Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blogging 101

The International Council of Dinosaurs, District Nine (ICD-9) has appointed me their official blogging expert. Actually, because I've been reading blogs far longer than I've been writing one, my opinions about what makes a good blog have been honed over several years instead of just my few months of actual blogging.

I have distilled all my saurian knowledge into these three basic rules:
  1. Write well.
  2. Say something.
  3. Mix it up.
What do they mean?

Rule #1 ought to be self-explanatory. The whole idea of a blog is communication. Don't believe all that nonsense about the internet as a new form of communication where the old rules don't matter anymore. Like it or not, blogging is writing. The basics are still important. Spelling, grammar and punctuation count, not because the Grammar Nazis will come rap your knuckles (things have gotten so bad they can't be bothered anymore; they just laugh at you behind your back) but because their absence is distracting. Engaging the reader is good; distractions are bad.

It helps to be eloquent, like Dr. Charles or Sid Schwab, but that's not what I mean by "write well." Complete sentences, correctly placed modifiers, not using commas like a stupid person (that's an actual comma rule; go read this book if you don't believe me) and noun-verb agreement go a long way toward making a blog readable. That does not mean there is a set of ironclad rules that can never be broken. Just as with other kinds of writing, you can break all the rules you want if there's a good reason for doing so. (The only good reason is if it makes the writing better.) And in general, it's hard to effectively break rules when you don't know them in the first place. So, just as with other forms of writing: read. Widely. Books. Blogs. Lots of blogs. Get a sense of what works and what doesn't.

Proofread your posts; more than once, if possible. Check and double check that you've said just what you want to say, and that the writing is the best you can make it. Make sure all your links work. Then really "proof"-read it. This is not really reading at all. Go over your post "looking" at each word to make sure it's spelled correctly; make sure there aren't any tpyos [yes, that's intentional]; that commas are all commas and periods are all periods; that there aren't any extra spaces; that all sentences begin with a capital letter. Make sure there's an extra line between paragraphs (but only one.) All the nuts and bolts stuff. Try not to hit "publish" until it's perfect.

The bottom line is that if sloppy writing makes your blog difficult or annoying to read, it won't be read.

Rule #2 is what separates an interesting, general purpose blog from a diary. If you don't have something to say, don't bother blogging. Even if you have a wildly popular blog visited multiple times a day by people who hang on your every word, nothing will discourage them from checking in quicker than too many "Nothing much happening today, but it's raining" entries. You may have 45 comments along the lines of, "Yeah; it's raining here too," "Bright sunshine here," "We're supposed to get eight inches of snow later so I have to go buy bread and milk," but unless you're the Weather Channel blog, who really cares?

Not every post has to be chock-full of weighty observations about life, the universe and everything, but I think it's important to at least say something each time you blog. It can be lighthearted, serious, profound, whimsical, funny (funny is always good) or whatever. But try not to post just for the sake of posting. Posts like "I took some great pictures that I'll be posting later" cheat your readers. Wait until you're ready to post the damn pictures. There's no rule that says you have to blog every single day. That's what's so cool about blogging: there are no rules at all (except mine, of course.)

Rule #3 is the most flexible, in that there are many blogs with perfectly good reasons to ignore it. Still, my favorites are the blogs that mix it up among different topics, tones and formats. It's the precise proportions of that mix which make each blog unique.

Even if your blog is primarily about, say, medicine, you can still toss in posts about sports, animals, family, politics, jokes, and so on. Within a given area (like medicine): flip around between funny patient anecdotes, ranting at the sorry state of the health care system, emotionally moving encounters, helpful hints, etc.

Mix up up your formats: long essays; one-liners; quoting someone else's blog and commenting on it; linking to a new blog you've found.

The bloggers I enjoy most also make it a point to vary their tone: serious; whimsical; whiny; funny; strident; indignant. You get the gist. The trick to keeping it interesting is not pissing people off too often, and not boring them on a regular basis.

Not everyone "mixes it up."

Kevin basically does link-and-paste, sometimes with an excerpt, and occasionally with a sentence or two expressing his agreement or disagreement. If you look back at his blog, you'll see he doesn't do much extensive writing of his own. That's fine. Kevin's got what I call a "nexus" blog: you read it more to see what he's found than necessarily for what he himself has to say, but wow: watch your hit count spike when he mentions you. Dr. Charles, Dr. Sid and Tundra PA tend more toward wonderful essays, usually long enough for them to suck you right into their fascinating worlds.

There are also bloggers whose sole purpose is to vent, and there's nothing wrong with that. They find their own community of readers to offer support and solace. The great thing about the internet is that there's room for everyone.

But in the final analysis, if someone were to ask, "How do you write a blog?" this dinosaur would answer:
  1. Write well.
  2. Say something.
  3. Mix it up.

NaNoWriMo Status: Still technically behind, but with over 3000 words written today alone, still confident of catching up.
Word count to date: 5467
Favorite sentence: "The deserted lobby was empty."


At Sat Nov 04, 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Dreaming again said...

Very interesting.

I have a bad habit of using ...'s

I finally figured out why.

