I’ve been writing blog entries since I was a teenager, and although not all of them have survived, I definitely see how much my writing style has grown over the years. Though there are different kinds of blog writing, spanning everything from advertorial pieces to travel to technical how-to entries, I’m going to focus more on generally ‘personal’ blogs; though a lot of what I say can be used or adapted for any kind of ‘blog writing’.
Personal blog writing covers an incredibly wide spectrum in terms of topic and tone. Some people will willingly tell you absolutely everything about themselves – no details spared! Others go to the other extreme and focus very vaguely on things in their life, frustrating or annoying the reader with its ambiguity. The best way to go is middle of the road – unless there’s some kind of reason or story behind it, don’t tell your readers what you had for breakfast or why you chose these particular socks to wear unless there’s some kind of amusing ancedote or analogy in there somewhere.
Breaking the Golden Rule
However, the golden rule of personal blogging is that you’re allowed to break the key concept of ‘regular’ Internet writing. You have the freedom to write for yourself, by yourself, in true diary style. This means that, depending on your intents and purposes, you should be looking to get as much (if not more) personal satisfaction from writing and re-reading your work as your audience will from reading it. You can come back to it in ten years’ time as a log of your life, and so to some extent, the audience is your second thought. So don’t blog because you haven’t done so for a few days or because you need ‘regular’ entries in between your advertising ones – do it because you have something to say. Talk about something going on in your life that’s important, whether it’s an event or a particular opinion, and preferably something that you feel strongly about. This might be the reason why so many of my blog entries just turn into complete rants! But as long as what you say is interesting and engaging, it doesn’t really matter too much what you’re writing about.
The Regular Visitor, the Sometimes Visitor and the New Visitor
You have a regular visitor to your site called Bob. He may or may not know you in real life, but he’s been reading about your friends, relationships and life in general for a good year or so. He’s familiar with all the people you mention in your blog, and can just about remember who’s who and who’s done what.
Enter Betty. She’s stumbled upon your site somehow, perhaps through random browsing, and she’s never visited before. Her initial priority is figuring out what content you have on your website and how the navigation works. She has no idea who your friends are, what your relationships are like, and, let’s face it, she probably doesn’t even know your name.
The third visitor you have to your site is Sam. He has visited your site on and off in the past, but doesn’t read your blog entries religiously. He dips in and out, perhaps reading an entry with an eye-catching title or an unusual amount of comments. He may not even read a whole entry when he visits, but skims or picks out a paragraph or two. He’s here for something more specific, such as a particular reference article you have, or perhaps to plug his own site. He may have picked up on vague ideas about your life, and probably knows your name, but doesn’t keep tabs on all your friends and relationships.
So, the problem is, how do you write for these visitors with different knowledge bases? One way is to turn a blind eye, carry on talking about these people and your relationships from the point that you’re comfortable and familiar with. However, unless youâ€™re writing for an audience you know primarily offline, this is generally best avoided as you risk alienating people – and it might not even make much sense to you five or so years down the line!
There are a range of other options open to you – you can use titles upon first referencing someone. For example, ‘Yesterday I went shopping with Alfred, my boyfriend’. After that, simply refer to him as ‘Alfred’ for that entry. You can give a bit more information if you like, but that’s probably the amount your readers need to know as regards your relationship with him.
Another alternative is to use a piece of HTML code so that when you hover over someone’s name, it gives a bit of information about who they are. See it in action here or find out how to do it here. Another alternative to this is to make a page about people you mention frequently with snippets of information easily laid out on it. For example:
Oscar – My best friend, he’s a couple of years younger than me but we’ve known each other for ten years. He’s a butler and lives close by.
Edwina – My older half sister, she’s really irritating and always asking me for money.
Of course, you probably want to think about who reads your blog before you go slating them on the internet and as always, it depends on whether you’re writing more for yourself or your reader.
Entry Length for your Readers
This is another difficult aspect of blog writing to engineer. Despite the fact that most people who start reading your blog expect a substantially long piece of text, if you’re boring or irritating, they will stop. This, however, obviously has its roots in style, tone and content rather than entry length, and is something you need to focus on primarily. However, you do have the advantage of length to get your point across in blog writing, which you don’t have in many kinds of advertising and selling, so make the most of it!
The length of your blog entry – assuming you’re writing for an audience and not just yourself – does depend on your typical reader. Their intended purpose in visiting your site, age, reading ability, interests and personal interest in you are just a few of the potentially millions of factors out there that can affect how much they want to read. The most skilled blog writers will have you reading until the very end no matter how long the entry…theoretically. In practice, even the most seasoned and happy readers will get bored and leave, or start to skim after a point.
So, in technical terms, how much (or little) should you write? Once you’ve considered your audience’s interest, you also need to think about your topic. Going into 2,000 words of detail when describing your new pen is definite overkill. Going into 2,000 words of detail when describing your holiday or new house (preferably with nice but fast loading images accompanying the text) may be about the right length.
Personally, my blog entries average somewhere between the 600 and 1000 word mark. I hit the lower end of that scale more frequently than the upper, but that’s also influenced by the amount of time I have, what I intend to say, and the fact that I don’t plan. As it’s your own blog, ‘The Point’ should also be a place you feel comfortable at. Don’t sit there for a few hours and try to churn out 5,000 words just because you feel you should – writing your blog should be enjoyable and, at the end of the day, sustainable for you. In terms of visitors, shortish, frequent entries (at least every couple of days), will be most appealing.
Any less than a few hundred words and you don’t really have anything to say/enough time to write. Save it for when you do. You can always draft paragraphs separately and fit them together later.
Accompanying images can help bring your story or point to life. It’s a good idea to put them behind a cut or jump if you can, and offer them in small sizes, thumbnails your visitors can click to enlarge if they are interested, or a link to a photo gallery. This is especially true if your blog is the entry page to your site, so it doesn’t take forever to load and reload. Photos tend to attract people more quickly than words, so as long as they look interesting and there’s some kind of point, it’s definitely a good way to capture people’s attention.
Another important feature of blog writing is that it is firmly set in the here and now. You don’t have to worry if you reference something that disappears in a month, or if your views change a year down the line. The beauty of it is that you don’t need to edit anything or remember to keep up to date – your writing can be preserved as part of your history.