight. You don’t have someone telling you what to write – which can be good, but it can mean losing direction or focus. There’s no one telling you to “tone it down” or “give it some bite”; no one says your post’s too long or too short. In time, your readership might take on this job of editor in the form of comments. Of course, they might choose to criticize your writing and even your life (or lack there of). You can’t as easily hide behind an institution.And that’s one of the reasons we have to do a good job!So, there are already perceptions of what blogs are, and you can use these perceptions to your advantage or challenge them, but overall, it’s useful to know what you’re up against.
  • So, the next question is “Why do people read blogs?”And the simple answer is : People want good content. But what does that mean? Well, most people go online to find a solution to a problem, or they want to be entertained and have fun. Ideally, they want both.Think of your own reading habits – they likely fit into these categories.But the element of trust really underlies the reason people go to blogs, and why they go to specific blogs. They can get the honest goods from a blog. (This is, if you’re not being clear about your relationships with companies – this destroys trust – see quote.)In the 2011 Technorati survey of blog consumers, blogs continued to outpace other social media and many traditional media in terms of the type of trust that leads to recommendations and purchases. It was found that Facebook remains somewhat influential, but less so than blogs, and Twitter has seen a drop in influence.Good blog posts really have an effect on people.So how do we come up with great content? Let’s start with coming up with some ideas.
  • Ideas can really drive a blog post. If your idea isn’t thought through well enough, it can be really hard to write it into a post.What I hope to leave you with are a ton of ideas for blog posts, and some ways in which to go about writing them.
  • Ideas are everywhere.Can you relate an experience to something larger?Think about what you want to write about. Can it be expanded beyond a small incident?You might have hit a pothole on the way to work. Does this relate to the state of your city’s infrastructure? A small experience or thought and it can snowball into something bigger.Change your point of view. It’s easy to get trapped in our own concerns and place. So try to change your perspective and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.What’s it like for someone older/younger, richer/poorer, urban/rural. BUT…Be respectful of this other person’s experience and be careful not to stereotype. If don’t know what another person’s perspective is, go out and talk to someone from a different background. You’ll have great things to blog about AND grow as a person.You won’t always agree with other viewpoints, but you’ll be able to understand their point of view and include it in your writing. Including other people in your discussion is often a great idea.But also… Think about your own experiences.Did you have an interesting upbringing that affects your views on a political issue? Explore these personal experiences – they’ll add life and personality to your writing.Along with including perspectives, make sure that you’re addressing all the relevant points and counter-points.Take some time to familiarize yourself with the arguments going on, and take all points into consideration – even ones you disagree with. This gives you an opportunity to explain why you think your way is better.Read lots!If you’re like me you’ll read tons of stuff in any given day. The Maclean’s magazine you read in the dentist’s waiting room might strike a cord with you. Anyways, you’ll be surprised where you’ll find connections that inspire a blog post. It could help to keep a notebook of things you find interesting, or you could use a note-taking app like Evernote.Let the info come to you.Setup Google alerts for your subject. Subscribe to mailing lists and RSS feeds. Get out and talk to peopleGo to local meetups, conventions, lectures, events like WordCamp, and so on. These are all great places to find things to blog about. But also don’t forget online meetups like online forums and webinars. Think of your audienceWho would this idea appeal to? Thinking about what youraudience needs can actually help you write a piece. You’re focusing on writing to someone specific. For instance, someone new to the topic will have different needs than an expert.
