Elements of Blogging Style
I’ve often thought that I over-analyze some things. But as I enjoy blogging, I’ve come to realize that having standards about the little things helps me write faster and more effectively. More importantly, I hope, they allow you to skim here faster, and retain more of what you’re reading.
Bloggers who want to be read must focus on making ourselves easy to read. Writing for friends can be informal, but writing for an audience requires you respect your audience. The skimming-driven nature of blogs, along with the style and design of RSS readers which re-enforce the skimming mentality, require that we pay attention to respect and ease, and that we reinforce those with convention.
So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve thought about, and invite discussion: What works? What distracts?
I usually try to start each post with a topic sentence: When I fail, it’s by choice. For example, this, being a not very serious post, starts with a silly joke.
Something else that I give thought to is the balance of technical and non-technical matter. I try to mix it up, because I have readers who have told me that they abandon the technical. If you’ve gotten this far, maybe posts that don’t start out with an acronym-laden first sentence work as a good signal? Or perhaps you were confused, and decided to see where I was going. Either way, with you I’ve won, and garnered your attention. Unfortunately, I won’t hear howls of protest from those who I’ve failed. They’re off reading Boingboing.
I try to create links that are informative about where they go. No need to mouse-over “this site” to remember if you’ve seen it. (I’m working on a graphical upgrade, making things darker, so I can use lighter text to indicate a link you’ve visited.) But many people use several computers, so I believe that the best way to link is with quotes around a link with the title of the linked post or article: “You Don’t Need to See His Identification.” Sometimes, that’s made hard by missing or poor titles. Other times, it’s made hard because the title uses quotes, more about that in a second. The final reason it’s hard is because it would unavoidably break the flow of a sentence. I ran into this yesterday with “Hey, Look, It’s Matasano:” “smart people introducing themselves.”
I don’t tend to bother linking a blog’s name next to the post, even though that seems common. Links are slightly distracting, and each one is a decision point. You should be able to find the blog from the single post. If you can’t, that the blog author’s responsibility, and should be fixed.
I aim to comply with the ‘alternating type’ rule of quotes. This fails, because the straight up and down quotes that work across platforms (”””‘) don’t give you the cues you need to track them. At least they don’t show up in as random-other-characters because of a lack of standardization. The punctuation mark following a link goes outside the link. The mark also goes inside the quotes, in keeping with (admittedly odd) American rules about quotes. I also feel entirely free to change the punctuation of a post title to make the flow work.
Finally, the word ‘blog’ itself. It’s ugly. We need a replacement. I don’t go quite so far as Phil, who in “WordPress,” writes “We don’t use the “b” word around here. I hate it.” I hate it, too, but need a replacement before I can give it up.