How to Write a Blog Post

Provide value for your readers. Valuable writing is personal, informative, instructional, revelatory, entertaining, and engaging.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted July 26, 2010 in Blog (Last Updated July 26, 2010)


2Writing and Tone

The most basic guideline to writing a blog is this: Provide value for your readers. Valuable writing is personal, informative, instructional, revelatory, entertaining, and engaging. The object of your blog is not to promote your organization but to serve the interests of your readers.

Don't think of it as an alternative channel for press releases or other marketing activities; people can see a sales pitch coming a mile away. Instead, think of it as a way to build relationships with readers by sharing your expertise in a way that helps them and encourages them to share your articles more widely and come back for more.

1 Topics

There's no predicting which topics will generate the most interest, but a variety of topics and approaches will give your blog the broadest set of opportunities to engage readers.

If you stick with it, blogging becomes a habit that integrates itself into your workflow and actually helps you by engaging readers to discuss, expand, scrutinize and clarify your own thoughts.

  • Relax. Think of blogging as a conversation, not an assignment. A blog entry is closer in tone to a personal correspondence than a term paper. Think about subjects, issues or events that you would enjoy discussing with your peers.

  • Write for yourself. Write about things that interest or challenge you. The single most-read article I've ever written is a technical guide on designing web applications, which I wrote to clarify the underlying principles so I would understand them more fully.

  • Try to surprise. Most nonfiction writing is goal-oriented and persuasive, but the term "essay" comes from the French verb essayer, which means "to try". An exploratory essay is a formalized attempt to understand an issue rather than defend a conclusion. Exploratory essays often lead in surprising directions, which makes for a compelling read.

  • Solve a problem. Your day is filled with problems and challenges that are similar to those faced by other people. Share some of the innovative ways you have solved particular problems and invite readers to share theirs. Another popular blog entry I've written was a summary of lessons I've learned trying to deal with comment trolls.

  • Find and explore a niche. The internet is a big enough medium that even seemingly narrow subjects, if well-developed, can attract lively reader communities. This also provides opportunities to transfer ideas and practices from one niche to another.

  • Explain a statistic. Modern citizens are bombarded with statistics delivered out of the blue and out of context. You can humanize statistics by explaining what they mean in concrete terms and by sharing anecdotes that sketch the human faces behind the numbers.

  • Share your experience. Your value to your organization goes beyond a narrow job description and encompasses all the experiences, values and connections you bring with you to work. Tap into those so your writing reflects your broader competence.

  • Entertain. Good blog writing is like good conversation: refreshing, invigorating, and entertaining as well as informative. Feel free to have a bit of fun.

  • Revisit older posts. Over time, with new information and greater experience, our opinions often change and evolve. It's worth going back to older posts periodically to reassess them - what is still true, and what has changed. Obviously you won't be able to do this right away.

2 Writing and Tone

  • Write in first person. You are writing as a person as well as on behalf of an organization. Allow your writing to reflect your personality and your personal voice. Don't be afraid to refer to yourself as "I" if you're writing about something you've done.

  • Use the active voice. Your blog is written by people, about people and for people. Don't drop the people out of your writing by relegating them to the tail-end of your sentences. Figure out who is the active agent in a sentence and move that person or entity forward into the subject.

    Passive: "Ideas were gathered from community residents on how to use the vacant land."
    Active: "Community residents shared their ideas on how to use the vacant land."

  • Have an opinion. Readers know you are a human and expect you to have opinions. Good opinions are reasonable and defensible but encourage discussion.

  • Add value. Don't just re-post a link to something else. At the very least, add your own commentary that expands, clarifies, corrects or otherwise enhances the linked content.

  • Vary the length of your posts. Sometimes a short piece with a pithy observation or bit of commentary can stand on its own. Other issues deserve a more in-depth treatment. Both are welcome and keep the blog interesting.

  • Leave some room. Your article doesn't need to be exhaustive or anticipate every possible critique. A well-written article covers an important aspect of an issue but leaves room for readers to add to the conversation by expanding, clarifying, and challenging what you've written.

3 Editing

  • Always check spelling and grammar. Typos and other flagrant errors look sloppy. Aim for the sweet spot that feels like conversational English - the terrain that lies between the strictures of formal writing and the morass of split infinitives and grocers' apostrophes.

  • Edit for clarity and brevity. Stephen King has shared the simplest advice he ever received for revising: Draft 2 equals draft 1 minus 10 percent. He also advises, "Kill your darlings" - by which he means sentences that serve only to display their own cleverness.

  • Remove noise words. We all habitually pepper our writing with such tics as "to be sure", "in order to", "bottom line", "liaise", "going forward", "in the loop", "two cents", "for what it's worth", "in my [humble] opinion", "ducks in a row", "outside the box", "at the end of the day", "vis-a-vis", and a profusion of gratuitous modifiers (e.g. "very unique") that communicate nothing but hyperbole. Get rid of them.

  • Define Jargon. Some business-speak is a necessary evil. If you have to use industry-specific terminology, write the terms and acronyms out in full and define them for readers.

4 Presentation

  • Write a Punchy Title. Clear, descriptive, humorous titles catch the reader's attention and help search engines determine the article's content. Warning: don't go overboard. A hyperbolic 'linkbait' title that oversells the content will leave readers feeling betrayed.

  • Keep paragraphs short. Big walls of text are hard to scan on a computer screen. Keep paragraphs short - between one and three sentences - and discrete in terms of their contents.

  • Include subtitles. Subtitles within an article, particularly a longer one, break up the text into manageable chunks.

  • Use appropriate layout techniques. If you want to draw attention to a key word or phrase, make the text bold. If you have a list of items, use lists (like the lists in this guide). Use bullet-point lists for your items unless they need to be in a specific order, in which case use numbered lists.

  • Summarize. After writing your article, write a one- or two-sentence summary and post the summary at the top, just beneath the title. Combined with a punchy title, a clear summary will help readers decide whether your article is worth reading.