  • Some reliable ways to assemble posts. There are really more types than I can cover here, so I’ll limit myself to a lucky 7. Feel free to make your own!1. List post - 10 ways to be a better blogger. The 25 best albums of the year. You’ve all seen these – they’re a little predictable, but they’re a good standby.2. Personal anecdote/opinion/essay - have a clear thesis and argument. If you’re telling a story, be sure to write it in a way where you accentuate the themes.3. A Dialogue - Do a Q&A or have a conversation with another person and transcribe it. This can also be a video/audio blog where you interview someone interesting. Research the subject beforehand, and make sure you have questions ready.4. Summary post - go to an event, and summarize what you heard or saw. You’re bringing together a lot of stray thoughts into something worth reading. There’s a lot of value in 5. Link post - provide a bunch of related or interesting links. For instance, you can post links to the best art of the week, or the funniest podcasts. If you’re an academic, you can link to the best new research in your field. If you add some commentary, you’ll help people decide if it’s worth going to these links. (Examples are the Guardian’s “Boot Up” post of tech links)6. Review post - write about your experiences with a product/service. Think about the positives and negatives, what alternatives there are, and what sorts of people this would appeal to. You can also do a review post for books, old magazine ads, speeches (someone went line-by-line through one of Mayor Ford’s speeches, breaking down how nonsensical it was). Find something you find interesting, important or funny, and review it.7. Advice post – You can do your own take on Dear Abby. Some sites that do a good job on this is Gawker’s “That’s not right” and Earwolf’s “Is this racist?”. As for people to send you questions, and you can give your useful, or just hilarious advice.8. Video/photo post - sometimes a photo or video can capture something in a way that words cannot. For instance, if you have a street fashion blog, you can write about what you’re wearing that day, but a picture will likely tell the story better. Likewise, if you’re a skateboarder, it doesn’t cut it to describe what tricks you’ve done – you’re going to have to have a video.Come up with something that works. When you come up with a type of post, try to make it a regular occurrence. If your Q&A’s work well, make them a weekly or bi-weekly feature.
  • For any given blog, you have to decide how to tackle what you want to say. This decision is up to you.But you can be prepared. Do some research.Before writing, I have already done some preliminary research, thought about how to present the material, and considered what I already know and what I have to research further.Don’t worry that you’re not actually writing. By learning more about a topic, you’re more getting further to what you should actually be writing.Come up with the questions you want to answer.Create an outline, and break things down into manageable pieces.Once I have an idea of what I want to cover, I can decide how to tackle it. I’ll create a rough outline, and break itdown into manageable pieces. This means deciding on what points will be covered under each heading, and if it can be broken in to two or more blog posts.You may even find that the focus of the post has changed entirely.Don’t tackle too much in one post. You can do a better job making it a series of postsOrganize a multi-part post into elements that will appeal to people who won’t read both parts. If you’re writing a history of a character in comic books – let’s say the Submariner – you can divide it into Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age. This way, people who are only interested in – say – Silver Age, can just read that section (or be so compelled by your writing that they’ll read the other sections.) I’m going to run you through the writing process from beginning to middle to end.
  • I came up with this approach because a lot of bloggers have ideas, and parts of posts written, but there’s something keeping them from actually clicking PUBLISH.
  • Depending on your type of blog, your beginning might be only a sentence long or it could be several paragraphs.The beginning should give the reader something that makes them want to continue reading.For this section, I’m going to draw on my journalism background. LEAD:In the inverse triangle model of storytelling, you give away the most important information at first, and more extraneous details as you go along. This is used in news stories because they’re designed to give someone the most relevant information when they’re only a few sentences in. Something you’ll always hear from newspaper editors is “Get to the point!”. In some blog posts, you’ll take this approach, the essential facts of a story are included in the lead sentence or paragraph – These are the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. You often can’t answer all of them, but you can answer the important ones.You can open with a lead that uses the hard facts to set the stage or get the hard facts “out of the way”. And this can allow you to hone in on a more nuanced examination, or even just to write about your personal thoughts. It can help the reader to know what you’re responding by doing a quick summary of the facts.The alternative to the lead is the plead:PITCH:In other blog posts, you’re going to talk about the rest of the post: instead of “getting to the point,” you’re going to explain why someone should be interested in what they’re about to read.In journalism, there’s something called a “Nut-Graph”, which is a paragraph that explains the news value of the story. It’s basically saying: “This is important for so-and-so reasons.” And I think this can be applied to a blog, where you’re making a pitch to the reader to continue reading – because it will pay off. You’re saying what will be covered and setting the reader’s expectations. Expectations don’t always have to be high – you can say “And while I can’t promise a solution to this problem, there are a few alternatives that I will discuss in the following post.”I think that the nut-graph should also explain why you’re writing this. Was there something that makes it particularly relevant now? And you can also explain why you’re interested in writing about it and what qualifications you have on the subject. By explaining your connection to the subject matter, the reader may identify with you and your reasons for finding it interesting (score!) and also why you’re in a particular position to write about it. This engenders trust.These approaches can be used together to give relevant information, but also . Beyond this, you can get really creative with the intro. You can start off with an experience, a quotation, describing the plot of a novel and relating it to your topic. It’s all about setting the stage.It’s also about If there’s something that readers need to know to start off, explain this now. For instance, you can make sure that people . Unless you want to have a big reveal at the end.
