What Makes Great Blogwriting?

Photo courtesy of Capitan Giona

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde

A well written blog is a beautiful thing to read. When I hit upon a blog with great writing, I can spend hours digging into the archives, learning, laughing, getting to know a writer.

Because a great blogwriter, in the end, is someone you want to be friends with. It’s someone interesting, someone who can tell a story and hold a great conversation and be fantastic company.

Great blogwriting is hard to find, but it’s out there, and it can be done.

I can’t make any claim to being a great blogwriter, but I have been studying it pretty closely over the last couple of years, and I can report back things I’ve learned from my reading, from my experiments with my own writing, and from what has worked and what hasn’t.

Blogwriting: A new form
Remember, blogwriting isn’t the same as writing fiction, or journalism, or magazine writing. There are similarities, of course, but blogwriting is a literary form in itself.

The difference between blogwriting and other forms of writing lies in the audience, and the closeness of the blogger to his readers. Unlike other similar forms of writing, such as the op-ed column, magazine writing and the like, blogwriting is intensely close to the audience. You’re not broadcasting your writing to a remote audience who will read your article or column tomorrow morning (or in some cases, weeks or months later). You’re writing for an audience who will comment on the post mere minutes after you press “publish”. They will argue with you, praise you, become your friends. They will write their own posts, commenting on and analyzing your writing.

It’s because of this interaction and proximity to your readers that a blogger is exposed to the world, that it becomes immensely personal, that even if you don’t write anything personal at all, you’re vulnerable.

Blogwriting comes in many forms, of course. It varies in extremes from a personal journal to an op-ed column to a magazine how-to feature. And most blogs are some combination of those older forms, and more.

Your voice
Every blogwriter has his own voice. Writing comes from somewhere inside you, it’s a piece of you. That’s not as gross as it sounds.

If you try to write without personality, if you try to remove yourself from your writing, it will be dry and not a bit boring. I don’t advise it.

Put yourself into your writing. Let your voice speak through. Speak to the readers.

Read that last sentence again, because it’s key: speak to the readers. Write as if you’re talking to them. Sure, they’re not talking back, but only for the moment. Soon they will. So talk as if you’ve got their ear, and as if they’re listening but just chomping at the bit, waiting for their chance to respond.

Write conversationally. As we each have our own way of speaking, conversationally will be different for each person. If you have a problem with this, read it out loud. As yourself if that really sounds like you. And if not, rewrite it.

Don’t be afraid to use a little slang, if that’s the way you talk. Don’t overdo it, of course, but a little bit of non-standard English can add color. Don’t be afraid to use the phrases you normally use in conversation: be yourself.

Examples of great voices: Dooce, Seth Godin.

Insanely useful
This is what works for me — writing posts as useful as I can possibly make them. I don’t always succeed, of course, but it’s my goal.

I think about problems I’ve had, challenges I’ve faced and overcome, and if they’re things my readers might also be facing, I write about how to solve those problems. Step by step.

The more practical the tips, the better. Its fine to give general advice, but if the reader can’t actually put that advice to use, it’s useless.

Concise and scannable
These are two separate things, but they’re related. Blog readers don’t have a lot of time. They’re not sitting down to read a novel. They’re reading your posts at work, between meetings and tasks. Or they’re reading in the early morning, as they’re getting ready, or late at night, right before bedtime. They don’t have all day.

So write concisely: make your point, give the information, and be done. If you don’t normally write concisely, be sure to edit your post when you’re done, and see what words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs can be cut out or shortened.

“Scannable” is my term for how easily a reader can scan through a post for the main points. Is it possible to tell, in a few seconds, what the main ideas of a post are? Lists work well for that, as does making the key sentences bold or using sub-headlines for different sections of the post.

Keep the readers in mind, always
Great blogwriting isn’t just about the writer. Sure, there should be a lot of the writer in the writing … but if the writer is so selfish that he ignores the reader, he’s not writing well at all.

Again, great writing, in general, is a conversation. Conversation requires at least two people, and so to write you must have the reader in mind. Who is he, what is he interested in? Talk to him.

The reader should be at the center of everything: the topics you choose, the way you write, what you include and what you don’t. Forget that, and you’ve made a huge mistake.

Entertain them
Not every post will be entertaining, but many of the best will be. OK, maybe this one isn’t so entertaining. But you get my point.

Amuse your readers. Tell them stories. Add in a little humor, even if many of them won’t get it. Don’t be afraid to offend sometimes, although it’s not great to purposely anger people for no good reason.

Examples of entertaining writing: Pointless Waste of Time, Sara Brown.

Experiment, fail and learn
There is no one way to write a great blog post. The best blogwriters have all found their own voice, their own techniques. You’ll do that too, but you won’t succeed right away.

