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Sunday, April 10, 2011

How To Start A Blog | Best Practices

As we progress with this series on How To Start A Blog, you should have covered and decided on a platform from Lesson 1; in Lesson 2, you learned how to set up your blog and how to select a template. I was going to cover adding pictures and videos to your blog, but that will have to be a post all to itself. Today, on our journey of How To Start A Blog I'll be covering Best Practices.  

Best practices are the things that should come second nature to you as you work on your blog. Attention to detail and having a regular routine when you blog can make a big difference when it comes to the success or failure of your blog.

Ideas

Everything in the world starts with an idea, especially a blog post. You want to have some clue as to what you are going to write about before you open up the editor and spend two hours staring at it.

Become an idea cultivator. Look around constantly. If you write on fishing, you should be reading fishing magazines, watching fishing shows and even fishing. Immerse yourself in the topic and you will find ideas surfacing on a daily basis.

Don't try to write about things you have no clue about or have no interest in. Your survival time frame will be short.

I keep a running list of potential blog post ideas. I have a Stickies program on my Mac where I keep adding titles of possible pieces. Some have been on that list for weeks, others come off as soon as I put them on the list. I'm never without an idea. My problem is that I get too many ideas.

Initially, your goal should be to write one to three posts a week. I produce two to five posts a day, every day of the week. (Today is Sunday and this is my fourth post.)

Before I open up my laptop at the coffee shop, I have an idea or two that I want to write about. I may have seen something on one of the several news programs that caught my attention or I have a crazy idea for a humor piece. If the piece is going to be about news and/or current events, I start banging search terms into Google and do some fact checking.

When you use numbers in your articles, you want them to be accurate, and you should make note of the source. If your readers are intelligent, and your facts are all concocted, you'll be viewed as a charlatan without credibility and you won't have any returning readers.

Unless you are an investigative journalist and are making calls, doing interviews and pounding the streets for facts, you will get your information from other sources. Don't plagiarize. Copying and pasting segments or whole articles is a good way to sink your ship. Someday, your blog could catch the attention of a person that wants to pay you for your writing. There are a number of programs available that check for plagiarized content. You don't want to blow an opportunity because you were "lifting" your content from a better writer.

Take facts from other articles and put your own spin on it. If I'm writing a comedy piece about the government, the FACTS are still correct. My opinions might be out in left field, but the numbers are right. 

My day to day routine provides me with inspirations for articles. People I meet spark ideas, things I see get a post brewing; I'm always observant.

This series came about because I spent months and months figuring everything out on my own. I couldn't find any more direction than: Write what you are passionate about, put ads on your blog, make money. It doesn't work that way. OK... now what?

I wanted others that were going into blogging to cut down on their learning curves. I didn't get rolling on the series until my friend Ryan said, "I want a blog just like yours. How do I do it?" This was not a conversation we could have on Facebook Chat. I told him to relax and the posts would come. 

Here, I'm spoon feeding you. It will take time, but you'll be able to follow the steps and have a good enough bicycle to ride into the future.

So, become an idea machine. Napoleon Hill in Think And Grow Rich said that we need to be idea generators. For a writer, it's even more important to take that advice.

Ideas. Fact Check. Write. Generate more ideas. Next.


Spelling, Grammar, Capitalization, Punctuation

This may seem obvious, but after viewing hundreds of blogs over the last several years, I feel I have to cover it.

We are in the business of the written word. Nothing blows your credibility more than a misspelled word or an improperly used word. Using "there" when it should be "their", "wear" instead of "where", "It's" in place of "Its" are all ways that sharp readers will spot and gradually lose confidence in your ability to communicate.

Along with having my browser open, I always have my dictionary program open. There are lot of words I use in conversation that I really don't know how to spell, so I check them. 

People come to you because they expect something intelligent, humorous or informative from your post. If you can't put a decent sentence together, get a book on writing and grammar out of the library. I honed my writing skills over the years by writing hundreds and hundreds of lengthy emails to people. My audience was a single person, but I made sure the email was perfect.

Here is a capital mistake that I'm amazed I even see. Some people do not capitalize the first word in their sentences. I actually saw a comment conversation on Facebook where the one guy was saying he wanted to be a writer. None of his comments had the correct capitalization or punctuation. If you can't get a simple comment right, quit.

Another no, no is writing in all caps. It looks like you are yelling at everyone. And it is difficult to read.

Use paragraphs. I've seen giant run-on posts that are one single paragraph. BAD! Be able to break your ideas up into digestible thoughts. It makes it easier for the reader to read and comprehend what you are writing.