  • It’s good practice to outline the points you want to cover. Write things down in point form, play around with the order. This order will help you write because now you have structure.Give it a logical progressionAt this point, you’ll have already decided what type of post you’re writing - an essay, or a list, etc. In an essay, you generally have the points build to a final point of evidence that draws upon what comes before. In a list post, you might want to do a countdown, say, to the best album.Now that you’ve got your points and an idea of how you’re going to tackle them, you can start writing them into sentences and paragraphs. Try only to focus on one idea in each paragraph. Be able to say “This paragraph is about…” If your explanation is too complicated, chances are you’re saying too much in the paragraph, and you should start a new one.Structure your post with headings. When you can, use headings to split your post into sections that can focus the points you’re trying to make, as well as making it easier to scan. I’ll talk about headings later.Your plan could change.While you’re writing the middle section, you may find out that your original plan isn’t work. Maybe you uncovered some research that changes your argument or your opinion. You may also find that there may be more points to add. These are all good things to find out that will make your writing better. Be willing to change your original plan.
  • First off, there’s no real end to a blog – you could think of it as the start of a conversation. Conclusion paragraphs are often where you summarize your post and distills the point of it to whoever just read it. A conclusion can cap off your points into a pithy conclusion. But it’s not merely restating your arguments or line of reasoning – it can hint at something that extends your argument further, or relate it to something bigger than what the post covered (for instance, you can relate a historical event to a current political situation). It can raise other questions.We often think that something that “raises questions” is suspicious or bad, but not if you do it right. In fact, it can be great to leave readers with questions. Give people something to ponder! They can take a stab at your questions in the comments, and drive conversation. A great question is worth more than a mediocre answer.If your post is one of a series, you can mention other posts you’ve written on a related topic and how they relate to this post. You can also hint at the next post in your series, which will address another related topic.
  • There’s no great writing without great editing. Make sure your post is free of grammar and spelling mistakes before posting. It always helps to have someone else take a look at it first. A fresh set of eyes can often catch mistakes you wouldn’t after writing and rewritingWrite clearly, and simply.If something can be written shorter and retain the same meaning, by all means shorten it. Hemingway was a fan of keeping things brief – and was contemptuous of writers who, as he put it, “never learned how to say no to a typewriter.” Use the active voice, not passive. Active is subject-verb “he went to the store”. Passive is “The store is where he went.” Both mean the same, but active voice tends to be shorter, more direct and clearer.Have the power to delete – especially sentences you love. If an idea doesn’t fit, cut it out and use it in another post. There’s no point in fitting a square peg into a round hole. Save your brilliant point for another post, and don’t stretch things.Also, don’t stretch the truth. Your credibility is affected by even the smallest factual error. Learn to do quick web searches to verify facts, or even call up an expert.
  • The "Press This" function allows quick publishing with a special web browser bookmarklet. You can create a post by quoting some text, images, and videos on any web page.ContentsUsageCreate the Press This bookmarklet from the Tools menu in the WordPress Administration Panel.While browsing, select some text (optional) and click the bookmarklet in your browser's favorite (bookmark).Edit the content in the invoked pop-up window.Save or publish the post.
