Articles for web and print can differ as much as books by Dr. Seuss and Mark Twain. Digital blogs and hardcopy articles share similar purposes, to entertain and inform. But the differences between the platforms can significantly affect the finished products. In this two-part series, we present tips for writing blog posts 1) to capture reader interest and 2) for effective Search Engine Optimization.
We begin with important principles that help you to communicate effectively with readers. These guidelines apply for both print and digital communications.
Start with a rough draft.
As a writer, your first task is to decide what information you want to convey. To begin, simply put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Don’t worry about word choice or style, just write.
As you compose your thoughts and words, put together a rough outline. Start with a working title that succinctly conveys your purpose. Follow that with a thesis statement, building on the purpose. Then create an outline of the main points that support your thesis.
Now build on the outline. Construct an introduction around the thesis. Flesh out the ideas like you’re adding muscles to a skeleton, paint to a canvas. The main points can become your subheads. Again, don’t stop to deliberate over word choice or sentence structure. If you get stuck, highlight the word or section to remind you to improve it later.
Once your rough draft is complete, you can fine-tune and prune – and modify as needed.
Pretty words and perfectly crafted sentences achieve nothing if the reader can’t grasp what you’re trying to convey. Re-read your rough draft with a critical eye. Or get a fresh set of eyes.
Start with a macro view. Ask: Does the post achieve the purpose as stated in the working title and thesis? Is the message logical? Do the points build upon each other sequentially or do they need re-arranging?
Shift to a micro examination. Is each point clear? Is each sentence understandable? Consider your audience. If they don’t share your base of knowledge, do your words give them the background they need?
Be brief and simple in writing blog posts.
Brevity and simplicity help you achieve clarity. As William Zinsser put it in his classic On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction: “The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
Start with the 50/10 rules:
- Don’t use 50-cent words when 10-cent words suffice.
- Don’t use 50-word sentences when 10-word sentences suffice.
In short: go for short words and sentences. Say only what you need to make your point. As you fine-tune and prune, examine every word, sentence, and idea. Ask, do I really need it? Is it essential to my message or do I just want to include it?
Look for unnecessary and redundant words. Rather than “He’s a personal friend of mine,” say, “He’s a friend.” Rather than “At this point in time,” say, “Now.”
Brevity and simplicity are especially important for blog posts. Online readers can instantly shift their attention to a new website. If they lose interest, you’ve lost them – maybe forever.
Avoid passive voice.
You want your writing to be engaging, and active voice sentences achieve that better than passive. In active voice, the subject does the acting. In passive voice, the subject is passive – it’s acted upon. Active is strong; passive is weak.
- Sal threw the ball. (Way to throw that ball, Sal!)
- The ball was thrown. (Poor passive ball, getting tossed around like that!)
In writing blog posts, your words should be invisible. In other words, readers should attend to the message, not the writing. As readers follow the message without getting distracted, they are more likely to grasp your point and respect your expertise.
Consistency helps maintain that attention. Think of it like driving a Lexus RC with automatic transmission versus a Mazda Miata with manual transmission. The Lexus accelerates smoothly and quickly, while the Mazda hesitates slightly with each shift.
Consistency in blog posts applies most often to verb tense and person.
Verb tense. Avoid mixing verb tenses, such as past and present. For example, in a post on art history:
- Georgia O’Keefe created unique art pieces. As she paints, she uses elements of different modernist movements. The first sentence uses past tense, but the second sentence shifts to present tense.
- Instead: Georgia O’Keefe created unique art pieces. As she painted, she used elements of different modernist movements.
Person. This error appears most commonly as a shift between second person (such as “you”) and third person (such as “he,” “she,” or “they,” or a third-person noun like “a client”). Choose either second person or third person and be consistent throughout the post. For example:
- Your first task is to decide what information you want to convey. To begin, the writer should simply put pen to paper without concerns about his word choices or style. This mixes second person and third person.
- Instead, use second person: Your first task is to decide what information you want to convey. To begin, simply put pen to paper without concerns about your word choices or style.
- Or instead, use third person: A writer’s first task is to decide what information he wants to convey. To begin, he should simply put pen to paper without concerns about his word choices or style.
- Or, to avoid the he/she pronoun choice, use third-person plural: The first task that writers face is to decide what information to convey. To begin, they can simply put pen to paper without concerns about word choice or style.
Use examples in writing blog posts.
Examples support your points while making your message more interesting. For example, in a home decorating blog:
- Reclaimed farm-inspired elements give your kitchen that farmhouse décor vibe without blowing your budget. Consider Mason jars, galvanized buckets and watering cans, lanterns, and vintage kitchen utensils such as a breadbox, food grinder, and hand mixers.
Mind your grammar and spelling.
Most readers will judge your expertise, in part, by your grammar and spelling. Even search engines indirectly rank your blog based on such errors. Search engines may not know if you used “effect” when you should have used “affect,” but algorithms detect if users bounce quickly off your site. To avoid errors, you can use an online grammar checker like Grammarly for a final review.
Unless your website gets enough direct traffic, you’ll need to apply Search Engine Optimization principles, too. In part two of this series, we offer tips for writing blog posts for effective SEO.