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10 Ways to Write Better Blog Posts

Writing on a blog is different in many ways than writing for print. The following are ten suggestions I’ve created which can help bloggers write better posts. Please chime in with your own ideas and suggestions, I’m sure there are lots of things I’m leaving out! For more assistance, refer to Steve Dembo‘s great 2008 series of posts and project, “30 Days to Being a Better Blogger,” and ProBlogger’s 2007 post series, “31 Days to Building a Better Blog.”

Moo cards for blogging workshop
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mexicanwave

  1. Focus: What topic or category(ies) do/does the post fit into? More than one can be selected. Use categories on your blog to help readers identify the main themes on which you focus.
  2. Brevity: Blog posts do NOT have length limit, like print publications, but generally people are more likely to read a short post rather than a long one. Shoot for something generally no longer than 5 – 7 paragraphs. (This guideline can be completely ignored, however, if needed or appropriate.)
  3. Hyperlinks: Good blog posts include hyperlinks which provide pathways for readers to get more information. Use hyperlinks to your own blog/site (past posts which relate) as well as outgoing links to other sites.
  4. Quotations and Links: Many good blog posts include quotations of material posted on other blogs and sites/resources, as well as links to those original sources. These cross-links are important for search engine ranking, and also because many blog platforms notify owners of “incoming links.” These are called trackbacks on some blogs, including WordPress.
  5. Images: Use at least one image in every blog post. Like other guidelines this can be ignored at times, but using an image helps your post visibility in several ways. When a post is shared on Facebook, by default it can include a thumbnail of an image included on the post’s link. Customized digitial newspaper applications like Flipboard utilize post images prominently when creating the ‘layout’ of a news feed’s contents. Ideally this image should relate directly to your post’s content. Consider using Flickr Creative Commons (CC) Attribution-Only images for this purpose. CompFight is another good source to use to search for CC images. PhotoDropper is a great, free plugin for WordPress that can be used to insert CC images into posts, and includes nice attribution links below the image. Remember to always include attribution links back to the source image website. Attribution is required by CC licenses, but is not part of a “fair use” calculation under US copyright law if you choose to use “All Rights Reserved” images from another site. The safest way to use images on blog posts (or other sites) is to use your own images (homegrown media) or CC licensed content.
  6. Tags: Include “tags” or keywords for your post which might be topics others would search for to find your content. Blogs like WordPress provide a field to include tags with each post. Using tags is like providing instructions for search engines including Google. You’re essentially asking search engines, “When people search for these keywords, point them to this post.” Use a lot of tags. There is no penalty or cost for using too many or too few tags, but err on the site of generous tag usage.
  7. Title: Like a newspaper editor, give some careful thought to the headline you choose for your post. The post title is your main tool for attracting the attention of potential readers, when they see the title in a tweet, Facebook link share, in their RSS reader, an email, or elsewhere. The title you select is also very important as your post is indexed by Google and other search engines. It can be helpful (as far as blog traffic goes) to use catchy titles which include words people are likely searching for (or will search for) online.
  8. Tone: Blog posts don’t have to be “just” informational. Many of the best posts invite feedback, discussion, and debate. On some posts, experiment taking a different tone which is more conversational and inviting for comments. Comments are RARE in the blogosphere in general, but some bloggers are much more adept than others at inviting comments. Study blogs of others on topics of interest and analyze why some posts get more comments than others. Some of this may have to do with the tone of the post. It also can be the overall culture of the blog’s followership. Will Richardson’s blog is a good one to study in this regard, his posts almost always have lots of comments. You can include some self-promotional links or links which promote your organization, but don’t use a “salesy” tone. Most blog readers aren’t interested in infomercials. Share your ideas, perspectives and voice in your posts. Leave the formal sales pitches to official press releases and the marketing department, if you’re writing for an organizational blog.
  9. Transparency: Do not be afraid of sharing who you are, what inspires and moves you, and what defines you as a person and professional in your blog posts. Transparency is one of the most important aspects of social media, and it invites others to follow you and continue reading what you have to share. Update your blog “profile” with links to your personal blog, Twitter account, professional Facebook account, etc, IF (and only if) you’re sharing content on those sites which is professional and which might be of potential interest to your blog readers.
  10. Engage with your Audience: After writing a blog post, it’s very important to read and respond (as appropriate) to comments left by others. Social media is all about interactivity and multi-directional communication. If you’re using WordPress, consider using a plug-in like “Subscribe to Comments” which permits anyone to receive email notifications on specific posts of interest. If you’re contributing to a team blog, consider subscribing by email or RSS to the posts you write, to insure you’ll get a “heads up” whenever someone else leaves a comment your posts.

