Be Opinionated – Your Opinion counts
This is probably one of the hardest things to achieve when it comes to blog writing. I am talking about the balance between having an opinion and being neutral. On the one hand, you need to have an identity, and therefore some opinion about the topics you write about. A piece of writing is bland without an opinion of some sort. On the other hand, do your readers want the facts or do they want your opinion? Then, there’s the issue of your readership: if you have an opinion or sentiment you constantly air throughout all your posts, you’ll have loyal readers who subscribe to that same opinion. At the same time, you’ll lose all your other readers. Another thing to consider is that constantly airing your opinions could be a put-off for the mere reason that it might sound self-aggrandizing. And that’s something you definitely don’t want if your blog is to be a success with the Internet/Blogging community at large. There are several answers to the question. First, you will need to identify who will read your blog, and then voice (or silence) your opinions accordingly. Second, never post an opinion that sounds like a fact! This happens all too often—you’ll see a post that says,
“The top ten reasons the PS3 will not succeed.” Then you’ll see a list of reasons, without any sources. Yes, such posts are interesting, but you need to at least throw in a few words to indicate that it is your opinion: “There are several reasons I believe the PS3 will not succeed. I can’t say for sure, of course, but here goes…” That, as an introduction to the post, is valuable. And then, you’ll need to give sources for all the information you compile into that list.
It is healthy to have an opinion, although you don’t need to have one on every single thing you write about. Finally, it comes down to how famous you are. A first-time blogger, unless exceptionally gifted with knowledge and words alike, is better off being reasonably neutral. As your blog grows in popularity, you get more and more of the license to be yourself—and you can even afford to be opinionated once you’re sufficiently famous. It works just like in life!
When you start off your blog, keep a low profile. Do not expect people to start listening to you all of a sudden—do not try and start off with a bang. Be “democratic”—respect other people’s opinions, and respect other people in general. The best blogs reflect in-depth understanding and research. Readers of these blogs, after reading a post, are left a little enriched. The lesson here is to blog what you’re most passionate and/or knowledgeable about, like I said earlier.
Always retain a flavour of humility in your posts. Make it a point to reply to responses to your posts—the reader will be that much more likely to revisit your blog. As your readership increases, be prepared to put out more content. Once in a while, you can invite other people to post on your blog—this can lend a “relief” factor. Again, once in a while, just talk about yourself or about life in general—or just ramble. This lends the personal touch. Your readers do want to know about you—once you’re popular enough.
Finally, life on the Internet is “fast”—make it a point to keep yourself abreast with what’s going on in the world. Your blog will reflect the depth of your understanding sooner or later, and your understanding of things itself will only improve over time as you constantly educate yourself. Keep learning and unlearning— all the time.
A word of caution here: you might be tempted to change the site-design every now and then, and if this is the case, resist the temptation. Readers get used to the look and feel of your blog, and though I don’t say never to redesign it, it should either be a very occasional revamping, or small, incremental change. Taking your readers opinion before going ahead with major site re-design would be a good strategy.
Follow the rules
… of grammar and punctuation and so on. This point is an oft-overlooked one: you’ll see many blogs that don’t bother with proper punctuation and paragraph breaks and so on, but you will notice that the best—and most well-written—blogs do follow these rules. It’s simple. There exist readers who can’t differentiate between a grammatically perfect blog post and one that’s written in a hurry with little attention being paid to such things as commas and full-stops, and those people won’t care. Yes, you aren’t doing them a favor by punctuating correctly. But what about that part of your readership that does care for such things? Poor language will certainly be a put-off. It’s not to sound wise or very well-educated: it’s just that some people are linguistically sensitive, and are put off by laxity in grammar and punctuation. For best results, therefore, do spell-checks before posting. Microsoft Word does not do a terrific job with its grammar checking feature, still it can help with common errors—you could try using that feature.
Coming to a more important point, I have not come across a single famous blog out there which uses SMS-language, or teen-speak, or whatever you might care to call it: “ur” for “your” and such. To a sensitive eye, it looks crass and uneducated. An “I” in lower case could mar your blog when it comes to such people!
Go through your blog post once or even twice (proof reading) before posting. Almost all people find errors the first time they read what they have written. Remember a well-articulated blog post free from grammatical errors is the second thing (site-design is the first) which declares you a professional blogger.
Here are some good rules to follow while writing blog posts
1. Use descriptive headlines that reveal the point of the article without further reading; the key here is to create micro-content that can fare well on its own. (An example of a good title is “Edit Captions in Picasa Web Albums” used at the unofficial Google System. An example of a bad title is the official Google blog’s “Greetings, Earthlings!”) Keep in mind the headline may be read in an RSS reader, a news portal which aggregates content, a search result, your blog archive, a bookmark and so on, and it may be surrounded by dozens of other headlines.
2. Write in inverted pyramid style: first get to the point and mention the core ideas, then fill in the details in later paragraphs. The first and second sentence should allow people to decide if they want to continue reading this.
3. The first link is the one most people click on, so it should also be the main link for your article. Also, too many links too close to each other diffuse your point and make you less of a filter, and a (news) blog should always be a filter for others.
4. In each longer post, re-introduce core ideas you mention because your readers come from all walks of life and may not be up-to-date (e.g. they may read your archived post half a decade from now coming from a search engine). It’s better to say “The Electronic Frontier Foundation yesterday announced … the EFF also said that …” than to say “The EFF announced… the EFF also said that …”.
5. With a global audience it’s never a good idea to only use sophisticated words not everyone may know. Some of your readers may speak English only as second language. They may want to learn new words, but it shouldn’t come at the price of missing your post’s point. (If you only speak English as second language to begin with, following this rule might be much easier.)
6. Credit your sources with a mention and link. As opposed to mainstream news posts, bloggers usually tell where they got the story from.
7. Mark updates and changes (and do update and change when readers find something wrong in your writing).
8. Spell-check your posts, and read them for clarity once or twice before posting. An error now and then isn’t bad but the less fewer errors, the more quickly people will be able to read and understand your article.
Every rule listed above has exceptions. For example, when your post is very humorous in tone and has a punch line, you may specifically not want to give it away in the title. Or when you’re writing a longer essay, you’ll just have to live with the fact that you won’t be able to “cut to the chase” in the first paragraph. Another exception is that it’s not really necessary to mark every change, e.g. when you fix a typo somewhere in the text, or when you just posted 10 seconds ago. Not every post needs an image, etc. etc. And sometimes, breaking the rule is a conscious style element.