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Before starting this blog, I read several books and lurked in the blogosphere to figure out, first of all, what blogs are (since I didn’t own a cell phone until mid-2008, it’s not surprising I didn’t know this). I also wanted to know what makes a good blog.

jargon

I’ve distilled in this post some of what I’ve learned, which I’ll try to use in my blog posts. However, ancora imparo. Whenever I stray from my ideal, feel free to let me know!

Blogging is like the game Othello: it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.  (The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging p. 24)

What are blogs?

I once thought that blogs were mainly an outlet for political rants, personal journals, and marketing stunts. They are that, but they can also be a platform to foment change, a collection point for specialized information, a source of entertainment, a community of people linked by their interest in a subject, and much more. Blogs provide an equalizing effect, allowing more people to publish their opinions and news to the wider world without barriers of cost, geography, or editorial restrictions. Additionally, blogs allow two-way, active communication, not just a top-down, passive dissemination of information.

What makes a good blog?

Stick to one topic

The best blogs center around one general topic and are written for a specific audience. Each blog posting focuses on a single idea that is stated in the title and restated in the beginning of the posting. Each posting is more than just an anecdote and has a take-away lesson.

Help the reader

A glass of water from the fire hose

The Internet is chock-a-block with information. Good keywords, categories, and titles can help readers find a post and determine if they want to read it. To keep readers updated on new blog posts without having to check back to the site, include options for an RSS feed and an email subscription. To allow readers to refer back to a specific blog post rather than wading through the main site, include a permalink in each post.

Style

While a chattier, informal writing style is common in blogs, good grammar and spell checking lend legitimacy. Short posts and visual elements – such as photos, headers, bulleted lists, and offset quotes – that break up a “wall of text” will make a post more attractive to busy readers. A punchy, pithy first paragraph that states the point of the post will draw readers (especially when only the first paragraph is displayed in an RSS feed).

Build a readership and a community

The greater the number of readers, the better the chance of developing a blog community whose members will suggest improvements and help scout for relevant new topics.

Recruit readers through personal contacts via email, social networking sites, and old-school business cards. Links to social bookmarking sites on each blog entry will increase visibility. Sending helpful, blog-related information to local mainstream media sources can elevate a blogger to “hometown smartypants” on a subject and drive more readership. Commenting on and linking to other blogs (“trackbacks”) will also funnel more readers.

Drawing readers into a sense of community and ownership in a blog will suck them into reading regularly (“lurking”) and may spur them to actively contribute. Bloggers should encourage and respond to reader comments and ask for specific feedback. Because the openness of the internet brings out the snark and basest commercial instincts in people, a comments moderation policy is critical to control spam, trolls (disruptive or off-topic remarks), and flaming (personal attacks) that will drive readers away.

Keep it interesting

Regular posts (2-3 times per week is a common suggestion) keep a blog fresh, give readers a “fix”, also help boost the ability to be found on search engines. Tried-and-true journalism techniques draw interest as well: true personal stories, a sense of place (conjured by describing view, feel, taste, smell, sound), or a surprise or emotional connection.

Exploit the Internet

The ability to add hyperlinks to other sources of information makes a blog a rich medium (although too many hyperlinks are distracting). Links in posts can back up a point or add another layer of meaning. Links to previous posts on a topic (a “thread”) brings the richness of a conversation to a blog.

Books I read on this topic

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging. By the editors of the Huffington Post. Simon & Schuster 2008.

I wouldn’t call this book a “complete” guide to blogging. It gives a good overview of the big-picture how-to of blogging, but not a lot in the way of technical details. It is pragmatic about the likelihood of making money off a blog (not likely). A strength of this book is the number of comments contributed, which makes the book feely “bloggy”. A downfall of the book is its focus on the Huffington Post and its political leanings, which will likely turn many people off.

Blogging for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley. For Dummies 2008

This book has good information on the details of setting up a blog, though it sometimes includes too many specifics. Several topics belong in another book altogether (such as how to use Blogger and how to write HTML). Strengths of the book include deciding whether to blog, what to blog about, choosing your blog platform, and which features to incorporate. The book discusses making money from your blog, which I think is unrealistic.

Blogging America: the new public sphere. Aaron Barlow. Greenwood Publishing Group 2008.

This book was more of an academic overview of the phenomenon of blogging, and somewhat boring other than the final chapter, which provided examples of the scope of blogs within the genre of Christian bloggers.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Kate Hopper and Bonnie Rough, who fortuitously introduced me to the value of blogging during The Loft Literary Center’s  Memoir Festival.

Copyright 2009 by Katie Bradshaw

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