How blogging improved my writing, and what it can do for yours

I encourage all my students to blog.

Not only is it a good stress-reliever, it can also be cathartic — when you release heavy or dark emotions through creativity, that’s catharsis.

But blogging is also one way for a person to improve his or her writing. If you want to be read widely and be considered a credible blogger, you will have to learn how to write effectively. This includes spelling correctly, following the mechanics of grammar, and developing your own style. For students, blogging makes for excellent writing practice (if they take it seriously, that is).

However, this is not a post about grammar. This is about my own experiences of writing as a blogger and how it improved my own writing.

Blogging has done wonders for me since I tend to be very bookish when I write. I can be very wordy, redundant and long-winded, especially when it’s an academic piece. But over the last year, I’ve learned to be more concise and direct. Not only do I consider my “Confessions of a teacher” series my best blog entries ever, but they are also my best writing pieces.

I will be sharing what I consider to be one of my worst pieces of writing and then I will demonstrate how I would improve it for global consumption. After which, I’ll share some ‘rules’ based on the example I have shown.

The following ‘paragraph’ comes from an essay I wrote for an English class back in high school. I always ‘ace’ (A+) English class and so looking back now, I wonder whether my teacher read a word of what I wrote. However, writing for the teacher is different from writing for a blog. In a blog you need to capture attention, not put your reader to sleep. (Don’t read the following, just observe the mass of text. Read what follows instead.)

In a society where the best bargain is always the best deal, the integrity of a certain product is greatly challenged. Video games and music CDs are the number one targets of pirates. These people are those who find the taxes and the overall price of the said items to be too expensive. They buy original copies and use a computer to copy the exact contents into a writable CD. The copy is cheaper and a more convenient buy. For example, Starcraft, a leading PC game, costs one thousand five hundred pesos but a copy would only cost one hundred fifty pesos. The price is ten times cheaper and the buyer will not have to worry about any registration or official code unlike in the original CD. The same goes for music CDs that are regularly bought at around five hundred pesos, yet the copy would also cost one hundred fifty pesos. The pirate’s treat would be the Playstation CDs which are regularly bought at two thousand pesos but would cost only fifty pesos when copied. These pirates could create as many copies as they want and people would buy them. However, just because they are affordable and comfortable does not mean they are legal. Software piracy is illegal and that is where advertising comes in. Being a country where pirated CDs are a commodity, the manufacturers and or the distributors of authentic software could easily abandon their industry here and advertisers would not like that. As of now, there are small campaigns against software piracy. Large-scale campaigns are constantly being threatened by the pirates; therefore, companies would prefer campaigns that strike at their audience’s emotions. Microsoft has released such an ad in a magazine about six months ago. One magazine page was split horizontally. The upper frame had a blue foreground with hands resting on a keyboard. The lower frame had a red foreground with hands grasping the bars of a jail cell. At the bottom of the page was located Microsoft’s slogan that goes, “Where do you want to go today?” The ad was simple yet very expressive. Unfortunately, advertisers have not yet declared a full-scale assault on piracy. They may not be able to fully state the difficulties of software piracy to the public yet, but they can do their best in promoting good and honest trade.

Alright. That was just atrocious. I can’t even get myself to read what I wrote. Basically, it’s a paragraph about software and audio piracy. The point is almost lost on me; this is part of an essay on the importance of advertising.

Here is the improved, ‘blogified’ version. (This was written years ago, explaining the absence of the DVD.)

In a society where the best bargain is the best deal, the integrity of a product is under challenge. Piracy in the Philippines is rife, and their favorite targets include software, videogames and music CDs.

For instance, most computer games would retail for Php1,500 and music discs are sold starting at Php450. Counterfeit or pirated copies retail at a fraction of that price, both games and music often not exceeding Php100.

Advertising has a role to play against piracy as well. Ad campaigns that champion original, legitimate products must also condemn piracy — it is illegal.

Microsoft released a pretty good one a while back. One page was divided into two panels; one had a hand on the keyboard, another had hands gripping prison bars. A single caption highlighted the piece, “Where do you want to go today?”

That line was not lost on Microsoft fans since that was the core theme of a major Windows ad campaign. Now, it campaigned against piracy too.

Perhaps, writing for a blog is most similar to journalistic writing. Following some basic rules of journalism can work wonders — begin with a hook, start with the most important information and trickle down to the less important, and say only what you need.

But of course, not all entries would follow this logic. Often, we would also write narratives, essays and accounts, and these call for other writing structures.

Thus here are some insights I have into blog writing, regardless of what it is you write.

1. Use titles that generate reader expectations.

The reader should know what your post is all about right away and the best way to do this is through the title. When I title an entry, I choose between one of two things: epic or specific.

“Confessions of a teacher” is epic. I use epic titles when I want my reader to know that I’m writing something important or that they’re about to read a work I really worked hard at. An epic title usually calls out to a reader and invites them deeper into the text. Nonetheless, the title tells them what to expect even if they don’t know what the entry is about.

The title of this entry “How blogging improved my writing, and what it can do for yours” is specific. You already know what it’s all about and it tells you everything you can expect. I liken specific titles to the taglines you see on product packagings and websites. It allows the readers to choose what they read and saves them time from reading an entry they can’t relate to.

2. Explain only what you have to.

Never forget that we’re on the internet and that our posts are all linked documents. Therefore, use links. Almost everything is on Wikipedia and Google, so instead of boring your reader with an exposition on what Hafnium is, link instead to a document that does so and continue on with the main point of your entry.

