There’s a lot to think about when writing short. A blog post, a short piece of writing, requires careful consideration, just like a longer text.
But there’s no need to struggle with writing blog posts on your own. There’s quite a lot of blogging advice out there, most of it written by people who have built up a large following and/or have managed to parlay their blog into income. Their advice is directed towards people who want to do what they have done. What they say is almost always based on a here’s-what-I’ve-learnt approach. Nothing wrong with that – but of course what works for one doesn’t always work for another. So successful bloggers’ advice doesn’t necessarily neatly translate into scholarly blogging. But some of it is of course helpful.
Problogger.com stresses the importance of planning, writing for 15 minutes a day, working to a deadline and focusing on the end results. Advice that any academic writer would find pretty familiar. But their step step guide to how they write a post and ten tips for blog beginners might be of more interest. MK teacher’s advice on blogging– use the language of the people not the language of experts, use short sentences as much as possible, don’t try to be smarter than your reader, use concrete words and ditch others – might ruffle a few academic feathers. After all, we are experts. But you can see what Mr K is trying to get at. Write clearly.
Marketers are also interested in blogging and write blogging advice that has an eye on attracting an audience and persuading them to subscribe and or invest. While academics might feel a little uncomfortable with taking a marketing perspective, it is nevertheless worth seeing what the marketers have to say . For instance The copy that sells has produced a 37 point checklist for writing a killer blog post– a real clickbait title. Their check list includes seeing whether titles of posts give people a reason to read, so writers need to
- look to see whether the title is specific – the checklist talks about the one main goal of the post (what I called last week, the point)
- check whether the title involves an emotion such as shock, fear, encouragement, anger, curiosity.
There’s also advice from journalists who apply their own formal education and on-the-job training to blogging. Journalists tend to approach a blog as a particular genre, with basic principles that can be learnt; they know that a blog needs a defined three part narrative structure. School of Journalism‘s top tips suggest that bloggers
- Begin by calling readers’ attention to something they don’t know or might want to know
- Offer your own perspective, backed up by information which is linked to, and which you interpret for the reader, and
- Finish with a call to action.
You can even use a blog template that has exactly this structure.
If you are new to blogging then it does help, I think, to read some of this kind of advice and see what sits well with you. It’s also important to read scholarly blogs and see what kind of writing and format you find most appealing. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that, if you are writing for someone else’s blog, you need to follow whatever rules and style guide they have set for word length, use of illustrations, mode of address and so on. If you are guest posting its likely that the editor will work with you to make sure that your post meets their explicit rules, but also fits their take on writing clearly and engagingly.
And my approach? Well, I’m particularly interested in getting beyond the formulaic approach to posts and thinking instead about how the writer can tell their story in their own manner.
Let me put this another another way. Writing a blog post is not a matter of writing the same way you would a thesis or a journal article. One of the beauties of blogging is that it offers a lot of scope for academic writers who are often restricted in the kinds of writing that they can do. Blogs give us a chance to write more as we want, and the opportunity to develop what we might call a “voice”.
I often use the old – and I do mean old, like Aristotle old – rhetorical triangle (logos, ethos and pathos) to help me think about writing with style and voice. (And actually about most academic writing, but that’s a bigger story). So, my aw-shucks-down-home version of the rhetorical triangle is that readers are likely to be engaged, and persuaded, by a pleasing coming together of:
- the message – how well the post and its story hangs together and whether the point is of value and of interest
- the credibility of the writer, established in part by who they are but also by the way they present their message, and
- appeal, how much a mood and ethos is created in the writing, how well the writer’s values are communicated, how much the audience is offered the opportunity to respond to the explicit message as well as to what’s unwritten.
I find that these more general thinking points are more helpful to me than a checklist. Aristotle’s three interlocked text characteristics remind me to think about getting my point clear through establishing a thread and writing in a way that readers will trust and find useful or interesting. They are also a helpful steer in revising a first draft of a post. Because yes, even a little text needs going over more than once.
Which brings me to my final thought. If you are beginning to blog, than it is helpful to begin to develop your own strategies for evaluating what you are writing and how. So as you are reading and writing in short form, you can become more expert in blogging… And this in turn helps you to become more critical about the other academic writing that you do.
It’s not so tricky to write a blog post – why not give it a go and see where it takes you?
The next and last in this mini-series will look at starting your own blog.
Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash
Dear Pat: I went back to one of your earlier posts on academic blogging, (15 September, 2014) and realised I’ve ticked off all the listed ‘boxes’ in the course of the last decade.
It’s been a personal record, a diary or journal of trials and tribulations, but I feel it’s time to cease. Not only are there now so many other ‘instant’ platforms but also it often lacks anything cogent to say that I haven’t already said.
On the positive side, blogging does improve writing – and, sometimes, as you try to condense something complicated or obscure into a thousand words (or less) of reasonably plain English, a post will uncover an angle on your research topic that you didn’t realise was there. (Oh, dear – that paragraph is one long sentence …)
Blogging can also improve communication, done in tandem with writing up research. Rather than dashing off hurried Tweet-style posts, you learn to analyse a thread, choose words, and strike out the unnecessary. (In my case, adjectival clauses.)
Plus, Aristotle’s triangle is still of use!