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How to Write for a Blog

Writing for a blog is easier than you imagine. It’s easier than journalism and much easier than writing a novel. Your task is to find your own voice and apply it to your writing. You must discover how to write for your blog. You must consider your niche – your subject and your target audience – and this remains true whether you are writing a niche marketing blog or just blogging for fun.

Consider this: if you are surfer writing a blog for surfers, you are already more relevant and engaging than me. You know what you’re talking about and you understand the language of the surf – it’s jargon. You can use as many ‘dudes’ and ‘rads’ as you like without making yourself sound silly. Frankly, I wouldn’t know when enough is too much.

I have copywriting experience – I’ve written case studies, business plans, white papers and I’ve translated the incoherent ramblings and jargon of IT professionals into plain English. My word target was usually 1,500 – 2,000 words per day with many edits. Novelists commonly shoot for 2,000 first draft words per day.

Writing for a blog is different. How so? Well, in the first place I wouldn’t use the term ‘How so?’ in a case study, although I’ve seen similar terms used by others. But, the most significant difference is that today I plan to write three researched blog posts using more than 4,000 words which I intend to edit as I go along. Although, I will give the post a final once over at the end to ensure that I haven’t overused words such as ‘however’.

This style of writing may be conversational, unpretentious, scruffy at times and imperfect. Yet, it should always be honest and leave the reader with the impression that the information is reliable and the recommendations are doable.

My objective in this blog post is to speak simply and informally – me to you. You should do the same using your own voice. Don’t get hung up about commencing a sentence with a conjunction or ending one with a preposition. This isn’t Shakespeare. You’d probably lose your audience if it was. The more you write, the easier it becomes, and there are tools that can help you.

As I’m writing this, an app called ‘Grammarly’ is making recommendations about my grammar and pointing out my spelling errors. It’s free and you can download it here. The more I write, the less it seems to complain about my grammar. Even so, it will never stop complaining about my spelling.

The following writing tips are based on what works for me and on the advice of such experts as William Strunk Jr., Mark Twain and Steven King.

Tip 1: Use short paragraphs.

Let your reader see a lot of white space on your blog. It’s less intimidating. Readers are more inclined to read bite-size paragraphs than something that reminds them of a science textbook.

Tip 2: Use headings and highlight important points

Use headings and highlights to draw your readers’ attention to the key points you wish to make and to help them locate the information they dropped by to find.

Tip 3: Keep your writing simple

There is nothing wrong with simple sentences. They worked well enough for Ernest Hemingway.

Consider the paragraph I wrote in Tip 2. It may be easier for you to follow if I simplified it by using two sentences. For the sake of flow, I often use a simple sentence or two followed by a compound sentence. It’s best to keep compound sentences to two clauses when blogging – particularly in the beginning. Your writing will be easy to follow and you’ll sound more natural. Furthermore, the simpler your sentences, the less likely you are to make mistakes.

Nevertheless, you will make mistakes. We all do. The great thing about blogging is that you can revise your work. It’s not like a paperback novel, containing mistakes that will haunt forever. I would be careful about messing with the placement of keywords though – particularly if they are ranking.

Tip 4: Don’t go over the top with descriptive language

I once read a long blog post that used the word ‘tremendous’ fifteen times and ‘truly’ eight times. The writing wasn’t so bad if you removed these words (superlatives). But as it stood, it was clumsy, distracting and amateurish. I would have bounced from the blog if it hadn’t offered some useful information.

Superlatives should only be used occasionally to emphasise primary messages. A statement such as: “It was awesome!” – used once when appropriate – will have more effect in a blog post than an endless binge on ‘truly’ and ‘tremendous’. Your writing voice will also sound more sincere.

Mark Twain made a good point: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Stephen King is firm in his belief that “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I expect he would have edited the next two sentences as follows:

He wandered the streets aimlessly.

He slammed the door angrily.

King believes that if the reader doesn’t know (or discover) why this man is aimless or angry, the writer has failed at his task. Therefore, in King’s view, these adverbs are redundant.

Tip 5: Don’t pad your language

So now you’ve completed the first draft of your blog and the word count is only 980 words. You tasked yourself to write 1,500 words. The temptation to pad out your existing content is great. Don’t do it! No one will want to read it. Keep it crisp. Write for your reader and not for the search engines. Publish your post, reflect on how you can add more quality content to it, and come back to it later. Don’t waste words.

In 1918, Professor William Strunk Jr. wrote The Elements of Style and had it published privately for use at Cornel University. The book, intended to be a simple initiative to improve the writing habits of students, was only 85 pages long in its original form. Yet, It has come to be regarded as one of the most influential books of the era.
A key principle of The Elements of Style is the need to omit unnecessary words.

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” ~ William Strunk Jr.