In my entry entitled “Local government units don’t contribute to RP development”, I allude to a lot of ideas which not all readers may know. (The title generates some expectations so those familiar need not read through.) And throughout the post, I refer to some works which contributed to the entry, as well as to a post I wrote on a similar topic.

So when you blog, think in four dimensions. Link your entries to other entries in your blog and to other sites on the internet. Don’t explain what you don’t have to so that your posts aren’t bogged down by exposition.

My example above was incredibly bogged down! It was a literary quagmire! Notice how I cleaned it up by going into my main points only.

3. Emphasize when necessary.

Traditional, academic writing discourage the use of bold or italicized text, however doing so is part of how people ‘speak’ on the internet. There are a lot of nuances in our verbal communication which writing cannot capture, so the best way for us to emphasize certain points or ideas is to make sure they stand out.

It’s up to you when you bold, underline, italicize or even strikethrough. But here’s what I usually do.

I bold words and ideas I consider important, and doing so can drastically change the meaning of words and sentences. This is a trick I learned from reading comic books. Observe the following. What is the difference when I say, “You don’t have to” from, “You don’t have to”? The former statement can be taken as is, but the latter raises further questions. Have? Or need? Or want? That emphasis also adds some color to the sentence.

I italicize key words or sentences, usually examples, insights and conclusions. Italicizing is emphasizing in the truest sense of the word. I also use this to add sarcastic color to a sentence as can be seen in my post, “Stop! Don’t buy Vista just yet!”

While I rarely use the strikethrough, I underline more. But here’s one trick I’ve learned: if I am to underline something, I might as well link it to a reference since links in themselves are already underlined. I underline what I consider important and can provide an additional reference to. That way, I emphasize and link, two birds with one stone.

4. Isolate lines that stand out.

One trick I learned in writing more concisely is to isolate some lines and let them stand on their own. This is the one sentence paragraph which a lot of writers already do. But blogging gives this a new dimension — importance.

And this is another habit I learned from reading comic books.

Isolating lines brings certain ideas to the front and emphasizes them in a big way (especially when used in conjunction with italics). I used this to great effect in my “Confessions of a teacher” entries.

5. Use lists.

People love lists. It makes reading quicker, easier and more entertaining. What I want to advocate now is a cleaner way of writing lists.

Let your main points stand out like what you see in this entry and in the popular, “The Unofficial List of All Things Wrong With Metro Manila Traffic”.

Lists are great to use when you have a lot of ideas and even more to say about each. It is a sure way to organize your thoughts, and to help your reader sift through the information you share.

* * *

These are my main points for now. I will continue to update this list as I learn more tricks on how to be an effective blog writer. And if you have any suggestions, please feel free to contribute.

However, never forget that underpinning all of this are good fundamentals in writing. And for that, I advocate reading more and taking those English classes more seriously.

If I were an English teacher, I would make blogging a primary tool in class. Students will write their compositions online, and they will be required to comment on each other’s work, pointing out errors in grammar and mechanics and giving feedback on their thoughts and ideas.

The peer review aspect of blogging is what makes this such a fantastic written exercise. And with all our works up for global consumption, it will help that we do it right.

Rough writing makes brilliant ideas lose their shine.

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18 thoughts on “How blogging improved my writing, and what it can do for yours

  1. I really enjoyed this post. It was very insightful, and I’m sure that it will assist me immensely in my own blogging and non-blogging writing pursuits. While I have been vaguely aware of the things mentioned above in regards to blogging, they have never been clearly and succinctly delineated, so thank you.

    I have always had troubles with titles, and the “epic or specific” approach is going to be a wonderful way to tackle that particular aspect. Then there was that pesky phase I went through a few years ago when every other word had to be a different colour or font, bolded, underlined, italicised, struck-through, or all four at once. I have also, looking back on the numerous items that I have posted in scattered corners of the Internet, realised that I ought to have utilised the convenience of links a lot more.

    Once again, thank you for this helpful guide. (:

    Cheers,
    Tree the Cheery
    http://valdev.wordpress.com/

  2. Nice post, Sir M! I’ve been following those tips practically my entire blogging life. It’s like having a Rolodex in the back of my head =)) And you’re right, I guess I learned these things by reading my older blog posts, as well as reading other people’s. Blogging really did improve my writing.

    I actually have a list of “things not to do when blogging” that’s been sitting in my Documents folder for some time now, you know, stuff like, “Do not…post…like this.” (Aaagh, I hate that!) I’ll publish it, it’s just a matter of when.

    Or if you have the time, I could send it to you in case you have anything to edit or add =D Hehehe!

  3. Hi,

    Blog hopping led me here. I hope you don’t mind if I hang around for a bit. 🙂

    Anyway, this post grabbed my attention ‘because yeah, I agree that blogging has improved my writing too. The tips you mentioned would help people a lot, and I hope your students would take your suggestions seriously.

    I’m looking forward to reading your “Confessions of a Teacher” series. 🙂

  4. Hey, I just stumbled upon your blog.

    This post really is a nice one. I have to admit my writing skills have improved since I started blogging. I will try to use your tips more often on my blog. Good day to you! 🙂

  5. The key to writing anything is being able to learn from your own words. So what am I saying? If you write it down you can and do unknowingly / sub-consciously retain that information via right brain, left brain memory utilization. I have learned to learn from my own writings and definitely even refer to my own writings as a guide of “how to” and yes, “how not to do” something. As Sir Martin so wonderfully said “it is another `tool` of the learning process.”

  6. Great post!

    Very useful as more and more people look to blogs and social networking tools to communicate.

    Am definitely using blogs for my English classes this school new year.

    Argee
    (thefilipinoteacher.com)

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