WEEK 10: New! And Improved!

 

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CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

October 17, 2016

For weeks now – nine of them – you’ve been learning about blogging and different web-based apps that are used, one way or another, with blogging. You have all learned, developed skills and participated at different levels, which is perfectly normal.

This week, I am providing a chance for you to improve on your blog. I did a mashup of the most relevant posts I found but also linked some additional reading material for those of you who want to learn more.

By the end of the week, you will write a new blog post reflecting what you learned, how you took that learning and applied it to your blog, what improvements you made, how you feel about it. Your effort, your drive, your accomplishments and end product will be reflected in Infinite Campus.

Improvements will be broken down into three areas:

  • Appearance
  • Content
  • Readability

Appearances count

The appearance of your site, before most of the words are even read, will affect whether your audience stays or goes. If it looks thrown together by an amateur, they’ll close the page.

  • Choose a relevant theme. A theme with lots of picture isn’t relevant if you don’t use lots of pictures. If images provided by WordPress don’t relate to your posts, the disconnect will drive readers away.
  • Learn how to use your blog. If stand-in posts (This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it …) are left because you don’t know how to make them go away, use them to post your posts or figure out how to make them go away.
  • The same goes for stand-in widgets. Figure out how to use real widgets. Explore WordPress; ask classmates; Google it.
  • Use good typography. Be aware that you can manipulate the type to a degree and use it to your advantage: Italicize words for emphasis instead of using quote marks; bold subheadings to break up long text.
  • Use white space to your advantage. Use a line of space (not two) between paragraphs instead of indenting. And these should be short paragraphs for blogging, much like newswriting. Most paragraphs are 2-4 sentences long, but use logic. Where you change subtopic, make a new paragraph.
  • Use images to draw attention and connect to readers. Find copyright-free images in such places as Pixabay, Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, but consider the idea of using your own skills as a photographer or graphic illustrator. We can scan images in the classroom, too.
  • For more on appearance, check out this blog post on creating a stunning reading experience.

Content is key

The content you are writing is where many of you are struggling. I am providing you with a focus for the week (digital footprint, Pinterest, passion projects), but it is your job to make it relevant to you and connect that with your target audience. Here are some tips gathered from a few other bloggers:

  • Know your purpose. Yes, it’s an assignment. BUT – you are you. What insight do you have to offer? Take the focus I am presenting (digital footprint, Pinterest, passion projects) and combine it with what you have to offer (knowledge of gaming, music, art, technology), and turn that into something relevant for your audience.
  • Know who your target audience is. Who do you imagine you are writing for? (No, not your teacher.) Is it teens like you? Is it adults who are in the business of relating to teens? Is it musicians? Artists? Then, listen to that audience. What do they want to know? What questions do they have?

When you know your purpose + know your audience, blogging is easier.
– Elle Drouin

Understand your own personality and what you want to bring to the blog. Are you a casual, down-to-earth, honest blogger? Your posts might be like conversations on the patio. Do you want to teach your audience how to draw, play, create? Your blog might have more of an instructional tone, but it can still be friendly. Are you a well-researched debater who is tired of the misinformation floating about? Be careful that you don’t take a condescending tone. One site suggested taking a personality inventory, so you can know yourself and what you wish to present to your audience.

  • Be specific. For some reason, this is really hard for some writers, but there is a huge difference between:
    “My high school sucks.”
    and
    “At my high school, students suffer from too much or not enough attention. Too much attention paid to being on time and turning in work. Not enough attention paid to whether we understand what is being thrown at us or whether we have a place to go home to.”
    Which carries more impact? Which would you rather read?
  • Tell stories. Personal stories are an element that cannot be found anywhere else. Personal stories connect people.
  • Use emotion. Your posts don’t have to be drama-filled, but emotion is another way to connect to readers. Did an earlier traffic encounter make you angry? Would readers be able to connect to it? Have you had a recent scare that you could write about to inform readers so they don’t make the same mistake? Could you lighten a reader’s day with something funny?
  • Close with a call to action. If you’re not trying to involve your readers somehow, it’s too easy for them to click away. You can ask them to try the recipe and let you know how it turned out. You can ask them to share similar stories. You can ask them how they would have handled the same situation. You can ask them to share more ideas on the topic. You can ask them to write their congressman. What do you want them to DO?

By the time you determine your purpose and identify your audience, inject your own personality and get specific about your topic and sub-points, by the time you tell a story or two and draw on some emotion, by the time you call your audience to DO something, the three-sentence blog post will be a thing of the past.

Readability, as in, can I read it? Does it make sense?

Lastly, you must address readability issues. This comes down to all that stuff your English teachers have been teaching for years. If your post is full of mistakes – or even if there are only two or three rookie mistakes, readers won’t take you seriously. REALLY, if you cannot write following basic Standard American English rules, you won’t be taken seriously, whether that’s on a job application, a letter of complaint, a memo for your boss, or a classified ad. It’s time to learn the basics, if you haven’t already.

  • PROOFREAD ALL YOUR CONTENT YOURSELF.
  • Reading aloud will help you catch awkward sentence structure, missing or repeated words and more.
  • Follow rules of capitalization: first words in sentences, names of people, places (America, Baltimore, Six Flags), businesses (Disney, Twitter, Walmart), mascots (Demons, Bulldogs, Orioles), I (you are important enough to capitalize, and there is no autocorrect).
  • Put periods at the ends of sentences. A sentence is a complete thought that has a subject and a verb. If you put two of these together, as in a compound sentence …

John has a dog     +     Mary has a cat

… you must have a comma AND a coordinating conjunction between them (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), resulting in something like this:

John has a dog, and Mary has a cat.

Or

John has a dog, but Mary has a cat.

If you only use a comma (John has a dog, Mary has a cat), you have created a run-on, because John is a subject and Mary is a subject and they each have a verb (has). It’s simply two sentences.

  • Watch verb tense. It’s not usually correct to start out in past tense, then suddenly switch to present tense or vice versa. It can be jarring for the reader unless you have a story-telling reason.
  • Likewise, avoid switching person, from first person to second person to third person.
  • Re-examine word choice. If you often use vague words like stuff and things and do and fix, find more specific words to replace them with. Explain better.
  • Organize your content so that it makes sense and doesn’t just jump from one thought to the next.

Your mission this week …

Your assignment this week is to improve your blog.

  • Improve the appearance. Change themes if you need to. Remove unnecessary stand-in content. Add widgets, taglines or header images.
  • Improve earlier posts. Expand if necessary, adding your personality, telling stories that help make your points, adding a call to action. Correct mechanics, punctuation, spacing issues. Make better word choices.
  • Then write a post about the improvements you made. Was it hard? What did you learn about that maybe you didn’t know? Did you get help from classmates? What are you proudest of? What would you advise other student bloggers to do?
  • Try to build followers, another way to improve your blog. Tweet out a link to your post. Read other blogs, like their posts and invite them to read yours. Can you pin a blog post to one of your boards and get others to follow that way? Try setting a goal to get more followers, then make a plan to do it.

Many bloggers started small, as just a hobby, but they learned, they tried and failed and researched and now they make money with their blogs. That may not be what you want to do, but create the best class-based blog you can, something you can be proud of. What is your goal for your blog? (You see what I did there?) Comment below.

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