  • This will show only an except of your post on your main blog page. This way, people can quickly see if they want to read your post or not
  • The Excerpt has two main uses:It replaces the full content in RSS feeds when the option to display summaries is selected in Dashboard › Settings › Reading.Depending on the WordPress theme, it can be displayed in places where quick summaries are preferable to full content:Search resultsTag archivesCategory archivesMonthly archivesAuthor archives
  • As I’ve hinted at before, your blog exists in an ecosystem. And that why I want to address the importance of thinking outside of your blog.
  • You’re not the only one blogging, and you have to take other blogs into account. This means addressing points brought up by other bloggers (and crediting them when needed), and really building on the conversations already going on. In fact, referencing other blog posts makes you seem more informed on an issue than someone who seems as though they’re just writing the first thing that pops into their head.Your blog post exists among others. It’s important to take stock of what’s already out in the blogosphere. If there are arguments that you’re ignoring, you don’t have an excuse not to address them in some way shape or form.Beyond just reading other peoples’ posts, you can also engage by find ways to connect with other people – reach out to other bloggers. They’ve opened themselves up through their blog, and if you open up to them. Lots of bloggers appreciate comments on their blog, and they might be interested in visiting your site. Email can be nice too, especially in really niche subject areas where there may not be a lot of people who share an interest. Be available and friendly.You may find that you want to start a group blog with people you know in person and online. This is a great way to stay motivated, and produce better and more consistent content.Give credit where credit’s due. Don’t take someone’s ideas without crediting them and linking to their post. And when you write a post – even about someone else’s idea, try to add something of value to it. Whether it’s an observation, a counter-point, or something related, come up with a reason for reading your blog post, rather than just the original.“A blog is only as interesting as the interest shown in others.” ― Lee OddenIf you want your blog to be popular, you have to find your place in the online world, and this may mean challenging the status quo but also nurturing relationships with other people online.
  • This is the type of thing they I would normally say to you after having a few drinks. But it’s totally true.Write even if you think no one’s reading. Don’t write as if no one’s reading – because they will, eventually.Believe in what you write. It has value. – your experience is unique, and if you can communicate it well, others will come to understand it. And, yes, there’s a lot of stuff out there, but you have to believe that your opinions, experiences and observations are important.Don’t shy away from the hard stuff. Whether it’s an issue you feel strongly about, a difficult topic, or a personal experience, you can work it out.
  • How to Write a Blog Post

    1. 1. How to Write aBlog PostDavid HamiltonApril 2013
    2. 2. Hello, I‟m David, and I‟m a word-nerd.david@davidihamilton.com(Image by Robert Occhialini)
    3. 3. What is a blog?“A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world toshare your shopping list…. Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining „blog‟is a fool‟s errand.” – Jeff JarvisNew-ish categories of blogs expand what‟s possibleincluding photo blogs, video blogs (or vlogs), andmicroblogs (like Twitter).Blogs are similar to a lot of things, and they can be manythings, but it‟s important to pay attention to how they‟redifferent.“The medium is the message”– Marshall McLuhan
    4. 4. Blog-ish tendencies• Personal• Regular Posting• Unconstrained by Length (but there are attention constraints)• Hyperlink to other resources• Community Involvement (often unavoidable)• Less Institutional; Less Editorial Oversight
    5. 5. Why do people read blogs?Everyone wants goodcontent. Good content isusually either a solutionto a problem, orsomething that‟sentertaining.Solution toproblemEntertainmentTrust“The currency of blogging isauthenticity and trust… you pay folksto blog about a product and youcompromise that”–Jason Calacanis
    6. 6. Coming up with ideas
    7. 7. Where to look for ideasIdeas are everywhere.•Can you relate an experience to something larger?•Change your point of view.•Think about your own experiences.•Think beyond yourself: It‟s not always about you!•Research points/counter-points.•Read lots – you never know what connections you‟ll make.•Let the info come to you by setting up alerts for your subject.•Get out and talk to people.•Think of your audience.
