Sunday, April 19, 2009

10 Blog Writing Tips

Okay, so I'm going to apologize in the very first sentence of this entry to those who may find offense by something that I say herein. Nevertheless, I've been thinking a lot about this topic ('cause, you know, my brain sometimes works randomly on things that are totally useless for the common good), and came up with a list of things that I wanted to record for posterity. Keep in mind that this list has absolutely nothing to do with content, just with layout and approach. So, without further adieu, here are ...

10 Tips to Making a Blog Readable

1. I've seen blogs with layouts that have backgrounds that "stick", so that when you scroll down, it stays put while the text moves up the screen. This, to me, is just horrible to behold. The human mind interprets the motion of objects that are in close proximity as a single entity. In three-dimensional space, things can have apparent motion that are dissimilar to each other and it looks natural, but only when there is a perceived depth of field. On a blog, a computer screen is two-dimensional, so if you move a flat screen of text, that which is immediately adjacent to it (i.e. the so-called "background") should go with it. So unless you have a more three-dimensional aspect to your blog and your text "floats" quite distinctly in "front" of the background, having a "sticky" background should be considered a total no-no.

2. References to pictures should go above the image that you are describing. This seems counter-intuitive for many, because in a fixed-page document you almost always put the caption below the image. However, a blog entry is not a fixed-page document. You scroll the blasted thing, and so as you're reading, you should refer to the image first in the text and then put the image in. That way you don't see a picture and think, "What is this thing?!" because you've been given context for the image before you actually see it. Even better, you should say stuff like, "This next picture is ..." so that the blog entry flows better.

3. For pictures inserted into a blog entry, you should be cautious about how you imbed them. For example, if you insert the picture to the right of your text, and allow text to flow down the left side of it, this is fine. But if your text is short and then your next image is hot on its trail, then you'll end up with a jumble of images that can overlap, and you could end up with poorly captioned images, orphaned sentence fragments, or, my personal favorite, the word that gets stretched across multiple lines one letter at a time. Therefore, if you allow the text to wrap beside your image (rather than forcing it to stay above and below it) you should be cautious when inserting multiple images.

4. Related to this, you should consider the "width" of your blog. For some users on low-resolution screens, things can get very crowded very quickly so that your images can end up crushed together and your text lost and confused. It is often a good idea to preview your blog entry in multiple widths before posting so that you can see what the visual result of your post may be before making it public. In this way, you can avoid the dreaded overlapping picture problem, which sometimes rears its ugly head in these scenarios. It is a good rule of thumb to not allow your text to wrap to your images if you have any doubt of the results.

5. If you have music that automatically plays when people go to your blog, there are probably a lot of people who resent you. The bottom line is that a lot of web surfing is done discretely during working hours, and if you have music that plays automatically when people go to your blog, you're doing them no favors. It's fine to have music, but at least have the courtesy to allow your visitor to choose to listen to it or not.

6. Your font color should be a darker color that will stand out if your background does not load properly. This does happen, even with the best of blogs, and when it does, the reader can be looking at an apparently blank blog entry if the writer chose white text for the color. Generally speaking, loud colors (sharp reds, bright greens) for a background is bad, and mild colors (any shade of white or pastel) for a foreground is equally bad.

7. Unless you specifically are creating your blog as an ode to your photo-taking awesomeness, your blog should not be littered with photographs. Even for blogs that record family events, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words may not include all the words that need telling. You need not post all ten versions of the snapshot you tried to take of your uncooperative child wiggling to get sand out of her shorts, unless, of course, that is the point of your blog entry. Far better, instead, to post the most embarrassing one for posterity and then describe the hilarity of the situation in your own creative words.

8. Which brings me to videos. Sometimes they are worth far more than a thousand words, but the writer of a blog should be careful about using these. They can't be printed out, so if you have the intent of ever referring to your old blog entries for historical purposes or to make a hard copy, video may be a very poor choice indeed.

9. Posting a blog entry just for the sake of posting should be avoided at all costs. Blogs are not and should not be confused with instant messenging, email, or twitter. Unless you've got something to say that meaningfully adds to your body of work, then don't say it! Really, it's okay. I know both of my faithful readers of this blog would forgive me if I didn't post for a while. I recognize I'm not the most interesting person in the world, and I don't have a personal need to keep these two readers amused every hour of every day. That's not why I write my blog, and I'm not famous enough to worry about it. So, unless you are, it's really okay to let your blog lay fallow for a while. There's enough inanity in the world without you putting your random one-liners in your blog. I'm occasionally guilty of this, and I hang my head in shame.

10. What is your purpose to writing your blog? You should know your purpose, and your purpose could be as random as you are. Nevertheless, if you set up a blog with a definitive theme, you should stick to it. After all, a blog is a blank canvas on which to create something representative of who you are or what you are trying to communicate. For example, I keep a separate blog for family history -- which is the purpose of that blog. In my case and for this, my personal blog, I am a random, sorta-intellectual (i.e. nerdy), family-oriented kind of guy, but generally speaking, the purpose of my blog is to serve as a journal (since I'm really bad about writing in a real one) and to be a vent for things that bounce around in my head. Sorta like this blog entry ...


Amy said...

Great advice!

Megan said...

Okay, I've probably broken all your rules at one time. Hopefully not all at once! :)

Melissa said...

I'm glad I'm not an offender on most of these. I have no idea how my blog looks at different resolutions, and I'm sorry, but I'm not going to check before I post. And I always felt inferior because my background moves with my text, but now I see that at least I am not causing you eye-strain.

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