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WordCamp Ireland 2010: Writing for blogs from Maryrose Lyons

March 6, 2010

We’re here. We’re WordPress bloggers. We evangelise the WordPress brand at every opportunity. Why on earth would we want to attend a session entitled “Writing for blogs” when most delegates at WordPress’ first WordCamp Ireland are bloggers anyway?

The answer is reasonably straightforward. Just because you blog, doesn’t mean you can’t blog better. Anyone who thinks they can’t blog better probably isn’t blogging for the right reasons. In other words, they’re a borderline smart-arse with precious little to say.

Maryrose Lyons didn’t say anything of the sort, of course, during her excellent session on Day One of WordCamp Ireland. I was merely indulging in a spot of artistic licence. Nobody at WordCamp Ireland knows me. So let me say, this is kind of what I’m like. A cheeky so and so whenever there’s an opportunity.

Writing for Blogs – your indispensible guide

Casting aside the moments when I thought (and sometimes felt) I was sitting in a greenhouse – Mary definitely deserved getting the Blacknight Theatre venue with it’s stage, raked seating and dimmed lighting – Mary presented her advice in a punchy, accessible and effortlessly perky manner throughout.

If you don’t want to watch the video (and really, why wouldn’t you? Mary is so camera ready I’m seething with jealousy), here are the main points of what she said during her session:

1. Make the reader feel as though you’re writing all for him / her

Don’t waste time telling someone how good you think your particular organisation is, show your reader how you think you’re good for them.

Sounds simple. I must make a point of remembering it more often.

Turn your opening paragraph into a question.

Don’t question this. Just do it. You’ll see why.

2. Make your copy scannable

  • Early webpages had pictures; then researchers discovered that users didn’t look at the many pictures us web-savvy wotnots cluttered up our pages with. So now it’s back to text. So because we’re focussed on text we need to make sure our page looks the part.
  • Make your page easy on the eye. Use headlines. And sub-headlines. Make your first section no more than three separate sentences. Then slip in a sub-headline and go for another three sentences or so.
  • Exploit the formatting afforded you in the blogging interface to make the text engaging and so draw the users’ eye down the page. Don’t think only about your beautifully crafted words. Think about the way your reader needs to see them on the page.
  • For the love of God, don’t use full justify (Mary didn’t say this, but on the web it just looks naff – research shows that left hand justified text actually aids the online reader jump from one line to another).
  • If you’re going to use bullets use only 5 (stretch to 7 if you dare but really you’re going to have to make sure you can justify using 7 bullet points)
  • Use numbered bullets where order is important – like wot they do in recipes, like.
  • According to Mary, there’s no rule about whether to use full stops in bulleted points. Just what ever you do be consistent.

3. Five rules for skimmibility (or is it skimmability?)

The headline here is that people can’t be arsed to read stuff on the web like they can in print. You need to make it easier for their brains to cope with your words. Follow these handy approachable rules slavishly:

  • Rule One: The human brain reads 25% less online; aim to cut any copy by 50%.
  • Rule Two: Use active verbs. Don’t question this. Just do it.
  • Rule Three: Multi-syllabic words bad. They’re evil. Tool of the devil. Avoid them. Don’t use the word ‘however’ when the word ‘but’ will do. (Apparently, the web is a safe place to use prepositions at the beginning of a sentence.)
  • Rule Four: Avoid the passive voice like your life depended on it. The passive voice is for the weak-minded and mealy-mouthed. You know, lawyers. Be more like a journalist. Be bold. Assertive. Masterful.
  • Rule Five: If you’ve got more than one comma in a sentence then you’ve messed up. Turn the sentence littered with commas into multiple sentences and then marvel about how much simpler life is.

4. Lovely Links

We were flagging at this point, it has to be said. Some of us couldn’t type quick enough.

Mary’s point was driven by the all important Google rankings which should hang over all of us.

The more you link, the higher your ranking (potentially).

So, pepper your copy with links if you can. And, when you do, for God’s sake don’t patronise people with the line “Click here for more info”. It’s so last century.

5. Keep your categories at a minumum and tag everything

Again, don’t question this. Just do it. Really, how could you question The Lyons?

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4 Comments
  1. Thank you, an excellent post. I will take some of the advice on board.

    WordPress camps look interesting, I may have to get on one at one point. How do you get on one?

    Antony x

  2. Just saw it advertised on WordPress.com. That was – quite literally – it.

  3. Hey Jon, thanks for the write-up… I must remember to top up my lipstick next time someone sticks a video camera on me! One key point … I come from a land of Mary’s… too many Mary’s in fact… and so I’m quite adamant about my name being used in all its glory: it’s Maryrose 🙂

    • And what a smashing name it is too. I can’t now amend any subsequent errors in the rendering of your name without risking your comment being rendered a bit weird … so I’ll leave it be for now .. 😉

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