Blogging: the right ingredients

 
A line of kitchen kettles at King George Military Hospital 1915, London, England. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A line of kitchen kettles at King George Military Hospital 1915, London, England. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Writing requires equal measures of technical skill and creative flair. You need a few basic ingredients to get started, and then you can begin to layer your writing into an enjoyable and interesting read.

When starting to write a blog, it helps to focus on the technical elements first. Once you’ve got your main points into a logical order, you’ll feel inspired to craft your text into something that is creative and interesting to read as well. 

Choose the right blog length

How many words you write depends on your audience and the purpose of your blog. If you have a professional audience, for example, who want to widen their knowledge about a topic, 900 to 1600 words would be appropriate.

Some might read for longer, depending on the topic size and complexity.

But if it is for a member of the public, who is reading recreationally about an artwork say, 600 words would be ample.

A common rule of thumb is to write about half the length you would write for print.

What’s your angle?

You are probably writing about a topic that you are an expert in: the design of a building, your latest documentary, new research, etc. If you want to grab and hold your reader’s attention, you’ll need to hook them in with the very first sentence.

Ask yourself “What’s in it for them?” or “Why would they care?”, and begin from there. This will form your introduction and will be what readers see on a Google search. It also starts you thinking in the 'inverted pyramid' model common in journalism and very helpful online.

If you’re not sure whether you have a good angle, get some objective feedback from a colleague or friend. 

One point per paragraph

Your high school English teacher probably drilled this in, and it hasn't changed. You are taking your reader on a set-by-step journey through a topic you know well. What do you want to tell them first, second and third? 

Elegantly lead the way through your subject matter by inter-linking your paragraphs, discussing and elaborating each point, one at a time.

This will give your blog purpose and direction. The only time to circle back in on the narrative is in the conclusion.

Subheadings improve readability

Many blog visitors only read the first sentence and then scan headings and links. Annoying, I know. (You probably do it too!) But for these skimmers and scanners, you want to quickly tell them what the blog is about.

Make sure you use your title, first sentence and headings to capture your key messages – they will get some value, even if they don’t read every word. And for people who stay and read on, they will be able to find the information they're most interested more quickly.

Tone of voice

A personal voice works best for a blog format, so be yourself and use plain English. You are not writing a scholarly paper, technical description or an advertisement, so use the active voice wth personal pronouns.

Try to approach your writing as if you are holding a conversation with your reader, or presenting a TED Talk.

Here's a great example from the Brooklyn Museum website by Sharon Matt Atkins:

“Once we had our group of the ten most nominated artists, Eugenie and I set out on our part of the collaboration. We visited the artists independently without preconceived ideas about the work we would see or the show it would result in. We wanted the art we would encounter in the studios to determine the shape of the final exhibition.”

Short sentences and short paragraphs

It’s harder to read from a screen than it is in print – web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen says we are 25% slower when reading online. So keep your reader alert by using short sentences and short paragraphs. 

A wall of text is a real barrier.

Be a step in their journey

The web is built on hyperlinks. By linking to related topics – either to pages within your website or to another website (open the link in a new window) – you become even more helpful and useful to your readers. 

Your blog title

I usually write my title or headline last. Make it interesting to improve your headline click-through rate. It should tell the reader something about the topic but in a unique and intriguing way to entice them to read on.

Questions can make great headlines, like these examples from The Guardian and Auckland Museum:

Are electric cars bad for the environment? 
When is a tooth not a tooth?

And semicolons are a handy device too:

Photo essay: In praise of parasites.

 

Once you have put in place these important readability elements, your story can confidently take on a personality of its own.