Read great blogwriters, and rip them off. Steal their ideas and techniques and make them your own. Writers have been doing that for centuries — I’d argue that it’s the only thing writers do.

Try new things you discover on other blogs. Try them and fail. It’s from failure that you learn.

The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing

Become a better writer overnight with this FREE eBook
  • Find daily inspiration
  • Improve your writing overnight
  • Get started, even when you don’t feel motivated
  • Complete what you start
  • Get WTD updates
Fill out the form below and get your copy immediately!



86 Responses to “What Makes Great Blogwriting?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. teresa says:

    Thank you so much for your tips.. i’m starting my own blog and i find it very difficult to write, being more oriented towards communication via visual media. I’ll try and follow your advice, though the tough part for me is to let my personality show while i write, i’m a bit insecure

  2. Kristen says:

    Thank you for your new blog and especially for this post, Leo. It is exactly what I need at exactly the right time. I have been blogging for three months and am ready to “find my voice” and these tips have already identified a few things I need to change…

    Congrats on your book deal, too!

  3. chakresh says:

    hi leo,
    I am a regular reader of zenhabits and now this one. you wrote that blogwriter should be himself at the time of writing. now here i want to start my blog but roadblock is that english is not my native language. i am pretty good at expressing thoughts in my language …. but in english, not so good.
    so any writer have to follow these constrains also in this internet arena.
    isn’t it so?

  4. rimarama says:

    You know what else makes great blog writing?

    Giving people useful information about how to make their blogs successful. Thanks!

  5. Fabulous. I love this blog already!

  6. Zoe Winters says:

    heh. I’m blogging about the fear of offending tomorrow. Its definitely a worry of mine, but you’re right, if I try to edit down my voice because I’m afraid someone won’t like it, the response will be that it will be so boring no one will like it.

  7. Hi Leo – Congratulations on this fantastic new blog. Already it’s proving as useful and enjoyable as Zen Habits.

  8. amypalko says:

    I tend to use a smattering of words derived from the Scot’s dialect. I don’t use many and I always use them in context, giving an explanation if I deem it necessary. I think it’s important to include them as they form a part of my everyday lexicon. If a blog is to be written in a conversational tone, as you assert here, then I think it is vital that we actively celebrate our local dialect whilst taking care not to alienate our readership.
    Incidentally, have you read the Change This manifesto, The Art of Alpha Female Blogging? It’s worth checking out; I think it has a lot to say about writing for bloggers of either gender.

  9. Leo,

    Most excellent tips thus far. I am sure there’s much more coming our way and I can’t wait-:) Not too long ago, I posted a blog entry titled, “Tribute to Irresponsible Dog Owners,” knowing fully well that some of my readers would come hunting for me (with a noose) if they could-LOL! But, they didn’t. I suppose it was due to the fact that I was able to interject some of personality, together with the right amount of (sarcastic) humor which my readers were already familiar with into the anecdote. So, to your statement, “Don’t be afraid to offend sometimes,” I say, thanks for validating my stance.

  10. Kevin Xu says:

    Great point there Leo and what a great post to start Write To Done with.

    Blogwriting is indeed an art form in itself which actively requires the attentiveness to the audience. Whenever I write, I try to keep in mind that I’m always talking to someone to keep their attention so I make my writing entertaining. Being in high school, I have found blogwriting to be very helpful in writing all my other essays and stuff.

    Keep it up Leo, I look forward to more posts!

  11. Simon Jones says:

    Some handy tips there. I also think another tip should be “Write for yourself.” By that I mean enjoy writing because people aren’t going to visit your blog just because you are blogging. Comments take a long time to get I think, though maybe that’s because I am boring? LOL!

    Oh shit… maybe I am boring! (Cold sweat)

    Ah well, if you write because you love to write then chance are you won’t care if you are boring or not, right?

    Good post. Consider yourself bookmarked.

  12. Dar says:

    I’m loving your new blog, Leo. Already so many thoughtful posts to read. :-) I look forward to watching you grow in your new blog. Congratulations all around for you, Leo!

  13. chickadee says:

    great post. love the blogging tips and your points on audience are right on. it’s exactly what makes blogging so unique.

  14. I agree that blogs are unlike other forms of writing, although I’ll argue that they are great training should the writer aspire to writing other things, such as a column, how-to materials, etc. They teach focus, persistence, and give you immediate feedback on how your writing is coming across to your audience.
    The most important thing about creating a blog, in my opinion, is finding your niche; in other words, your particular slant on the world, whether that’s related to your profession, personal life or something else.
    I echo the comment above about remembering to write for yourself, in the sense that you need to write about things you’re passionate about. It is easier to be intensely connected to your readers if you do that, because you’ll be writing about something that (in all likelihood) you can’t NOT share!
    Great blog, looking forward to hearing from you on writing topics! :)

  15. writtenwyrdd says:

    I found your blog via mediabistro. I like everything I’ve read so far. Especially what you have here about blogging being a conversation. It’s so true: We are having a slightly time-lagged discussion when it’s going well.

