Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blogging Tips and Suggestions

For the past couple of days I've been looking around the Intertubez for blogging tips, just out of curiosity to see if there was maybe anything I was doing wrong and didn't know about, or, conversely, to see what I've done right! I have been at this for four months now and it’s still a learning process. Most of what I found, however, was aimed at people using Wordpress, their own domain, or whose blog was part of a greater corporate website. And although most of what they wrote about was pretty universal, such as this great series about clutter on the Blog Herald, I still feel like tips coming from another Blogger user would've been more helpful and more applicable. Hence, this post. It's basically a list of my blogging pet peeves but hopefully it will also prove to be a useful guide for beginners.

And thus, I begin:

Learn HTML! I am very glad I took that introductory computer programming course in college, even though I majored in English and history, and that I kept the HTML textbook! It's made getting into blogging so much easier. I can write my posts in Word, insert the HTML tags as I type along, and then just copy and paste it into that tiny window Blogger gives you. It also makes editing less troublesome.

Good grammar and spelling are a must. Not only is poor grammar irritating, it also makes you appear sloppy, apathetic, and uneducated. I am not saying your blog has to read like a school paper or be 100% error-free (we're only human). Some bloggers, such as this one, make the stylistic choice to ignore certain grammar rules and that's totally cool. Plenty of great novelists, such as Faulkner and Morrison, have done the same thing. But if you plan on going that route, be consistent and don't sacrifice readability. Use paragraphs too, BTW. Reading a long block of text on a computer screen is not the same thing as doing so from a piece of paper.

Use categories. When I come across a new blog, it's usually because it's about something I'm interested in. Having a list of categories makes navigation so much easier! Don't make it too long either. Pare it down to what you like to write about most. This is not only more user-friendly, but it will help keep sidebar clutter under control.

No music! Seriously, it's annoying. Unless you're a fourteen-year-old with a MySpace page, don't.

Keep your background simple. I was somewhat guilty of this myself at first. My original theme was this one from The Cutest Blog on the Block. I was looking for something in blue and brown, and thought this looked quite nice. But not only can dark color schemes be risky, but you have to consider what that richly patterned or embellished background is going to look like once you've added your posts, archives, categories, blogroll, About Me, and whatever else you have. A lot of the blogging tips I read also complained about having to read light type set against darkness, but I kinda disagree. I've seen some nicely-designed personal pages done in black with green, yellow, or white text. But for a more serious or professional venture, a simple, muted theme is probably best. (If you're not sure, click "Preview" in the Edit HTML section and it will let you see your blog with the new background without you having to save it. If you decide you don't like it, simply hit "Clear Edits.")

Go easy on the pics, lists, widgets. Again, keep that sidebar clutter under control before your blog ends up looking like a kitschy MySpace page. Look, I realize that there are people who participate a lot in an online community and have a lot going on in their section of the blogosphere. But here is a great example of a very popular blog which nevertheless has a very tasteful layout.

Remember the Golden Rule. First off, respect other's blogs. Before you comment, make sure it's not something the blog owner will find offensive, off-topic, or insulting. If someone leaves a comment politely disagreeing with you, welcome the chance for civil debate. (Of course, if they're rude, delete, delete, delete. Don't even bother.) And above all, don't be sucked into "flame wars" - that will just bring down tone of your blog.

Credit. If you're going to be quoting from another blog, link back to the original post. NEVER EVER plagiarize, either in the blogosphere or elsewhere! (And use quotation marks!) If you want to use an image or video you've found, download that image/video. Don't hotlink it - that's bandwidth theft. Also: remember to credit your background designer. (Now that's going to be a controversial one. Some people - including yours truly - like to eliminate the little box a lot of designers put in the upper left-hand corner and move it to the sidebar. But I've seen blogs that just eliminate any link to the designer's site whatsoever. Yes, some might object to what I've done but it's still very easy to find where my header graphic and theme came from.)

Be safe. Don't give out too much personal info. Seriously. Be careful what you say about others too. This article is rather alarming. Which brings me to my next point:

Family bloggers, please, please, PLEASE be careful! Sometimes I like to click on the "Next Blog" button just to see where I end up. The results can be very interesting! Sometimes, however, I get family blogs. You probably know the type: they contain photo after photo of the kids, with relatively short posts describing the clan's latest adventure or random everyday moments. Their intended audience is close friends and other family members. Which makes me wonder why they're public – Blogger does, after all, have very good privacy settings that include "invite only" and keeping your blog out of search engines. I don't mean to judge anybody, but I confess to wondering what some of these people are thinking, especially those who include not only everyone's full names ("Hi, this is the Smith family! We're Mary and Bob, and these are our kids Anne, Ted, and Billy!") but also the state and city in which they live. I know parents usually think that their children are very, very special, but let's face it, a complete stranger is not going to find your average family that interesting and if they do . . . that might not be a good thing. I even read about a woman whose friend had found photos of her twins on someone else's site, with completely different names and captions. And even if you disable the right-click option so that your pictures can't be downloaded, there's really nothing you can do about people taking screenshots. So please everybody, always think first and foremonst of safety.

Keep the real world in mind. If it get you fired, anger your friends, result in a lawsuit, or cause any other sort of damage IRL, just don't post it.

So there you have it. This list is by no means exhaustive and I may come back later and add more. If you can think of anything I left out, let me know!


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