Rules of Thumb for Writing Blog Posts

Below are some brief learning points from the “Becoming  Blog Master” Session, held as part of the iMedEd Track at #CORDAA17.


Just like a 5 star restaurant perfectly mixes flavor, preparation, plating, and ambiance, an excellent blog post has a mix of high quality content presented in a way that is clear, emphasizes key content, and intermixes images and other visual media to elevate the impact of the post.

Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to writing high quality posts:

1.) Content Really is King

The post should be focused, well-referenced, and deliver an up-to-date and unbiased account of the content covered.  You can maximize the impact of your post by highlighting the key content within the first paragraph of the post, filling in the details after that, and finishing off with some background information.  This structure is known as an inverted pyramid and is used heavily in journalism. (1)

2.) Proper Grammar and Spelling are Crucial

The fastest way to turn off a reader (or to make them lose faith in the veracity of the content) is to have spelling and/or grammar errors.

3.) Think about How you Present the Content 

Take a look at the two images in this post.  The content is exactly the same between the two; but in one of them, the author demonstrates thought and consideration in how the content is presented.  Use larger type sizes and bolding to highlight key points (an example of chunking and segmentation which can decrease the cognitive load on the reader). (2)

 

 

4.) Understand How Users Interact with Your Site 

The Nielsen Norman Group has done extensive studies on the way that users interact with websites.  Using eye tracking data, they have found that users tend to have a “F-type” reading pattern, where the primary focus is on the first paragraph, a little less focus on the second paragraph, and then focus is directed on the left hand side of the screen (3).  They have also found that users tend to not look in areas of the screen that would typically have an advertisement (4).  What does this mean for you when you are laying out your content? As mentioned above, keep the key points to the early paragraphs.  Put images more on the right hand side of the screen (won’t break up the reading lines).  And, don’t put key content in areas that would typically have an advertisement (i.e. an ad banner).

5.) Find and Use High Quality Images (and don’t forget copyright rules!)

Here are a number of sites you can use to find copyright free images (or images specifically labeled as safe for reuse).

Be sure to use high resolution images (.jpg or .png files will load quickly on most all computers) and feel free to adapt the images or icons to suit your purposes.  If you are using a table or image from a journal article consider recreating the table to emphasize only the key points (and also avoid any sticky situations with copyrights).

When it comes to creating a blog or blog post, figuring out where to start can be the hardest part.  For those unfamiliar, the technology can be intimidating, opaque, and seem to be too great of a barrier to overcome.  The online software that runs most blogs is no more complicated than using a simple word processing program.  As you are trying your hand at using online blogging software (say through a free wordpress.com account), pay close attention to how a combination of thoughtful design and quality content better engages the learner,  elevating the impact of your post.


References

  1. Inverted pyramid. (2017, February 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:01, February 28, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Inverted_pyramid&oldid=763286661
  2. de Jong, T. Cognitive Load Theory, educational research, and instructional design: some food for thought. Instructional Science (2010) 38: 105. doi:10.1007/s11251-009-9110-0
  3. Nielsen, L. F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content. Published April 17, 2006. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/. Accessed 5/3/2017.
  4. Nielsen, J. Banner Blindness: Old and New Findings. Published Aug 20, 2007.  https://www.nngroup.com/articles/banner-blindness-old-and-new-findings/. Accessed 2/27/2017.
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