    8. 8. Types of postsYou‟ve got an idea – now you have to mash it into a blog. Find the best way topresent it.Types of blog posts1. List post2. Personal anecdote/opinion/essay3. A Dialogue/Q&A4. Summary post5. Link post6. Review post7. Advice post8. Video/photo post
    9. 9. Make a PlanDo some research.Come up with questions.Create an outline, and break things down into manageable pieces.Don‟t tackle too much in one post. You can do a better job making it a seriesof posts.
    10. 10. Beginnings, Middlesand EndsPutting it all together – one piece at a time.
    11. 11. BeginningsMost blog posts have at least an intro paragraph or blurb.Make it informative.Make it enticing. Pitch it!Explain why you‟re writing this. Why you?Establish what the post is about and what will be covered.Set the stageYou‟re also setting up the reader‟s expectations!“In this post, I‟ll explain the way I became a saint (or pariah) in my industry.”“Follow along to find out why I think this government policy works/doesn‟t work.”
    12. 12. MiddlesDecide what points to cover.Give it a logical progression.Structure your post with headings. (WordPress makes this easy!)Your plan could change.
    13. 13. EndsConclusion paragraphs are where you summarize your post – it sharpens thepoint.It also allows you to relate this post to other things in the world.It can raise other questions. Don’t make your blog the be-all-end-all. End ablog with questions.You can give a preview to your next related posts.“A blog is in many waysa continuingconversation.”– Andrew Sullivan
    14. 14. Rewrite and rewrite some more“I write one page ofmasterpiece to ninety-onepages of shit. I try to putthe shit in thewastebasket.”- Ernest Hemingway
    15. 15. Editing tipsThere‟s no great writing without great editing.Write clearly, and simply.If something can be written shorter and retain the same meaning, by allmeans shorten it.Use the active voice, not passive.Have the power to delete – especially sentences you love.Don‟t stretch the truth. Check your facts!
    16. 16. Making bloggingeasier & better!Use WordPress to streamline your bloggingworkflow for yourself, and make better userexperiences.
    17. 17. WordPress hacks for bloggersSetup your WordPress blog to make it easy to write when inspirationstrikes1. Use the “Blog This” bookmarklet. When you find a website or blogpost that you2. Set the default image/video dimensions to the width of your blog.3. Use the Headings tags - for your main points, use H2, then if you havea sub-point, use H3. This is good for search engines (esp. withkeywords in headings), but also for readers how may want to skim yourpost.4. Use post excerpts to tease site visitors into reading your whole post.
    18. 18. The “Blog This” bookmarkletAdd this to your browser‟sfavourites bar to blog about sitesyou‟ve found.
    19. 19. Set the default image/video dimensionsMake this the maximumwidth of your blog too.The width of your blog.Width for accent pic.
    20. 20. Use the Headings tags3. Click PARAGRAPH4. Choose a heading.2. Select heading text.1. Click to open the“kitchen sink”.
    21. 21. Use the “more” linkAdd a “more” link.Click for customexcerpt options
    22. 22. Use post excerptsEnable Excerpts.
    23. 23. Beyond the Blog
    24. 24. Your Post in the Blog EcosystemBlogs exist in an ecosystem.People can comment directly on your blog, and even if comments are off,they can write about you on their own blog.Find ways to connect with other people.Give credit where credit‟s due.“A blog is only asinteresting as theinterest shown inothers.”― Lee Odden
    25. 25. If you work really hard & be kind,amazing things will happen.Even if you think no one‟s reading, write as if someone‟s reading. They will,eventually.Believe in what you write. It has value.Don‟t shy away from the hard stuff.“If youre going to fall out of love with public approval,something interesting will happen: people will bedeeply attracted to your work.”― Jeff Goins
    26. 26. We‟re a CommunityIf you have an idea you want to express, please reach out!T: @KO_DavidHE:david@davidihamilton.comRead other blogs,experiment, and have fun.Blogging is best learnedby blogging

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