May 17, 2011

How to write dazzling blog posts

Care for these 8 points and your blog posts will shine like gems.

‘Content is king’ is perhaps the best rule that has ever been told to a writer. It has become a cliché but its value has only increased with the advent of social media.

Many bloggers who have made good fortune tell you that they concentrate on content rather than bothering about popularity.

So, what makes the content that sells, that attracts attention, that is referred to by people again and again, that makes visitors come to the blog looking for more such content?

Here we give some qualities that differentiate good content from bad. These come naturally to some but others need practice and constant effort to improve the quality of their writing. Please bear in mind that quality content is not one-off affair, nor will it give quick dividends. You must churn out quality regularly; success will come as a by-product.

1. Choose the topic of each post on your blog with care.

You need to carefully select the topic for your post. 

First, the topic must be current. For example, if you have a news blog, you cannot be writing on a subject that has gone out of public memory. Even in very personal blogs, you need to select a topic that resonates with the reader's current memory. If you are dying to tell something from the past, give it a current intro and introduce the past event in flashback. 

Second, choose a field in which you have expertise, special knowledge or extra-ordinary experience. 

Third, if you have a general blog, write on a variety of subjects or the blog would turn monotonous. Of course, you may need to remain within a limited field if you have a specialized blog, e.g. a blog on food, clothing, old furniture, medicine or architecture. There too, you need to bring variety. Too narrow a field - such as 'migratory birds of the upper lake in Naukuchiatal' - would not only exhaust your own knowledge soon, it would interest a very small number of visitors.

You also need to look at the title of the post. Whether the post demands a pithy, smart or matter-of-fact title will depend on the subject. However, the title should always speak for the post. It should give crux of the issue in hand or say a moot point that goads the reader into reading the post. 

On the other hand, a very smart title, if it does not relate immediately to the content below, would lose its value in a moment.

Make the title as direct as possible. Use action words where possible. In posts that are advisory in nature, go straight to what you intend the viewer to do: ‘Eat these 5 … daily for …’

2. Be original; contribute to the discussion. 

Some say, nothing original can be written as everything has already been said. That may be true for fiction, but you still can be original in your blog – very original. If you have ingrained some idea from somewhere, and have seriously put your thought over it, experimented with it and refined it, what would come out of your keyboard is your own thought. It has your ‘original’ contribution.

On the other hand, if you just copy-paste someone else’s idea – verbatim or with modification – it shows. It lacks logic, coherence, commitment. It tells the reader, you are a fake.

Very generalized conclusions and advice, such as those on political and social topics, do not add your original thought into the discussion. At best, these qualify as lazy thinking. 

For example, we are hardly adding anything new,  special or specific to the discussion on Indian agriculture by advising that ‘We must find a lasting solution to the problems in agriculture sector… farmers must be given good prices for their produce… land reforms must be done…’ Such piece exposes the blogger’s mediocrity in many other ways: he does not have deep understanding of the issues involved, he has not analysed the subject well, he has written for the sake of filling up his blog-space, he is not serious, and he is not original. What value does a visitor find in that post? Why will he visit that blog again?

3. Put your heart into most if not all posts on your blog.

When you write because you are passionate about the subject, you tend to write well. Even if the prose is not outstanding, the thought will be. Even if the thought is incoherent, it will have the emotive quotient needed for good writing.

For example, if you felt very strongly about the way the US forces killed Osama and wrote a post on it, your writing must have shown your emotion. You were not ‘balanced’ in your approach: you either abused the US or Pakistan or Osama and his terror kingdom or intelligence agencies. You showed your frustration with the world’s inability to counter terrorism. You felt not capturing Osama alive after such a long intelligence operation was a failure. Or, your sympathies were with Osama. You did write what your heart cried about. We bet, it was a good post, whatever other short-comings it had.

In being emotional, you are seldom as balanced as an essayist who debates carefully the two sides of the issue, but that often brings out a new viewpoint. By all means, be balanced and reasonable, and appeal for peace even at the greatest provocation, but only if your heart says so.

Serious subjects might not be amenable to such emotive relation with your heart, but your commitment to the subject would still show up.

4. Advise only if you are an expert; don’t try to fake expertise.

We took months in writing this post because we needed to research. We needed to talk to people who write well and who maintain quality blogs. We needed to re-re-re edit the post till we thought we could publish it. [And yet we are sure, many bloggers would be able to polish it further many times over.]

Be credible, believable. Don't write on a serious subject unless you are an expert on it or have gained fair level of expertise by researching and investing your thought. You should also not make judgments where you do not have the necessary authority and knowledge to do so. You should not indulge in ‘how to’ posts on health, yoga, dance, etc unless you have the necessary knowledge, skills and training.

If you try to show off as an expert, the labour will show up. It will be better than being outright fake, but will not help in building credibility - one of the most essential ingredients of a quality blog. Please remember that in blogs, lack of expertise gets exposed more than in printed periodicals as the post is there for long; the trash once written spoils the quality of the blog again and again.

