Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What do people think of your Blog writing style?

As an online educator, one of the most frequent questions I get are how to write a paper in a specific style – usually MLA or APA. Along with that, students frequently ask me why it's important to write differently than we speak. For academic papers, readers expect to "hear" the written voice – the written "accent," really.

While blogging does have more freedom than academic writing, it's not entirely free of reader expectation, either. And if you want to be professional about your blog, there's a few you should know.

If you're like my usual students, you might be wondering why this is important – especially in a blog. It's not like you're getting graded or anything.

Just because you aren't turning this into an authoritarian figure for an arbitrary letter evaluation doesn't mean that you aren't being evaluated by some authority. You are. Your readers are evaluating you with every post and deciding if your blog is one they'll follow regularly.

You want followers, right?

What kind of followers do you want?

Me, I want followers in the writing and education fields. I want followers who may become fans of my writing. I want followers for whom I'm a fan of their writing. I want to build a writing and reading community.

So, my writing better be up to par in their eyes.

That's why I study the blogs I would like to be; the writers who I'd be honored if they followed me as I follow them.

What are these blogs? Besides what you see on my blogroll (if you're on Blogger), I subscribe to Copyblogger (whom I've quoted several times here and elsewhere), Neil Gaiman's journal (Hey, if you don't aim for the best, where are you going to land?), Writer Beware, QueryTracker, Karen Caplan (owner of Frieda's Produce – remember, I'm also a foodie!), Nathan Bransford, and Guide to Literary Agents.

Based on these blogs, here are some style pointers I've adopted.

1. Still cite your sources.

No, it's not APA or MLA, but you hyperlink. It's much easier, actually, and more direct (you go write to the article – or a link to the book on Amazon (or another bookseller). Like in any professional writing, you should always give credit to your sources.

2. Research and Organization

Obviously, if I suggested you should cite your resources, you should have resources. Yes, pick a topic you feel you have some authority on, but how did you obtain that authority? Where did you learn from? No, not all blogs will have outside resources, but if you're tackling a difficult topic – one where there's a lot to learn and especially one where there is a lot of controversy – you should have support from outside your own brain.

3. Redefine "Business Casual"

Just like Fridays at the office (or at least the offices where I've worked), the blog is a balance between professional and comfortable. It's you, but still a little spiffied up. The human personality has many facets, and if you want to be perceived as professional, you should explore yourself and find your own professional facet. It's not disingenuous; it's just another part of you.

4. Discover new Grammar

Believe it or not, people have grammatical expectations for blogs. Sentences and paragraphs are expected to be shorter, making the read quicker. Eschewing excess verbage (per Strunk & White and Twain) is … excessive (as is purposeful redundancy, but I'll get to that later). You may have noticed, particularly with the Facebook and Twitter cultures, that personal pronouns (particularly those that can be easily inferred from verb forms) are almost dropped all together. (Wrote my blog on Friday, waiting for car repairs.) Fragments are also embraced. Especially for emphasis. But a repetition goes a long way if you want to make a point. (Expensive car repairs are… expensive.)

The kind of audience you want to cultivate, however, will affect all of these things. How often will you present a researched blog post? How formal or how casual will you be? Think about the people you want to follow you, and see who they are following. What kind of writing does your preferred audience read?

How do you write?


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