There are three essential rules for writing a good blog.
Be brief, be vivid, and be connected.
These are not arbitrary. They are the demands of your audience. It does not matter if your readers are fellow academics or members of the public. It does not matter if you have tenure or are a graduate student. A writer who does not follow these rules will push an audience away.
- Keep posts short. Most online readers confronted by long posts will scan text quickly rather than read your writing in its entirety. Do not let this discourage you from blogging about serious topics. Just dive into your topic quickly, and make succinct arguments.
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short. This makes your writing easier to follow. But, variation in sentence and paragraph lengths assists the reader. The most important and information-rich sentences should be the shortest and most pithy.
- Avoid extensive quotes. Just clip what you need: whole paragraphs are likely unnecessary.
- Write on point: don’t deviate far from your main point, and be up front about it.
- Avoid trying to be too comprehensive. Instead, revisit topics. You can always write another post about that important qualifying point or brilliant observation which deserves its own couple of paragraphs.
- A post that reads like an excerpt from a dissertation, book or journal article will not be fully read by even the most dedicated blog audience. If you feel a topic deserves extensive qualification and elaboration, reserve that for a supplementary paper. Archive that paper for download, and link to it from a short blog post on the topic. If readers like your post about a subject, they are likely to read your longer pieces.
- Avoid jargon. Even if you expect to write for other academics, using plain language to express your ideas. If you must use technical language, then link to an explanation.
- Write with passion. Make each sentence compelling.
- Inject yourself into your writing. Overwrought academic objectivity makes for dull, dry prose, so write with a perspective. Balance that perspective by recognizing other views.
- Never quote something without commenting about it.
- Link to sources, and link often. Explicitly name a link’s destination, so readers know where they will go if they click.
- Choose topics that can be related to an issue of current interest.
- Regularly schedule blog posts (daily, weekly) so the audience has a reason to visit again.
- Write descriptive titles that easily index your post and attracts readers who are interested in your topic.
- Maintain your credibility. Link to authoritative sources, avoid punctuation and spelling errors, and be both balanced and civil.
- Use your expertise. The information you provide is the reason visitors will read your work.
If this seems intimidating, think of your own online reading habits. Your time is short, you read a lot, you actively look for chunks of information relevant to your interests, and you don’t like to scroll down long web-pages. You are most attracted to writing that speaks with a unique voice about compelling topics. Like your readers, when confronted by swaths of text you quickly find other things to read which are more readily and more quickly digestible. These tendencies should inform your own online writing.
For an excellent guide to effectively communicating online, explore Nicole Hennig’s site at MIT on writing for the web. With this in mind, analyze what you like about the posts of bloggers you read regularly, and apply these lessons in your own blog. We need more public-spirited intellectuals with powerful voices.