Writing Good Blog Posts: The Art of Seduction
For some people, writing comes natural. For most, it comes with pain. Certainly when writing for a specific and demanding audience, like blog readers.
Putting it bluntly, blog readers are lazy and hasty. Blogs are like inflight magazines: something “light” one can read in between other work, a piece of literature which is more often “scanned” than read. So whatever you do, don’t ask an effort from blog readers, but make it easy for them. They have other, more valuable things to do.
And IF you want them to do an effort in reading your blog, then you will need to seduce them, and make it worth their while. After all, they have hundreds of other blogs to choose from. So most of my blogging tips are centered around “Blogging: the Art of Seduction”.
While many have written about the “Art of Blogging” before, here are my ten writing tips for good blog posts. They are based on several training sessions for CGIAR researchers, and on a recent workshop for scientists at CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research. So forgive me if my tips are slightly biased towards “how to make scientists good bloggers”.
1. Make titles short, simple, catchy and clear.
The first thing people will read, is your title. If your title does not excite them, in five seconds, they will flip to the next blog. So, as part of the “Art of Seduction”, the title should “lure” them into reading on.
A title should be catchy, an attention grabber. It should be grammatically clear. Don’t let people read a title twice before they understand it. Keep it simple and condensed.
A title should not, as in scientific papers, summarize the content, but rather be a single line teaser. One of my all time favourites is “Too hot for chocolate?“, a blog piece by Neil Palmer about the effects of climate change on cacao production.
One important remark, though: titles which excite readers might be meaningless for search engines. So distinguish both: titles for readers and titles for search engines, by using an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plugin for your blog. In the example of “Too hot for chocolate”, the SEO title might be: “The effects of climate change on cacao production”, pleasing both the readers and crawlers. — If you have a blog without proper SEO, you miss out on more than 50% of your traffic, which comes from search engines.
2. Sculpture your first paragraph.
In the “Art of Blogging Seduction”, after your title, you are now ready for your second date with your blog reader: your first paragraph. If your first paragraph is boring, long, complicated or ask for too much of an effort from your reader, you will loose their attention. And -Pooooffff- off they go.
No matter how much time you spend on your blog post, spend twice as much attention on your first paragraph.
Like for titles, first paragraphs should not be a summary of your blog post, but rather an extended teaser, leading into the main part of your blog post.
3. Tell a story
As part of our blog training for researchers, we found many scientists are good writers, but bound by a formulaic approach to report on their research. In nearly every scientific field, journal articles start with a general introduction, then give methods, results, and a discussion. In blogging terms: boring!
In a blog, you are not subject to those limitations. You need to grab your readers’ interest, then lead them through the content in a way that satisfies their curiosity. You might start with an anecdote, a teasing statement, a couple of questions.
Through the body of your post, you take your reader by the hand, and walk them through the story, up to the conclusion, which rounds up the story.
Blogs are often written from a personal perspective. What did you do, what do you think about the subject. This is a challenge for scientists, who are used to write objectively, peer-reviewed and all. In the science world, blogs are often subjective pieces about an objective content.
4. Use pictures
A blog post without a picture, is not a good blog post, simple as that. Use at least one picture at the top, under the title, or in the first paragraph. It will help stir up the interest and attention of your reader. Seduction, remember?
You can use several pictures, or illustrative figures within the body of your post, but make sure not to over-do it. I rarely use more than one picture per blog post.
5. Make it short
My statistics show that people spend an average of two to three minutes reading one blog post. If you want to stretch their attention span, you’ll have to make it worth their while.
It is more difficult to write a short blog post than to write a long one. So, make an effort to shorten your post. About 500-800 words is a general rule. If the story is interesting, it can run long a little longer.
6. Use a simple, concise but a correct language
Most blog readers are not native English speakers. Avoid complex sentences and complicated Oxfordian English idioms. Make short sentences, running over one or two lines only.
Oh, and spell check your text! A simple language is no excuse for grammatical errors. I usually proofread my blog posts aloud. It helps me spot mistakes or errors in the flow of sentences.
7. Use short paragraphs
“Air” your text: split your blog post into paragraphs. Use plenty of blank lines between different parts. If your blog post is longer than a page, use paragraph titles to structure your text.
8. Use hyperlinks
When you write a blog post about a scientific subject, back up your statements with links to reference literature. Use links to illustrate what you talk about.
9. Round up your blog post
Unless if it is intended to stir up your readers, your blog post should have an ending. “The End” should give the reader a feeling that the story is complete. It should be a conclusion, a solution, a clear end to a summation of things,.. Whatever your ending formula is, the reader should think: “Ah, I have understood what the issue is”.
Like in movies “The End” of a blog post should never come as a surprise.
10. Have fun
If you have fun writing a blog post, grinning as you go along, there is a good chance your readers will smile too. If you get all excited and winded up, probably your readers will be too. The more fun you have, the more inspired you will write.
After all, “seduction” should be fun and exciting, no?
Ready for more? You might also be interested in Hemingway’s tips for bloggers.
This post is inspired by a blogging guide by Michelle Kovacevic (CIFOR)
Picture courtesy Channel4