In popular magazines, we often see columns on health, astrology, cooking, home remedies, etc that are written week after week by people engaged to fill space. Columns by 'agony aunts' and sex advisers are written similarly in many magazines and newspaper supplements. These columns often give unscientific, even harmful, advice to advice-seekers.

5. Talk to humans; be a good  human being too.

Blog is an interactive web medium. When you write a post, you intend to talk to people visiting your blog. Even if you write about something very personal, you do so to share it with others. So, write as if you are talking. It means short sentences, simple language, active voice, addressing the second person ‘you’ rather than ‘he / she’.

Think of the blog visitor as a real visitor to your home on the web. Think of him / her as a knowledgeable, intelligent and friendly visitor who will love your blog if it has an inviting tone and will be put off by your snobbery, carelessness or unwelcome tone. 

Too much of ‘I’ in the blog shows you don’t care for others and toot your own trumpet. Too much of philosophizing and judgmental statements shows inflexible nature. [e.g. ‘That’s what happens to the rich’, ‘Old women always get angry when you call them by their first name’, ‘God will always listen to your prayer when you say it the first thing in the morning.’] Too much of cribbing makes you a ‘crying baby’. 

Being a pleasant human being matters especially in personal blogs.

6. Write like a journalist, not like an essayist.

Do not waste space on introducing the topic or telling why you wrote the post. Come to the subject straight, like a good newspaper reporter. Unless, of course, when you're talking about technical or rarely known subjects.

In newspapers, they write reports starting with the most urgent and most interesting facts in the first para. They follow it with some details, but these details too are important. Further down, they give other, less important, details. This ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing suits blogs as well, because the attention span of web surfers is found to be small as compared to print readers.

Use the middle of the post in explaining your hypothesis and giving examples. Use sub-titles in between [especially if the post is turning longish]. 

Though we are not talking about formatting in this post, let us still emphasize here that you need to highlight important words and phrases [but not too often] so that they catch the attention of visitors in a hurry.

Use the end to conclude. If you intend to conclude the post with an opinion, give a firm opinion, not a conservative, please-all, neutral one. 

We do not mean that you deliberately bring controversy [that would perhaps give you more visitors but devalue your blog if you do it just for controversy sake], but give an opinion that matters. If you write a fervent post in times of communal clashes, you may well end with an appeal for calm or showing that such infighting would weaken the nation, but even then say it with force, not like a concluding para in a child’s essay like this one: ‘In the light of the arguments given above we can conclude that it is the duty of every citizen to remain calm…’ 

Ending a post with a question works well if it is not done too often and the question makes the reader think beyond the blog. Just adding 'What do you think?' at the end of the post does not make a good ending.

7. Compose the post well. 

If your blog has just one-liner posts telling what you ate for lunch today, shift to tweeting; if you still have only that topic to write on but need to write a longer prose, create a blog open only to yourself. 

Blogging, though it started with personal diaries for one’s own sake, has evolved much beyond that. Blog posts are for others to visit, see and read. Even if you write on very personal subjects such as your daily chores or how your baby is growing, you need to care for your text. You need to ensure that your language is standard. You need to ensure that your words express exactly what you intend to. Your post can sure have jargons and slangs if you intend to have them, but that will be with some purpose and not because you cannot write good prose without them.

Keep paragraphs short even if it means only one sentence in some paragraphs. Conversely, use one paragraph for one argument / thought. If you stuff more than one argument in a para, it is likely that all arguments other than the first would be lost to the blog reader.

Writing in numbered points and bullet points adds to clarity and keeps the post in order. Such a posting style suits ‘How to’ type of topics especially well. For example, a post on ‘5 ways to look gorgeous on your wedding day’, will have 5 clearly defined sub-titles and one or more paragraphs under each sub-title. In such cases, even if the post is lengthy, readers won’t mind that. Numbered or ‘bullet point’ lists within descriptive prose also get reader's special attention to the entries in the lists.

8. Edit, edit, edit

Never write a post in a hurry and then release it on the web. Edit it at least once for grammar and punctuation, spellings, sentence structure, flow, length and formatting. Read it from beginning to end in one go to see how the prose flows: whether your thoughts are logical, whether thoughts and / or actions shift from para to para in a sequence, whether you achieve the intended purpose. If you find the thoughts getting confusing, see whether re-arranging paragraphs would make things clearer. Cut the post short if it has become too long. See if you can serialize it in two or more posts if nothing can be cut.

Hurried, sloppy and uncorrected writing makes the content poor. It shows that you are either an uneducated bloke or too careless – in both the cases, you need not be taken seriously.

So, friends, take care of these aspects whenever you write a blog post. Refer to this post again and again till good writing [for blogs and otherwise] becomes your habit. Wish you great blog writing skills!

Do visit other posts on Indian Top Blogs on how to introduce SEO into writing, and what else to do to make the blog appealing. We have grouped posts into distinct sections such as blog writing tips, blog design tips and SEO tips for bloggers