Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | November 4, 2006

Blogging 101

The International Council of Dinosaurs, District Nine (ICD-9) has appointed me their official blogging expert. Actually, because I’ve been reading blogs far longer than I’ve been writing one, my opinions about what makes a good blog have been honed over several years instead of just my few months of actual blogging.

I have distilled all my saurian knowledge into these three basic rules:

  1. Write well.
  2. Say something.
  3. Mix it up.

What do they mean?

Rule #1 ought to be self-explanatory. The whole idea of a blog is communication. Don’t believe all that nonsense about the internet as a new form of communication where the old rules don’t matter anymore. Like it or not, blogging is writing. The basics are still important. Spelling, grammar and punctuation count, not because the Grammar Nazis will come rap your knuckles (things have gotten so bad they can’t be bothered anymore; they just laugh at you behind your back) but because their absence is distracting. Engaging the reader is good; distractions are bad.

It helps to be eloquent, like Dr. Charles or Sid Schwab, but that’s not what I mean by “write well.” Complete sentences, correctly placed modifiers, not using commas like a stupid person (that’s an actual comma rule; go read this book if you don’t believe me) and noun-verb agreement go a long way toward making a blog readable. That does not mean there is a set of ironclad rules that can never be broken. Just as with other kinds of writing, you can break all the rules you want if there’s a good reason for doing so. (The only good reason is if it makes the writing better.) And in general, it’s hard to effectively break rules when you don’t know them in the first place. So, just as with other forms of writing: read. Widely. Books. Blogs. Lots of blogs. Get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Proofread your posts; more than once, if possible. Check and double check that you’ve said just what you want to say, and that the writing is the best you can make it. Make sure all your links work. Then really “proof”-read it. This is not really reading at all. Go over your post “looking” at each word to make sure it’s spelled correctly; make sure there aren’t any tpyos [yes, that’s intentional]; that commas are all commas and periods are all periods; that there aren’t any extra spaces; that all sentences begin with a capital letter. Make sure there’s an extra line between paragraphs (but only one.) All the nuts and bolts stuff. Try not to hit “publish” until it’s perfect.

The bottom line is that if sloppy writing makes your blog difficult or annoying to read, it won’t be read.

Rule #2 is what separates an interesting, general purpose blog from a diary. If you don’t have something to say, don’t bother blogging. Even if you have a wildly popular blog visited multiple times a day by people who hang on your every word, nothing will discourage them from checking in quicker than too many “Nothing much happening today, but it’s raining” entries. You may have 45 comments along the lines of, “Yeah; it’s raining here too,” “Bright sunshine here,” “We’re supposed to get eight inches of snow later so I have to go buy bread and milk,” but unless you’re the Weather Channel blog, who really cares?

Not every post has to be chock-full of weighty observations about life, the universe and everything, but I think it’s important to at least say something each time you blog. It can be lighthearted, serious, profound, whimsical, funny (funny is always good) or whatever. But try not to post just for the sake of posting. Posts like “I took some great pictures that I’ll be posting later” cheat your readers. Wait until you’re ready to post the damn pictures. There’s no rule that says you have to blog every single day. That’s what’s so cool about blogging: there are no rules at all (except mine, of course.)

Rule #3 is the most flexible, in that there are many blogs with perfectly good reasons to ignore it. Still, my favorites are the blogs that mix it up among different topics, tones and formats. It’s the precise proportions of that mix which make each blog unique.

Even if your blog is primarily about, say, medicine, you can still toss in posts about sports, animals, family, politics, jokes, and so on. Within a given area (like medicine): flip around between funny patient anecdotes, ranting at the sorry state of the health care system, emotionally moving encounters, helpful hints, etc.

Mix up up your formats: long essays; one-liners; quoting someone else’s blog and commenting on it; linking to a new blog you’ve found.

The bloggers I enjoy most also make it a point to vary their tone: serious; whimsical; whiny; funny; strident; indignant. You get the gist. The trick to keeping it interesting is not pissing people off too often, and not boring them on a regular basis.

Not everyone “mixes it up.”

Kevin basically does link-and-paste, sometimes with an excerpt, and occasionally with a sentence or two expressing his agreement or disagreement. If you look back at his blog, you’ll see he doesn’t do much extensive writing of his own. That’s fine. Kevin’s got what I call a “nexus” blog: you read it more to see what he’s found than necessarily for what he himself has to say, but wow: watch your hit count spike when he mentions you. Dr. Charles, Dr. Sid and Tundra PA tend more toward wonderful essays, usually long enough for them to suck you right into their fascinating worlds.

There are also bloggers whose sole purpose is to vent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They find their own community of readers to offer support and solace. The great thing about the internet is that there’s room for everyone.

But in the final analysis, if someone were to ask, “How do you write a blog?” this dinosaur would answer:

  1. Write well.
  2. Say something.
  3. Mix it up.

NaNoWriMo Status: Still technically behind, but with over 3000 words written today alone, still confident of catching up.
Word count to date: 5467
Favorite sentence: “The deserted lobby was empty.”

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Responses

  1. There is far too much seriousness in healthcare today. For extravagant old school foolishness visit oldfoolrn.blogspot.com. You can even learn about colonic etherization or how we cooked a turkey in an autoclave while on call over Thanksgiving.


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