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Finding Your Blogging Voice

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

By Dave Taylor

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What writing style will produce the best results on your blog?

If you look at blogging as the digital equivalent of writing a diary, then the answer to my question is easy: you write the way you want to write and to heck with any guidelines or suggestions, and, yes, damn the grammar torpedoes! Who needs results anyway?

If you're reading this, however, odds are good that your interests extend beyond just having a Web site where you can record your own intimate thoughts and experiences. Your weblog, or weblog-to-be, is focused on effective communication; on sharing what you know; on trying to influence people regarding your own ideas, opinions, and perspective; and perhaps on convincing people that your product or service is worth a second look.

Now we're moving into the territory of just plain good writing, and that's something we can spend some time exploring!

Let me preface all my remarks by saying that while I think rules are made to be broken, as the proverb tells us, they should only be broken when you really understand the consequences of that divergence. Often, it's better to stick with the rules than to live your life on the grammatical cutting edge.

Spelling Counts

One of the greatest additions to the world of writing has been the spelling systems now included in just about every writing tool. Even Web browsers have built-in spell checkers (notably Apple's Safari browser). Given this preponderance of spelling aids, why on Earth do so many people still have so many grievous misspellings on their weblogs?

There's a more subtle issue: using correct spelling demonstrates a respect for the reader, which is one of the foundational concepts underlying all good writing and blogging.

Don't forget that you can also edit your blog entries after they've gone live on your site. Once you've posted something, go and read it again, then fix all the mistakes you find. If others email you about typos or something similar, fix them in the article too. It's a benefit that everyone who reads your blog in the future will greatly appreciate.

Grammar Counts Too

Maybe I'm a boring old writer guy or something, but I personally find it a lot easier to read grammatically correct writing than material from someone who believes that rules like punctuation, capitalization and tense agreement are sacrificed on the altar of self-expression. Yech!

In fact, I'll let you in on a secret: I actually edit comments left on my weblogs to fix grammatical errors and clean up any spelling issues. Why? Because I want the entire experience of reading my pages to be pleasant and thought-provoking, not baffling, confusing, or insulting.

Different communities have different expectations of spelling and grammar, of course, but I haven't yet seen a community—even of teens—where good writing reflects poorly on the writer. I have seen, however, some terrible writing in areas where the author is clearly trying—and failing—to gain credibility or influence in his or her community.

Tips for the Online World

In addition to spelling and grammar, there are also layout and word choice issues that are worth considering if you seek to gain maximum benefit from your blogging efforts.

Text layout is a good place to start. Many of the text layout best practices have been around for decades, if not centuries, and reflect technological limitations or quirks of reproduction that are no longer relevant. I learned how to type on a typewriter, for example, and absorbed the rule that paragraphs should not have any separation between them and always begin with a tab indent. This is no longer true and the most readable text online does the exact opposite, with blank lines between paragraphs and no indentation at all.

And then there's the issue of text alignment in a paragraph. Look at a magazine or book and you'll likely notice that both the left and right margins are neatly aligned, with the inter-character and inter-word spacing adjusted to produce lines that are all the exact same length. The problem is, readability studies show that having a ragged right margin—where the text is left aligned but each line is left alone to be as long or short as necessary—is much more readable and therefore a better online practice.

If you must have that right margin neatly aligned, well, then you must. But if you have the choice, always let it drop to ragged right to produce the most pleasant read possible.

Finally, remember that while blogs tend to place well with search engines already, paying a bit of attention to search engine algorithms can be darn useful, specifically making sure that you're writing in the language your community uses, and that your keywords appear at least a half-dozen times in a given blog entry. If you're writing about strollers, make sure you use the word "strollers" with some frequency in your entries, rather than slipping into the common referent "it" as we do in speech.

Finding That Elusive Voice

Once you have the basics down, and you know how to present the information for readability, it's time to decide what sort of "writing personality" you want to convey with your blog. Do you want to write in first person? Do you want to use slang? Do you want to include jokes? Do you want to share intimate details of your personal life?

Consider Hollywood stars for a moment. How many of them invite the paparazzi into their homes for photo sessions versus how many have a "public" life that might well be completely different from their private lives?

There's an unquestionable element of voyeurism and exhibitionism involved in blogging, as many teens learn with a shock when their personal musings are suddenly being shared by thousands of unknown Internet denizens.

Your challenge is to decide where along the continuum of boring, staid press release writing to highly intimate personal sharing you want to be, and then stay there. You can inject personality, just be conscious that people who don't know you—and perhaps don't like you— are going to be reading your blog entries and forwarding them to their friends and colleagues.

One of the best ways to learn your blogging voice is to read a lot of other bloggers and ask yourself whether you're comfortable with their writing style, whether they seem to be a friend chatting with you or some self-important twit pontificating, and which you find most appealing. Then be inspired by that and try to create a writing persona that matches what you believe are the best practices.

For me, that writing persona is very conversational, and I will often inject words like "Um" or "Err" or "Hmmm" into my writing, as if I'm sitting across from you in a cafe and we're chatting over a cup of tea.

Your voice will vary, but there's no more important aspect for becoming a successful blogger. A good blogging voice will help you gain fans, communicate effectively, and influence your readership as you desire. And, um, good luck to you, too! :-)