Proper punctuation is important, too. You can find guides on punctuation at any book store or at the library.

How Much Should You Write?

There are multiple trains of thought about the volume of content you should put in a post. It really comes down to your style.

One rule I saw was that posts should be 150 to 350 words, with an absolute maximum of 500. These restrictions are usually imposed by an editor that you may be writing for. The concept revolves around the idea that readers won't stick with you very long, so be brief and to the point.

On the other hand, one of the most successful personal advice bloggers on the Internet routinely writes 1,500 to as high as 6,000 word pieces - which is the length of a standard magazine expose. He writes well and has cultivated an audience that appreciates his thorough dissertations on his topics. And he makes a ton of money.

This piece here could not be informative at 150 words. My rule is write until you feel you've concisely covered the subject. Look for places to edit and tighten up your piece. As a copywriter I learned that you can always cut, cut, cut. When I was a stand-up comic, I learned that every word counts. When you write a joke, it has to be clean to the bone. No wasted words allowed.

I'll give you an example of someone screwing up a good joke. I posted this on Facebook the other day:
If you want to see a confused look, go to McDonald's and order a cheeseburger, "but hold the cheese." It will take ten minutes for them to regroup and get your order.

A friend of mine said he was going to steal that from me. He didn't copy and paste it into his status, he rewrote it. Here is his version:
Are you bored today?? Here's a sure fire way to bring some excitement to your day: If you want to see a confused look, go to your local McDonald's and order a cheeseburger, but tell them to "hold the cheese." It will take them at least ten minutes to regroup, reorganize, and attempt to prepare your order! :-)
Here's an exercise in editing for you. Read both jokes again and see all the extra words my friend added. Which ones were necessary? Did anything he added make the line better? His extra words lessen the impact of the joke. And it didn't need an introduction.

How much you write is contingent upon what you are writing about. Little blurbs may fit with what you are trying to accomplish. You may need to go much longer if you are trying to tell a story, explain an idea or do an in-depth dissertation. If the post is long, you can always go back and cut sections out; or break the content into two or more posts.

Don't Forget Your Audience

Who are you writing to? You should know that or at least have an idea. If you normally write posts that appeal to an older crowd, you don't want to review the latest rap CD.

If you know and understand your target audience, write to them in a style that they understand.

There is an old adage: Don't use inside lingo on the outside world.

Your subject matter may be about new electronic devices. Your reader wants to know, "Is this for me?" or "Will I want to buy this?" So, stick to features and benefits. Going on and on about the technical aspects of the product and using technical terms that only an engineer would comprehend is self-defeating.

If your audience are college professors, you will be expected to have a very expensive vocabulary to communicate your ideas.

I've heard this from TV anchors in various cities that their news writers write at a 5th grade level. If you notice, you don't hear too many multi-syllabic words on TV news. It's designed to be simple and to the point for mass consumption.

Proof Before You Post

NEVER publish a post without proof-reading it, twice. When I first started blogging, I would proof-read my posts four, five and six times. I'd edit, change words, etc. At least one of my proofs was read out loud. I wanted to hear if the piece sounded right. I have a pretty good ear for what sounds right and what is confusing. Reading the piece out loud made me catch a lot of mistakes, cut and shuffle paragraphs and tighten up rambling thoughts.

Final Thoughts And The Posting Routine

You got your idea. You did your research. Words flowed across your editor. And you're almost done. Here is what I do at the end of every writing session.
  • Add Labels to the post. I do it right away, so I never forget. 
  • Place picture (which we'll cover in a future lesson)
  • Proof read piece one or two times.
  • Add any links that I want on the article (another future lesson)
  • Click PREVIEW and take a look at how the piece will look once published. 
This last step is very important. Sometimes HTML editing comes out TMHL, and everything is a mess. Your typeface may have been screwed up when you were doing some formatting. There might be large gaps between paragraphs. Your picture may be too big or too small.

I added two videos from YouTube to a post the other day. They were too large and ran off the right edge of the text area into my links and archives. I had to go into the HTML editor and change the width of the video. Another check using PREVIEW and everything was perfect.

Sometimes, I'll reread the post from the PREVIEW mode, just as a final check. If everything meets my standards, it's time to publish.

Time for you to write another post, using what you have learned so far. Today, you've learned on How To Start A Blog and the Best Practices for acting and looking like a professional blogger.


Lesson 2: How To Start A Blog | Template And Design Basics
Lesson 1: How To Start A Blog | Blogger and Wordpress Are The Best Platforms


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