  16. Kika says:

    Love this blog already; have added it to my feeds along with Zen Habits, which I’ve been enjoying since before Christmas or so. I love your tips, your writing style, and even the clean & simple design of your blogs. Keep it up & congratulations on your success!

  17. Daldianus says:

    This makes a lot of sense. And I love the visual aspect of your blog as well.

  18. Hanna says:

    Nice and kind advices, makes me feel like I’m doing something right in my blog. Thanks a lot! :-)

    Have a nice day!

  19. babs says:

    Good reminders about blogging. I’m new at it, but I try to draw people in by speaking directly to them.

  20. I wholeheartedly agree with this advice. Plenty of good writers make terrible bloggers and vice versa. It’s all about finding the right balance of helpfulness and humor, encouraging community interaction, and writing posts that make people hungry for more.

    The Brazen Careerist (http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/) is a great example of a blog that not everyone agrees with, but the writer does an excellent job of provoking insightful comments and drawing people into her archives with cleverly placed links.

  21. FabGrandma says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have been writing my blog for more than a year. Sometimes I think it is just a waste of time and just plain goofy. Other times I am really proud of it. I always write the way I talk, so it truly is a “piece of me.” Thanks for validation of being myself.

  22. Linda says:

    I am enjoying your writing website and I am already a regular lurker over at Zen Habits. You have a tremendous gift to reach all of us and I am grateful for giving me an extra dose of courage as a writer.

    I had to include a quick plug for you on my blog as well!

    Many thanks.

  23. Alex says:

    I realize this was aimed more at the actual writing component, but I would also add that keeping a regular schedule is critical to attracting/keeping readers. Nothing worse than finding a blog you think you’ll enjoy reading, only to find it’s updated once a day, two times a month, never, or somewhere in between. I like how the header reads here: “Unmissable articles on writing. Twice weekly.” I know when to check back and what to expect…

  24. Michael says:

    Leo, you’ve inspired me to start a blog of my own. I may not be the great writer you are, but I’m going to try and work on my skills just for the sake of writing.

  25. Pigeon says:

    Good advice, thanks. I am struggling with the vulnerability you mentioned, haven’t decided for sure if blogging is for me. I appreciate you sharing.

  26. Constance says:

    Dear Leo,

    Thank goodness I found you before launching my blog. I knew something was wrong … scared … You named my ambiguity & hesitations so now I can deal with specifics. Thank you so much.

    Synchronicity: a brief biography of Oscar Wilde on http://www.androphile.org is exquisitely written, deeply moving. I love your OW quote, and he was so much more than wit, too.

    Constance

    C

  27. Margherita says:

    easy to say, difficult to apply.

  28. Shelly says:

    You’ve really helped me with this piece, especially the part at the end giving permission to fail. You are so right – we grow when we fail – as long as we get right back up.

    Thanks for the inspiration.
    Shelly

  29. Daniel Edlen says:

    I’m trying to keep on keepin’ on. I don’t really know how my blog is perceived, but I really like it when I re-read through it. For me, it follows your well-put suggestions for the most part. I don’t want to change mid-stream because all it is is honest and personal and in the moment. How does one get people to read through more of a blog’s archive?

    Peace.

  30. Rita Watson says:

    Spent all of my life writing, newspapers, magazines, books, but blogging is tough. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m writing about personal and professional relationships based on my newspaper columns. http://www.ritawatson.com AKA http://www.decisionmakingtips.com.
    You are giving writers a sense of community. I love the thought on friendship./ R

  31. David says:

    Thanks Leo. This is why blog reading is just as important
    as blog writing because it is the sharing of information such
    as this that will result in everyone benefitting.

  32. Keith says:

    Indeed, it is all about “authenticity”, isn’t it? Great Article, KUDOS!!!
    Best Wishes, Keith Johnson, Author, “365 Great Affirmations”

  33. Peg Thompson says:

    I’m a beginner on blogwriting and I’m learning that I have to let my voice emerge–and it is. Ruthless editing seems like it would interfere with that, but in my case, it seems to uncover my voice rather than stifle it. Thanks for the article. Peg

  34. Jeff Hess says:

    Shalom Leo,

    I grew up in a house where my father came home from work every day at 5:30 and at by 5:35 we all sat down to dinner. There was no TV on or any other distractions. We were all there and we stayed there until the meal was finished for all of us.

    So what we did was talk. No topic was off limits and we ranged far and wide.

