Tips for new bloggers.
A listener named Daniel wrote in asking how to deal with specific fears he has about blogging, and it reminded me that good writing isn't just about putting your commas in the right place, or even coming up with good stories to tell. Another important part of good writing is getting over your own fears that hold you back. Those “what ifs” that can keep you from reaching for more.
Let's go over some of Daniel's “what ifs.” I bet some of them have nagged at you too.
How to Get Started Blogging
Daniel's first questions are "What if my blog isn't relevant?” and "What if readers don't find my blog interesting?” What Daniel is really asking about is the audience for his blog.
When you're writing anything--whether it's a blog, an essay, or podcast--the first question you should ask yourself is “Who is my audience?”
What do they want to know?
Why are they coming to my site or reading the essay?
Are they likely to already agree with me, or do I need to convince them of something?
Do they want to learn something, or are they just looking to be entertained?
Do they expect formal language, or do they expect casual language?
How educated are they?
How old are they?
Where do they live?
How to Define Your Audience
Try to actually imagine your audience. The more you know about them, the more you can write something they'll find relevant and interesting. If you're writing for 10-year-olds who are just looking to kill time, your writing will be very different from your writing for a website that's trying to raise money for a political campaign.
Kids will need fun words, short words and paragraphs, and maybe even some exclamation points. The political readers will need serious words, a more sophisticated tone, and perhaps lots of facts, compelling anecdotes, and calls to action.
No blog will be relevant and interesting to everyone, but with the whole world as potential readers, you're likely to find some people who care. The better job you can do at defining those people, the more likely you are to develop a following.
How to Find Good Information
Daniel's next questions had to do with research. He asked, “What if I'm unable to find the information?” and “What if the information is skewed?”
If you're truly unable to find accurate information, then you shouldn't write your blog post; but with the resources available today, that's unlikely to be a problem. You'll probably start with an Internet search, but don't forget to search specialized databases such as Google Books, which lets you search the text of millions of scanned books.
You may need to pay for access to specialized websites. For example, I pay for access to the online versions of the Oxford English Dictionary, the AP Stylebook, and the Chicago Manual of Style.
Even though online access is easy, don't forget about your local library. If you're having trouble finding information, the reference librarian can be a big help.
How to Know if Online Information Is Credible
Determining whether the information you're finding is skewed can be trickier, especially with online information that can be posted without going through any kind of editorial process. You have to use your own judgement.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether the authors have anything to gain from providing skewed information. Are they selling something? Do they have an obvious philosophical stance that could make their opinion suspect? Ask yourself if the information seems extreme. See if you can corroborate it anywhere else.
Another way to determine whether online information is credible is to see who else is linking to it. You can use Google to get a list. If you type “link:” before a Web address in the Google search box, it gives you a list of all the sites that link to that address.
For example, you can see that over 235,000 pages link to the Grammar Girl page. That's a lot of links! So it means many other people have found the information link worthy, which is usually a good sign. (You should be careful about that though. People can also link to a site if it's outrageously incorrect, so scan the links to make sure people are linking because they think the information is good.)
How to Build Confidence
Daniel's last questions are the easiest to answer, but perhaps the most difficult to put into practice because they all boil down to “What if it all goes horribly wrong?”
And the answer is to relax. It's blogging; it's not hostage negotiation. There's no set deadline and no set word count. The truth is that when you start, unless you're incredibly lucky, there probably won't be a lot of people reading your blog. So start slow.
Blogging on a regular schedule can help you grow your readership because visitors know what to expect, so pick a schedule that will be easy for you to keep. Start with one blog post a week and see how you like it. You can always ramp up later if you find that you have time.
I hope this show helps Daniel overcome his fears and get started blogging, and I hope it helped you too. Always remember to consider your audience, no matter what you're writing.
The Grammar Devotional
I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of the fun tip-a-day book, The Grammar Devotional.