July 19, 2012

Blog content: quality of writing matters a lot

We wrote a post long back on the quality of writing: ‘How to write dazzling blog posts’. We talked about good content and gave 8-point advice on improving the quality of blog’s content. In the present post, we take the subject forward, with greater focus on the craft of writing.

Let words speak.

write to showPlease look at the first word written in the image on the right. We appreciate your eyesight if you could read it: it is ‘car’. Now pause a second and think what picture of car emerged before your eyes when you read the word. It would perhaps be a car that you often see [e.g. your own car] and possibly you did not imagine beyond a fleeting glimpse of that car. Now read the biggest word in the image. It still is ‘car’ and we’re sorry for the repetition, but it drives home a point: Even if we wrote ‘car’ 20 times bigger, our imagination of ‘car’ did not grow 15 times, not in details or even size! OK, do read this expression: ‘a car as big as a mini-bus’. Didn’t a mini-bus like space form briefly before your eyes? But the car we are talking about is not only the size of the mini-bus, it is a red car with open roof. It has a single front seat on which a smart boy and an exceptionally beautiful girl are sittingface to face. Your imagination must have taken you to all that we’ve described above, but if we ask you what clothes the boy and girl were wearing or who was driving the car and on which road, you would perhaps be blank.
Words when used imaginatively lead people to imagine. You agree?

Well, this car is now running very fast. Let’s tell you how fast it is running: In sixty seconds, it has gone beyond the half-mile stretch of meandering, rain-soaked road. Did you notice that the second sentence produced much more action-filled video before your eyes than the first one? Words have the capacity to show action too, isn’t it?

The takeaway is that when you write a post, use words to show the reader what you want to show. Showing can be done effectively by describing the object and all relevant facts so that the reader can imagine what you want him to imagine.
However, do not overdo it, and do not stuff your writing with too many adjectives and adverbs. Don’t overstate the obvious. Consider how much familiar your audience is with your subject.

'Show’ emotions, but with care.


People often overdo when it comes to expressing emotions in their writings. They feel that it makes their writing ‘poetic’ if they stuff their writing – especially personal musings – with myriad figures of speech to express their feelings. They want to pour their heart out in each sentence.

Yes, words evoke feelings, but you should supply only as much of sentiment as the reader is prepared to receive. Sentimental writing usually puts readers off, especially strangers. Quality and quantity both are important.

That takes us to another related aspect: showing one’s emotions on controversial and hot issues, e.g. religious conversions, fight between two countries, racialism, gender inequality, party-politics.
Writers are often advised to play with readers’ emotions. This is supposed to keep adrenaline flowing in the reader’s blood and keeping him glued to the writing. Most best-selling pieces of fiction are those that play with readers’ emotions, isn’t it? Some blogging advisors even suggest that we pick up controversial topics for improving our blog’s popularity.

Instead of suggesting you to rake up controversies just for getting popular, we’d recommend that you discuss all aspects of a controversial issue and then derive your conclusion (which need not be sober and middle-path).If you are participating in a discussion already there, it is OK to give your views even if they are extremely one-sided, but with respect for opposite points of view. To remain authoritative, support arguments and emotions with facts. Find a golden mean between facts and emotions. This depends on the type of blog as well as the type of topic.
Don’t be personal, don’t hurt feelings, don’t be judgmental unless necessary.

Follow a pattern but break it too if required

In a post, thoughts should flow one after the other and should not be jumbled haphazardly.Generally,give one paragraph to one thought and let successive paragraphs / thoughts follow a logic even if you are not discussing a complex subject. In a travelogue, don’t jump to and fro between different places unless it serves a purpose.

There could be occasions when you’d want to break the logic / chronology. For example, you went on a long trip to a scenic countryside. You want to pick up village houses as the theme of your post based on this trip, and the most beautiful house you visited was the third in the series. You’d perhaps do a better piece if you started from the third one. Here too, you can follow a pattern: from the most significant to lesser ones.

Research your subject well

If you want your posts to be authoritative, write on subjects you have proper understanding of. Then, back up the writing with proper research.If you cannot do so, you will be better off admitting your low understanding of the subject and seeking viewers’ experiences or expert views.

Research is very important even if you are an expert on the subject, especially when you write an advisory post. For example, if you are a professional photographer, you’d know all the aperture-speed-lighting-sensitivity-lens stuff as much as the back of your palm. However, if you have not been regularly updating yourself on the latest technology, you must back up your knowledge on such aspects before writing an article on how to handle a modern DSLR camera.

It often helps to do a bit of research even where you think your writing is of a personal nature, if only to cross-check facts against errors. For example, if you write about a place you have recently visited, writing about the distance of the place from major cities, modes of transport, local customs etc will enrich your travelogue and also lessen the chances of errors in your own understanding of the place and people.

The inverted pyramid approach to writing

In journalism, they teach you to write news reports in inverted pyramid style. What it means is that you write the most important aspect of the report in the first one or two lines. The sentences lower down have information of progressively lesser importance. For example, when reporting about an accident, the reporter must describe deaths, injuries, place and time of accident and the cause of accident in the first one or two sentences. It may be followed by a victim’s version to show the enormity of the accident or other details about which the reader will be most curious. Then will come details about this type of accidents, eyewitness accounts, history of such accidents in that place, proneness of the vehicle / building, and so on. This style serves three purposes in newspapers: one, it presents to the reader the most important details of the news in the first instance so that the reader’s interest is maintained in the news-item. Two, it gives the reader the choice to leave the story wherever his interest wanes. Three, it gives the sub-editor the freedom to cut the news item wherever he wants, without deleting the crux of the report; this cutting is often needed when the page is being finalized for printing.

In writing for the web too, the first two purposes are well served by writing in inverted pyramid style. More so, because the web reader is in a hurry and his attention span is lower.

While all writing cannot be shaped in inverted pyramid form, most writings can be. When you are reviewing a product, do give a few sentences about the best / worst features and follow them with specific details. When writing a travelogue, tell about the most memorable experience of the tour before giving finer details of the journey. When commenting on a political development, start with your best comment and follow it with arguments…

Don’t force your writing into inverted pyramid format if that distorts the flow of your writing. Don’toverdo it. There are various props to keep the attention of the reader and point important aspects of the post to him. We’ll talk about them in another post.

Many more blogging tips here.