When I talk, and I pause, I don't just pause, I hold my breath.

A comma, is a pause. For me, in my writing, a ... is where I'm holding my breath.

At Sun Nov 05, 01:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad I stumbled in from the insurance backlash Dino. You're now on my RSS feed.

At Sun Nov 05, 01:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Sun Nov 05, 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Big Lebowski Store said...

Nice work, Dino, thanks. I wonder how many of your criteria Flea fulfills?

Seriously, though, one of the attractions of blogging is that there really aren't any rules out here. If I depart from every one of your guidelines and as a result nobody reads me (or even if they do), then what? Do we get bad marks from the God of Blog?

Folks blog for various reasons. Sometimes we really are writing diaries. Apart from the fact that diaries tend to be boring and pedestrian, what's the big deal?



At Sun Nov 05, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger #1 Dinosaur said...

This post was in response to an email from MedStudentGod complimenting me on the readership I'd built after my relatively short time blogging (and as a reward for hitting NaNoWriMo word count goals.)

No one has to follow any of these rules. No one is keeping score. (Don't be silly, Flea: there is no Blog God; just the Gods of Blood and HaShem.) The only penalty for not following them is not getting read. Frankly, they're just guidelines for writing a blog that *I* enjoy reading. And Flea is one of my favorites.

At Sun Nov 05, 01:05:00 PM, Blogger MedStudentGod (MSG) said...

Yeah, I figured this was in response to that e-mail. I think I violate a lot of these as well - mostly the blogging for the sake of blogging.

Thanks for the info and I'll see if I can't keep from upsetting the "God of Blog" :)


At Sun Nov 05, 11:11:00 PM, Blogger Dr. A said...

Great post. Definitely agree with you on all points - particularly when Kevin mentions you - the numbers go up!

At Mon Nov 06, 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

friendly constructive criticism:

Rule No. 4.

avoid verbal diarrhea.

see the above post and those referenced for examples of posts that run on and on and on...

"brevity is the soul of wit"

At Mon Nov 06, 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree Dr. Dino...These are good rules to follow, if building a readership is your goal..For some people it isn't!

Some just use blogging as a way to journal. I have read some that are terrible. But, then I think...Who am I, to tell someone how to blog on their own site?

I guess we all do it for different reasons...My blog is so not themed. I can't focus that long on any one thing..So mixing up the posts works for me. When I first starting blogging, I thought I wanted to talk about Arthritis everyday! That is about the most boring topic imaginable, so it had to go. I do talk of it, but not everyday, and not as a theme.

Anyway, I think you should change nothing with your blog..I come here, never knowing what I may find. That's what makes it interesting.

As for Kevin..He is the reason I started a blog in the first place. He is like the Glenn Reynolds, of the medical profession. But, who is Kevin? We don't have any idea, because he doesn't give us any clues. I keep waiting for the post from him that starts out with..."My life Sucks"...Or something on that order. It will never happen!

I bet I jsut mdae a bncuh of tpyo's and gmaremr erorrs in tihs psot.

HA...Pretty neat how that works, isn't it?....Did you know that our brain really only reads the first and last letter of words? As long as they are in the correct spot, the rest can be a mess, and we can still read it fine....:)

At Tue Nov 07, 09:06:00 AM, Blogger Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and pointing out that I failed to follow rule #1. (Actually it wasn't soupposed to have been posted yet, it was just a firstdraft of a post I want to write. I pressed post instead of draft...)

Great rules, these.

At Tue Nov 07, 06:57:00 PM, Blogger Richard A Schoor MD FACS said...

Good stuff and I agree that too many blogs lack good content. However, "the cream always rises to the top!"
Keep on bloggen and stay solo. Ain't nothing better!

At Wed Nov 08, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger oncRN said...

i like your rules. i think it's important, too, to stay true to one's own objective in starting a blog. if your aim was to be social, or to vent, or to educate, or to bare your soul, you will probably be happiest and thus writing best when you are staying true to that goal. not that the goal can't change along the way, of course.
i enjoyed this post.

At Thu Sep 13, 07:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. i am new to blogging. It is a good thing i read your observations on how a good blog should be now than after six months of verbal diarrhea. But i have to agree with Cathy. i feel blogging is to vent out your thoughts, think-out aloud. i have found when you write / blog, you tend to crysatilse your thoughts and clear-up your head. The added advantage is you get to see your thought s from some others perspective also by way of comments. When you are writing for yourself, number of hits i feel really does not matter. The post you have written, should be read by anyone new to blogging.

At Tue Jul 28, 06:19:00 AM, Blogger Embers said...

Avoid posts that are only saying how good another blog is, because they said how good your blog is. Get a room instead.
Avoid memes. They are soooo boring! If no-one uses them, they will die the death they deserve.

At Sun Aug 02, 01:31:00 PM, Blogger drcharles said...

Fantastic rules, and I'm very flattered to be mentioned. Reading this in 2009 helps me focus as I'm getting back into this medium a little rusty, but hope to get in shape again. Thanks for the inspiring thoughts!


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