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How To Write Compelling Blog Posts

by B. L. Ochman

Writing blog posts and comments on blogs is actually very simple. The basic guidelines: keep your copy lively, factual, tight, clear, short and search engine optimized.

Here are basic blog style guidelines to follow:

1) Adopt a direct style. Declarative sentences are good. Web readers demand them.

2) Link like crazy. One thing that distinguishes blog posts from dead-tree journalism is that bloggers link prodigiously. Link to any other blog or website you mention. Link to articles, books, products, bios, explanatory materials on other sites and anything you mention in your blog. Always link to information that clarifies or gives background on information and opinions in your post.

3) Write less. Omit all unnecessary words. The best advice I ever got about writing was from my first boss, the late "press agent" Leo Miller, who taught me a game to play with sentences. He'd keep taking out words until removing one more word destroyed the meaning of the sentence.

For example: He'd take out words until removing another destroyed the sentence meaning.

Aim at keeping your posts at about 250 words.

4) Write good headlines. Most people use a newsfeeder like NewsGator to scan blog headlines. They decide after seeing the headline to click into the post. Tell as much of the story as you can in the headline:

Before: Pakistan: NA body on S&T meets [Huh? Who's NA? What is S&T?]
After: Pakistan National Assembly Calls Water Resource Problems the Nation's Major Issue

Before: The B. B. King Book
After: I'm Writing The B. B. King Biography

5) Keep sentences and paragraphs short.

6) Don't take yourself too seriously. Blogging isn't brain surgery. Don't get pompous or dictatorial.

7) Never lose your sense of humor.

8) Write like it counts. "No matter what your audience size, you ought to write as if your readership consisted of paid subscribers whose subscriptions were perpetually about to expire. There's no need to pander. Compel them to re-subscribe," said Dennis Mahoney on A List Apart.

9) White space is your friend. It makes reading from the screen easier. Nothing is harder to read than a solid block of copy on a computer screen.

10) Use the simplest possible word and sentence structure.

11) Read your post out loud and make sure you don't get stuck on complex construction. If you trip on a word the midst of reading a sentence aloud, rewrite the sentence.

12) Forget what you learned about business writing in school if you graduated before 1990. Go ahead! Start sentences with "and" or "but." Don't be afraid to break archaic rules. But, jeez, follow all grammatical rules that provide clarity to your content.

13) Cardinal Sin: Say "This is about me," never "This is about myself." Same with "you" and "yourself". Stiff, formal writing is only for lawyers. And you know what Shakespeare said about them.

14) Use bulleted points whenever you can.

15) Use subheads every few paragraphs, even in a 300-word post.

16) Use bold text and italics for emphasis on words and phrases.

17) Make sure your posts are easy to scan.

18) Choose your voice and keep it consistent.

19) Don't be afraid to voice opinions.

20) Ask these questions to yourself before hitting "Publish":

* Is the topic clear to someone who reads only the headline?
* Does the lead paragraph tell who and what the story is about and why the reader should care about it?
* Is the angle you've used likely to seem newsworthy?
* Would someone who knows absolutely nothing about this topic understand this post?
* Is the post free of jargon?
* Is it written in journalistic style and does it make an effort to be objective?
* Have you peppered the headline and the post with keywords and phrases that will be attractive to search engines?

How to Write Comments on Blogs

Some blogs are more influential than others, and many are trolled by journalists and your potential clients who are seeking ideas, trends and sources. Commenting intelligently on blogs, even if you don't have a blog of your own, can be a very good way to build a reputation as an expert in a field.

The key is to provide useful, factual information so that over time it becomes clear to other readers of the blogs to which you post that you know what you are talking about. In general, it is a good idea to keep your posts short and on point.

Since blogs are archived online, anything you write in a comment will be there until forever. So think before you write; and edit, edit, edit before you hit "submit."

Blog Comment Guidelines

It is necessary for you to sign your comments. In most cases, anonymous messages will not be published. You're also generally asked for your email address and your URL.

A signature that looks like an ad will simply be cut. Stick to the facts about what you do. The quality of your comments will prove your expertise.

Because of comment spam, many bloggers ask you to register or to have a Typepad key.

If you have a business connection to a product or service mentioned in the blog post, this should be clear to anyone reading your comment.

Comment only when you feel you can offer something of value that is relevant to the types of issues that are discussed.

Size constraints make space limited, and bloggers may shorten your comments. Better to simply write shorter.

Bloggers are free to reject inappropriate posts, including overt solicitations and personal attacks.

When quoting material, strive for accuracy and note where you have omitted copy; provide attribution for the quote, including source and URL (if available).

B.L. Ochman is president of What's Next Online and What's Next Blog.


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