    When it came time to create my blog, I knew that that was the model I wanted to follow. Have Coffee Will Write is dinner-time conversation with a few friends. I try to bring to the blog every day those things I’ve found interesting that I’d like to share.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff Hess

  35. blair says:

    be yourself because everybody is taken is a good one. :)

  36. Stella B. says:

    I think your tip to be ‘insanely useful’ is a fabulous piece of advice. You have to think about your audiences needs and then write accordingly. Stella B. thinks you’re pretty fantastic! Keep up the good work!

    Go to http://www.stellabneeds.com. Seriously, she’s got everything you need!

    check it. love it. live it.

  37. Cheryl K. says:

    This is such a helpful blog. Thank you. I love the Oscar Wilde quote. Isn’t it just so true?

  38. so helpful and one to be coming back too in future. starting out in this blogging game is no cake walk. Thank you. If anyone has any tips on my blog, good and bad, they are greatly received.

    Love and Peas

    Tom

  39. Korikkar says:

    Thanks for your wonderful suggestions and I could use them as I’m starting a blog of my own. I will try my level best to talk to my(?) readers

  40. I write about nine (9) different blogs and frankly, I don’t know if I have a single reader since nobody leaves comments – except a few stranglings who left weird comments that I could not post.

    But I have to say, I can get very amused by some of the things I write and I think I have a good blog voice – if I may say so myself, ha ha. I write a blog about divorce called The Divorce Saloon. Now, obviously, divorce is not funny. But sometimes I find myself cracking up after I write advice to potential readers. (Maybe I am really advising myself, as well as cracking myself up?) I also write a blog called The Small Biz Society International Blog. And, of course, my political blog: iBarack: An Historic Presidency. It’s a very schizophrenic process, because I have to try to sound different in every blog, and I can’t duplicate content as that would be totally dull and boring. So it can be time consuming as well. But I must admit I enjoy writing and these blogs. Writing is definitely a passion for me, and it soothes me. But how does one actually grow an audience for one’s blogs? That is what I would like to know.

    By Marion TD Lewis, Esq. New York

  41. Donald says:

    Good blog writing is anything that helps other people. I think people are after information more than anything else. I go to blogs to learn from other bloggers.

  42. Kimberley says:

    I just found your blog through StumbleUpon. What you say is so true and you had some great tips! I’ll definitely bookmark your blog and come back to read more.

  43. Dita says:

    Thanks so much for this wonderful informative article. I love your quote from Oscar Wilde. Dita.

  44. I am writing my own blog… I just agree that blogger needs to interact with readers.

  45. Jeff Paul says:

    This blog Is very informative , I am really pleased to post my comment on this blog . It helped me with ocean of knowledge so I really belive you will do much better in the future . Good job web master .

  46. Great article.I needed to read something that said”be yourself”.That is what I am trying to be not someone fake.I publish a lot but seem to get little response.I am encouraged by many other bloggers to continue and I will Thanks for the great advice.Pierre from the THEE QUEST team of Pierre & Pierrette

  47. carrie says:

    wow, that was so useful. thanks. I’ll take a crack at it. Not Crack Addict.

  48. Tasha Nelson says:

    Thank you so much for this information it is really helpful.

  49. BlackNuss says:

    thanks for the tips, they are appreciated.

  50. crispin says:

    I read some of this trying to sort out my blog , which by all accounts is the worst blog ever – thanks for the tips

    ps – some of these comments are just weird

  51. Juni says:

    Thanks for the tips, just wondering if there is an ideal for word count in blogs? My posts tend to be a bit long, I’m working on shortening them.

  52. amie street says:

    Thank you so much for your writing. I’ve started and re-started blogs so many times :-/. I just want to get it write. So I’m doing my research, finding it’s ok to struggle. And I’m going to do it!
    This time I’ve found some GREAT sites that are successful, yet vary in their audience and style, so I’m learning a vast amount! Now, I just need to write, that’s the scary part.
    I’ve got quite a few posts sitting in my draft department while I find my ‘voice’ before I really set sail.
    But I love your sites, all of them! I talk about you to many of my friend and even mention you on other fourms. And When you finally get to San Francisco, where I attempted school, I hope you will make time for speaking engagments since I’m not too far.
    Amie Street
    PS the Pointless Waste of Time link I think is broken

  53. vaishali says:

    Great Article. This will definitely help me to renew my blog.

  54. Khir says:

    Hi…

    Thanks for the tips..its very simple and easy to digest. I like this. Thanks bro…

  55. Olin Hyde says:

    Great article. Finding a voice is EVERYTHING. Thanks for the tips!

  56. This is a great blog post which I read with much interest, so thank you. I’m fairly new to blogging, and just tend to say what’s on my mind at the time. Sometimes this is to do with the business of writing, or just about life in general. I love the idea of telling stories.