Be kind, that was written a hundred years ago. But the message remains true today.

Tip 6: Use the active voice

You may come across the following grammar check recommendation when writing a sentence using Microsoft Word: “Passive Voice (consider revising)”

Another key principle of The Elements of Style is to always use the active voice, and Stephen King vigorously upholds this standard. Sentences written using the passive voice are often wordy, vague, and less effective. You should aim to write crisp sentences.

Here are two simple examples:

Active Voice: The dog bit the postman.

Passive voice: The postman was bitten by the dog.

The more complicated the sentence, the more clumsy the passive voice will sound.

Consider the following sentence from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

“[Sir John Middleton] pressed them so cordially to dine at Barton Park every day till they were better settled at home that, though his entreaties were carried to a point of perseverance beyond civility, they could not give offense.”

In this sentence, Austen follows a time-honoured, British tradition whereby the passive voice can be used to soften and complicate language to avoid causing offence. Here, she uses the passive voice to express annoyance with Middleton,  and probably to mock the tradition as well – the novel is a moral and social satire.

Many politicians use the passive voice with great effect to evade questions and issues. Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for the use of the passive voice in certain formal, professional, and legal discussions as well as in police reports and judicial documents. But, in blogging we want our voice to be strong, clear and direct.

Tip 7: Use Images in your blogs

Using the correct images can intrigue and engage readers. It also separates text and makes it seem less intimidating. I used a few royalty free images in this post. Two, I modified for my own purposes. They were downloaded from Pixabay. They’re free and you can find them here.

Tip 8: Select appropriate fonts, font sizes and font colours for your body text

You will notice that much of the advice I offer here is intended to enhance a blog post’s readability. Selecting the correct fonts, font sizes and font and background colours are an important feature of this. Body text should be reader-friendly. There are plenty of ways to add colour and style to your post without messing with its body text. For me, black fonts on a white background serve best.

Tip 9: Learn what constitutes a sentence and when to break the Microsoft rules

Although you should understand the rules of grammar before you break them, there is a conversational aspect to blogging that sometimes permits you to treat fragments as though they were sentences. Of course, Microsoft Word will warn you: “Fragment (consider revising)”. But, I would ask you to consider the opening paragraph from Grahm Greene’s novel, The Quiet American:

“I can’t say what made me fall in love with Vietnam – that a woman’s voice can drug you; that everything is so intense. The colors, the taste, even the rain. Nothing like the filthy rain in London. They say whatever you’re looking for, you will find here. They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul. And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there’s a breeze. The river is beautiful. You could be forgiven for thinking there was no war; that the gunshots were fireworks; that only pleasure matters. A pipe of opium, or the touch of a girl who might tell you she loves you. And then, something happens, as you knew it would. And nothing can ever be the same again.”

I love this book. The opening paragraph grabbed me and the novel never let go its grip.

Notice how the first, second and fourth underlined clauses do not seem to be complete sentences. Moreover, only one contains a verb. Yet, it can be argued that they are valid sentences because it can be inferred that they notionally commence with ‘It’s’ which has been intentionally omitted for style. I can find no excuse for the third underlined clause. But it works.

Personally, I wouldn’t change a word in this paragraph. It’s the narrative of a jaded old man beginning to recount his experiences in evocative sound bites over a whiskey. It’s conversational and it’s gripping.

Just as fragments can be large, sentences can be small. I do, stuff happens and Bill ran are all complete clauses, because they each have a noun (or pronoun) and a verb.

Similarly, pro-sentences can stand alone. True, perhaps, maybe, yes, no and okay are examples.

Tip 10: Whenever possible use simple punctuation

Most blogs can be written using commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks and dashes. Although, there are certain literary, academic and technical blogs that are exceptions.

Punctuation is not my strength. I often have lapses of judgment. However, there are times when it is essential to make our writing unambiguous through the correct use of punctuation.

Consider the following quoted instructions:

“Don’t! Stop!”

“Don’t Stop!”

The first statement insists that an action must be terminated. The second statement insists that an action must be continued. Only punctuation establishes the point of difference. In such cases, we must ensure that our writing is unambiguous.

Commas are a nuisance for many writers. I have two friends who write professionally. One suggested that when it comes to commas it’s best to leave them out when in doubt. Notice how I just did that myself? The other writer reads his own copy and uses a comma where he wishes to insert a short pause. He seeks to create a rhythm to his writing that the reader can’t screw up. I wish him good luck with that.

Even the late Christopher Hitchens – a great writer – would consult his literary friends about his “pepper pot punctuation”. Unfortunately, we don’t all have friends like Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis to edit our blogs. But don’t despair. Below, you will find a great little video that explains the various ways commas should be used.


