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More Random, Granular Tips for Bloggers

I have been saying it for years: there is still a place for blogs. Even while many new forms of communication have come our way in the past 10 or 15 years, and while each of them may have its own place in the media ecosystem, none can exactly duplicate the unique strengths of blogging. A few years ago I shared some Random, Granular Tips for Bloggers that were meant to help bloggers grow in their craft. Today I am offering an additional list of tips that I hope will accomplish the same goal.

Don’t botch the opening lines. The first line or two of any article are the most important because they are the ones that will determine whether people will continue to read or just go on to the next piece of content begging for their attention. A common but ineffective way to begin an article is with something like, “This is part two of a series on…” or “in the last part of this series I covered…” Not only are those uninteresting sentences, but they immediately tell readers that unless they have already read the previous articles, they won’t get much from this one. It is far better to begin with words that stand well on their own and will draw in new readers. After you’ve got them interested you can remind them of the previous articles. (Like in a sermon—first give a great introduction, and then remind people where you’re at in the series.)

Don’t botch your title. In a similar vein, make sure your title is strong—not clickbait or misleading, but also not drab and ineffective. One way you can go wrong is to put something like “Part One” or “Part Two” in your title. There is nothing wrong with writing a multi-part series, but by advertising it as such you may drive off people who haven’t read previous entries or who may not want to read the first part of a series when they don’t know when or if they will read the follow-ups. Make the article strong enough to stand on its own and let people know it is a series after you’ve proven that it will be worth their while to invest the time and effort in reading it. (Further to this, remember when you write a series to go back to earlier entries to add some way to navigate from one to the next. Also, remember that you can change titles later on to add “Part One,” etc.)

Consider not using the words “Book Review” in your title. I have covered this one before, but want to circle back to it. I suppose it relates to what I have already covered, but I will say it nonetheless. In general, I recommend avoiding explicitly titling an article as a book review. There are exceptions, of course, if the book is very well-known and the kind people are already interested in or if you are writing for a more academic audience. But as I explained previously, in most cases, a headline that beings with “Book Review:” is not going to make much of an impact. Consider, for example, two options for Tara Isabella Burton’s look at the rise of the “Nones” and how they are creating and adopting new forms of spirituality. The first might be “Book Review: Strange Rites” and the second, using the book’s subtitle, “New Religions for a Godless World.” I rather suspect the second option will prove more effective. (A book’s subtitle often makes a great title for the review since where a title is often clever, a subtitle is usually far more descriptive.)

Make sure readers can subscribe via email. Though many bloggers use RSS readers to subscribe to blogs, the average reader does not. If they want to be notified of your new material it is likely they will want to do so via email. For this reason it makes sense to have some kind of an email list that will push your new content to subscribers. For smaller lists and less frequent writers you may want to do this manually; for larger lists and more frequent writers you may want to automate this. Services like Feedblitz will do this for you.

Understand the medium. Blogs are (generally) not an academic medium. Neither are they formally published books. While you should obviously never plagiarize, neither does it make the most of the medium to cite sources as if you have written a term paper. The better approach may be to relate to sources in a similar way as a sermon, explicitly mentioning when you are directly quoting another person or leaning substantially on their work. But otherwise I think the medium permits a more casual relationship to citations, perhaps by simply noting who you have drawn from or been inspired by at the end of your article. In most cases, it is unnecessarily distracting to fill an article with this [1] kind [2] of [3] citation. For good or ill, most blogging platforms just haven’t developed good ways of creating helpful citations.

Make the ordered list your last resort rather than your default. I sometimes joke that there’s no problem a blogger can’t solve with 5 numbered points (and no problem he/she can solve without). The point is that the ordered list (or listicle) has long been a mainstay of blogging. Yet, in my view, it is rarely the best way to communicate. Listicles were created to be shareable, not to be helpful or edifying. So though there really are times to use them, there are often superior ways to package up your ideas. This is especially true when dealing with difficult, emotional, or controversial topics. So make that format your last resort rather than your default. You’ll become a better writer for it.

Mix content creation and curation. Most bloggers set out to create content. Well and good. But there is also a lot of value in curating content—pointing people to articles, videos, podcasts and so on that exist on other sites. While I’m sure there is a “business case” to be made for this, the best reason is simply to recognize and honor others for their hard work. Learn to spread your focus from just your site to others.

And finally, let me loop back to a key tip I shared last time: Ignore most of the “rules” for blogging. There are lots of sites (and even books) about how to start a successful blog and how to gain a large audience. But what you need to keep in mind is that most of these resources will teach you how to create a blog that primarily benefits you. They will teach you the rules that will gain an audience but not necessarily benefit that audience. They’ll teach you to create material that is viral but not necessarily edifying. As Christians, our main concern should always be loving others and doing what is beneficial to them. You may find the best way to do this is to toss many of the “rules.”

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