Blogging style and etiquette

Young woman, blogging by windowWelcome to part four of our “Introduction to blogging” guide for Liberal Democrat bloggers or would-be bloggers. It’s appearing each Saturday between now and Christmas, with all the posts available via this page. The series will then be revised and collated into an e-book, so please do post up your comments as the series progresses. Today it’s the turn of Jonathan Calder with a set of essential writing tips.

Blogging is a very personal thing that we do in public. And there is nothing more personal than an individual’s style of writing.

For that reason, whenever someone offers a list of rules on how to blog it will be possible to point to popular blogs that break some or all of them Still, here goes.

In the early days of writing for the web people used to tell you to put your most important point in the first sentence and to make sure that the they readers did not have to scroll down to read the whole of the article. (The thinking, presumably, was that they would be unwilling or even unable to do so.)

These days readers are a lot more web savvy and there is no need for rigid rules like that, but it remains true that reading from a screen is different from reading a printed page.

So it is a good idea to use shorter sentence and, particularly, shorter paragraphs than you would when writing for print. The occasional use of bullet points, bold text and colour (one thing you cannot easily do in print) help to make a page easy to read too.

If you quote more than a couple of lines from someone else, make it a separate paragraph and indent it.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for the style – if not the politics – of a tabloid columnist.

You don’t have to turn each post into an essay or the definitive statement on the subject. Many of the most widely read bloggers prefer to use shorter posts. If you do favour longer posts, do not forget that it is possible to use subheadings.

If inspiration is flagging there is nothing wrong with sending your readers to a post on another blog or an article on a website, particularly if it is one they are unlikely to come across themselves. Remember that a blog was originally a “web log” – an annotated log of the sites you have visited.

As with any writing, it is a good idea to use a spellchecker and read over what you have written before you press Publish. One consolation of blogging is that if you see a mistake afterwards you can easily correct it. If something is wrong in a printed publication it is wrong for ever.

Linking

If there are no rules for writing, there is at least an accepted etiquette for linking.

If you get an idea or a story from another blogger, you should acknowledge the fact by giving a link to that post.

It is perfectly acceptable to quote from a post by another blogger, but give some thought to how much you quote. If you are quoting from a long post, then it might be acceptable to quote two or three paragraphs. If the post is shorter, then you should quote less of it. What is not acceptable, even if you give a link, is to quote a whole post.

The rule here is that you should quote enough to show your readers why they should go and read the whole thing but not so much that they need not bother.

Keeping a blogroll is one of the pleasures of blogging. In the early days, when you are unlikely to have a lot of readers, it is a way of stating who you admire and what you want your blog to be like.

You don’t have to link to everyone who links to you. And not everyone you link to will link back to you in return. It is best not to get too bitter and twisted about this, though there is pleasure to be found in deleting the occasional person from your blogroll. It is a little like cutting them out of your will.

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This entry was posted in Blogging guide.
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3 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 31st Oct '09 - 10:52am

    A vitally important note on linking for serious posts: show your sources, as directly as you can. These days your source is probably available on the web, so link to it. If you’re talking about a question or debate in parliament, link to the relevant spot in Hansard. For a letter that you received personally, scan it. Often you’re stuck with nothing better than news reports (which are wrong more often than people think), but you can at least show where it you got it from. This sort of thing is the difference between rumour and checkable facts.

    On speed and accuracy: these days there is a great deal of pressure to rush things out as soon as you hear about them. For some reason, everybody is convinced that ‘fast’ is better than ‘right’ – witness the recent reporting on the Watford playground affair. The entire thing was a fabrication, and very rapidly revealed as such, but due to the speed of the internet, the lie really did manage to run around the world before the truth could get its boots on. And all of this happened because people wanted to put the story out quickly, rather than taking the time to find out what was going on.

    Be careful about what you’re reposting, because the author probably wasn’t – even major newspapers are sloppy. Try to contact the people involved yourself. If they respond after you post about it (in politics, it can take about a week for people to reply), go back and add their comments to your post.

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