Ten Basic Comma Rules


There are those who may say that I have my writing rules and priorities all wrong. They may be correct. Yet, there is a limit to how much information you can deliver in a little over two thousand words, and I am a blogger writing for other bloggers. How effectively I blog is for my readers to decide.

I should point out that as a premium member of Wealthy Affiliate I get to use their Site Content – Ultimate Writing Platform. It offers the following features:

  • Duplicate content checker
  • Vocabulary enhancement suggestions
  • Grammar checker
  • Spelling checker
  • Royalty free images
  • Automated publishing directly to your website
  • Writing stats and goals
  • Content structure analysis
  • The ability to template content

I used Grammarly for the purpose of writing this blog. I also sourced, edited and inserted my images manually. This was to demonstrate that it could be done without cost. Although, I did cut-and-paste the content here into the site content platform where I keep drafts of all my recent blogs.

Until last year, I used Grammarly for almost all my writing. It’s a great tool. However, for professional affiliate marketers, time is money and, within reason, they’ll take advantage of every labour-saving resource at their disposal.

11 thoughts on “How to Write for a Blog

  1. Hi Henri. This is valuable information. I am definitely going to work through them and apply it where necessary on my next article. Thank You.
    Hennie

  2. Thank you for this post. You have given me a new perspective on writing my blogs.

    I especially found the video on using commas correctly very helpful. I tend to use them all the time. I hope now I will know if I am using them correctly. If in doubt I know I don’t have to use them. That was awesome news for me.

    Thank you again.

    1. Hi Lee Ann,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my post.
      Isn’t it funny? We mostly get it right except for the commas. The video is so brief and simple that I refer to it often.
      Cheers,
      Henri

  3. Henri, your post was a valuable read for any blogger – whether beginner or seasoned. I particularly liked that you emphasized the point of being conversational as if the writer and reader are simply chatting together.

    Thanx for including the video about comma usage. I think it’s also one of my weak spots, and one of the things I look at very carefully just before hitting the publish button.

    1. Thank you, Shelley.

      It’s a great little video on comma usage, most probably based on ‘The Elements of Style’ by William Strunk Jr and adapted for modern sensibilities.

      I recommend ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’ by Stephen King. It’s very cleverly written – autobiographical anecdotes punctuated by writing tips and grammar rules. It’s not at all like a textbook.

      BTW: You can download a free copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ from Project Guttenburg. It’s in the public domain.

      Cheers, Henri

  4. Excellent post and proper guide for writing. I am new to affiliate marketing and economist by profession so real writing isn’t something I am accustomed to very well. I already recognized my mistakes.I will do my best to change but it is not going to be easy to get rid of adverbs and passive voice.

    I also started using Grammarly and it does help me a lot. I will probably want to read your post few more times so I bookmarked it. Thanks for the useful lesson.

    1. Hi Alex,

      I’m so pleased that you found my post useful, and I completely understand where you’re coming from.

      Many professionals fall victim to their industry’s jargon. It seems to me that IT professionals, engineers and lawyers speak in ‘tongues’.

      Cheers, Henri

  5. it’s been a long time since I learned about commas. LOL. I love the idea of blogs as being conversational. It will keep the readers interest longer without all the stuffy “follow the rules” writing. You’ve pointed out some good practices to keep in mind and I will definitely use them in the future. Oh–love Grammerly! It’s a fabulous tool.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Yes, Grammarly is a great tool, and it’s particularly useful when you are tired and need to produce a lot of copy. It enables bloggers to edit as they write.

      Grammatical number agreement is a good example. Consider the following sentences, one contains a common error that may go noticed by both reader and writer:

      Correct: The number of men who refuse to wear suits is increasing.

      Incorrect: The number of men who refuse to wear suits are increasing. 

      The following two sentences are a little trickier:

      Correct: The United Nations is an organization.

      Correct: We, The United Nations, are an organization. 

      Grammarly is great for this type of thing – particularly if you are a blogger trying to find a natural voice. 

      Nevertheless, some sentences require human judgement, at least for now. The following sentence has a problem with a misplaced modifier that grammar checkers seem to miss:

      Incorrect: Tourists will notice the memorial walking along Main Street.

      Grammarly seems to assume that this memorial (memorial is a noun) is capable of walking along Main Street and raised no objection when I wrote the sentence.

      But here is the thing: this is the type of honest mistake that most bloggers will make from time to time. It should be forgiven because the writer’s intention is quite clear, and the sentence doesn’t sound too unnatural.

      Cheers, Henri

  6. For someone who is new to content writing, I found lots of useful information to keep my blogging to a high standard. There is so much more to good content than first meets the eye, so, as you can imagine I am on a steep learning curve and grateful for the quality post.
    Do you think using templates help with the overall speed and regularity of content writing

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