Are there any other “top ten” ideas or recommendations you’d add to these suggestions for writing better blog posts?

Cross-posted from “Moving at the Speed of Creativity”

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Adding links and embedded video to a blog post

Good blog posts include hyperlinks to other websites. The following two screencasts demonstrate how you can add both hyperlinks and embedded videos to blog posts shared a the free KidBlog site and a free EduBlogs site. These are examples of embedded videos in this post.

 

This screencast demonstrates how to create a link and embed a video in a post on a Kidblog site. Run time is 11.5 minutes.

This second screencast demonstrates how to create a link and embed a video in a post on a free EduBlogs site. Run time is 8.5 minutes.

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Why Talk with Media?

Educators in our schools in 2011 are products of the 20th century. Schools in the last century were dominated by text-based learning. Rather than text-centric, however, today our society is increasingly media-centric. Students are growing up in a world filled with hundreds of television channels, millions of websites, millions of online videos, and digital cameras which can take an infinite number of photographs as long as images are transferred to a computer and cleared off the memory card periodically. The days of expensive cameras which could only be purchased by professionals, film which had to be purchased as well as developed at a commercial cost, and photographs taken only on “special occasions” are a distant memory.

Strandfotograaf / Beach Photographerphoto © 2009 Nationaal Archief | more info (via: Wylio)

 

The costs required to create and share media have plummeted. Most cell phones sold (or given away “free” with a contract) include a digital camera capable of taking still images, and many can also capture videos. These photos and videos can be readily shared with others via email, text messaging, and a wide variety of applications available for the exploding smartphone market.

 

Tourist on holiday using mobile cell phonephoto © 2007 Cindi Matthews | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Educators in the twenty-first century need to “talk with media” to remain literate and help students acquire the skills of literate communication. Learners of all ages need to move from simply being “consumers” of media to being producers, or “pro-sumers” aware of the ways media is frequently employed to persuade, inform, and (at times) mislead audiences.

The definition of 21st century literacies adopted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 1998 is filled with references to visual literacy and media literacy. The NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment REQUIRES students to create multimedia texts. Twenty-first century readers and writers are required, by the standards, to:

  1. Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  2. Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  3. Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  4. Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  5. Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
  6. Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students also require “talking with media,” although those specific words are a paraphrase. The first of six standards, Creativity and Innovation, requires that “students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.” Students cannot meet the NETS-S by simply browsing the web, watching videos, and conducting research. Students must actively create, or “talk,” with media.

The skills required to “talk with media” are not simply the domain of technology and English teachers, however. To be literate in our society, individuals should understand not only the power of visual images, but also be able to create and share digital stories which communicate ideas, relay emotions, and archive history. Kahn Academy founder Salman Khan continues to dramatically demonstrate the power of distributed video in the form of screencasts to teach mathematics skills and concepts, from basic arithmetic to advanced calculus. 

It is my ardent wish that by utilizing the tools and trying some of the ideas highlighted on the “Talk with Media” website, in the forthcoming book, or “Talk with Media” workshops, you will grow in your abilities to not only talk with media yourself but also invite students to talk with media. We’re over a decade into the twenty-first century now. As educators, it’s time we started acting like it. “Talk with Media” resources can help you and your students learn and demonstrate the skills of multimedia communication required for literacy in our modern age.