Moving to better blog posts: understandable, clear, engaging text

Moving to better writing

Closing a 5 year period of: “working for the money” and moving into a new period of craft and creation my blog posts are becoming more relevant as instruments of promotion.

Mainly to reach my peers: the people I want to work with, create with, create for. The people I might meet, the people I should meet, the people I do not know yet, but who think and move in similar lines as I do. The companies that do cool things.

My blog posts have improved over the last 4 years, but are still not where they can be. Simply because I have not been taking the time to sharpen my mind.

This is going to change.

My blog posts are part of my work.

Iliad

Compared to the average blog: “I saw this amazing thing, did something and here is a link” with the length of 100 to 600 words, my writings are like the iliad. Long. Excruciating.

Summaries

On the other hand, compared to what is present inside my mind, they are just summaries. Compressed forms. In many cases boiled down to short texts and lists with bullet points with short subtexts to allow for speed reading.

Even then most of my posts count around 2000 to 3000 words.

2 to 4 hours per post

My average time per 2000 word post is 2 to 4 hours. It depends mostly on how much time I spend on re-reading and editing and if there are images included. 2 hours is hardly with any editing. 4 hours is usually 50% of re-reading and editing the crappy parts. Producing images easily adds 15 minutes to 30 minutes per image.

This makes my average production 1000 words per hour and 16.6 words per minute.

Length an issue?

I do not believe in any of the following assumptions:

  1. Dead – Blogging is dead/old/outdated (for one assuming that things like Twitter and Facebook are the “new blogging”)
  2. Short – A blog post should be short, otherwise people will not read it
  3. People do not read – long stuff on the internet

It is mainly populist bullshit based on a very narrow point of view.

Six things I think matter in blog posts

There are six things I do believe in as defining factors for consumable content, in any form of production:
  1. Abundance – The more stuff you can find on something, the stricter your filtering mechanisms as a consumer becomes. Is it boring? Skip it. Is it long? Maybe later. Am I interested? Maybe not.
  2. Scarcity – If you have only one boring book and you are in the most boring place ever created on earth, that book will be re-read. Almost with desperation.
  3. Quality of story telling – Whatever you write involves story telling. And good story telling involves some understanding of what makes the human brain stick to it. Do it well and your audience will finish a 100.000 word novel in one weekend, or 8 x 45 minutes episodes of a TV series in one day. The higher the quality, the bigger the chance you will be read or consumed.
  4. Structure – With story telling comes the build-up or structure. Where do you start? Where do you end? How do you shape sentences? How do you compartmentalize subjects? How do you build up the story? What tricks do you use to trigger the brain of your readers to read the next sentence?
  5. Relevance – Does it matter? Whatever you write about, is it connected to something real? A shared problem? To something readers will care about?
  6. Momentum– Final and containing everything as the end result: how do you keep your reader engaged? How do you kick-start the reader in the first three sentences so that she will read the next set of lines? How do you add even more momentum with each next line so that your reader reads the final line?

Tools for the trade – a shortlist

  1. Quick scans – I started more and more to structure my text to support quick scans. This means that any reader should be able to get a general idea of the value of the congtent by just browsing through the article.
  2. White space – White space eases the mind. It makes online text seem more digestible instead of: “a lot of work”.
  3. To the point – Each sentence has to be clear. Each sentence has to matter. Fluff is deadly.
  4. Personal – I think it helps a lot to see the person and personality behind the post to help a reader connect. Who are you? Why do you care about it? Are you able to make me care?
  5. Short – Even when you write a lot, the separate parts should be relatively short.
  6. Easy to digest – Too much nerd-speak kills. Make sure the writing is clear and easy for the mind.
  7. Compartmentalized – Break up text into clear short topics which can be read individually.
  8. Lists and bullet points – Lists and bullet points allow to cut out fluff. They also cut out overhead in the brain, as lists and summaries are presented as such.
  9. Impulse – Make sure each sentence projects forward: invites to read the next one. And the next one. And the next one.
  10. Focal points – Anything that draws the eye and important to allow people to do quick scans. I use three:
    1. Headers – Quick scan this entire text. The first you will focus on are the headers. They already tell part of the story.
    2. Lists – Lists are easy to digest (when done properly). They also indicate summaries.
    3. Boldface abstracts – Look at this specific list you are reading. Each text after a bullet point starts with an abstract of the content (like: “Boldface abstracts”).
  11. Clear start – The start of each post has to clearly advertise what the reader can find inside. What works best I think for now, is:
    1. A short statement of intention – Why this post? What is the intention? What is your take? Why do you care?
    2. A short summary of what comes next – What can the reader expect to find?
  12. Clear focus – Deviation is deadly. If I start telling about my pony and lose myself in: “how bunnies are nice as well”, I lose readers.
  13. Clear ending – Whatever is written should be summarized in a conclusion in the end, with you making clear what your point was. If you can not, you very likely wrote some unfocused fluff, following too many leads, and the reader will not be able to do so either.
  14. Editing – Editing is comprised of several parts:
    1. Re-reading – With the eye of a fool. Pretend you have no clue what the article is about. Get stuck on sentences that do not work and parts that are unclear.
    2. Re-writing – Using the findings of your re-reading. Making stuff clear.
    3. Re-structuring – It might be that some topics have to be torn into two ore more parts. Others to be moved, to add more clarity.
    4. Adding – Sometimes what is there is not enough and needs more clarification.
    5. Removing – Something stuff is creating dead space. Information you thought was important when writing but with no clear added value related to your topic.
    6. Spell checking – This is the last of your worries, unless you really suck at it. The quality of your work is in all the things stated before: understandable, clear, engaging text.
  15. Promotion – If your blog post is relevant for a greater group of people, it is good to promote it. If not, you are just spamming and wasting peoples time. I usually do it by posting links on places where people ask questions on topics I found (partial) answers to. This leads to an average of 10 to 60 page steady views per day on a post that otherwise would have 2 to 10 per month.

Are fluff posts bad?

Fluff is the soft stuff inside your pillow. It is the soft stuff that has no shape and no consistancy.

Fluff posts are not always bad. They help shape ideas when they are still raw. I usually call them “Research”. But they are mainly written for myself. To fall back on later, to see what and how I thought 2 years ago.

In some cases they are even more to the point than later work – once all the other fluff is removed – as they are based on the very first raw ideas.

Concluding

There is a lot of learning to do for me to reach a higher level of writing and a bigger audience. The biggest resistance I feel is the extra work it will deliver.

To properly edit a posts takes me at least the same time as it takes to write it. And in some cases I think I do not have that time. And in those cases I just post them as it is more important to have them posted than to have them perfect.

The reason why blog posts are important for my work is my field: independent research & development. I create new things. I create variations on a existing theme to open new possibilities not used before.

I need my audience to read my posts. I need them to follow my work. As the alternative is obscurity: the basement inventor of awesomeness nobody knew about.

The better my stories become, the more people I will reach. And the more people I reach, the bigger the chance that what I do gains the relevance I think my work deserves.

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