Saturday, February 5, 2011

Blogging to Change the World

"All writing is designed to change the world, at least a small part of the world, or in some small ways perhaps a change in the reader's mood or his appreciation of a certain kind of beauty," writes Mary Pipher in Writing to Change the World.

With blogging, everyone can write to change the world. At least, try to. You don't need a publisher or an editor. It is instant and spontaneous.

If you've found a fabulous and cheap Indian restaurant in downtown, you can blog about it. If you've read something interesting, you can tell your friends through your blog.

But writing a blog is not for everyone.

Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor of The Atlantic, wrote "Why I blog." He says, "For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal."

Blogging can be hard for academics. Why? Blogging requires thinking on the fly. We are used to take time to collect our thoughts, gather the data, and wait until events have settled. But by then, our blog will be so outdated. All that needs to be said would have been blogged already.

Blogging requires a different writing style. I am not used to writing paragraphs that are so short. I was horrified when the editor of a communal blog cut one of my paragraphs down to only one sentence.

As academics we are used to put our most important conclusion at the end, after we have laid out the arguments. But in a blog, we need to put the most important thing upfront, for we have a few seconds--three or less--to encourage people to read more. There is eye-tracking technology that follows a reader's eye movement as the person views a page.

The Yahoo! Style Guide says most readers scan first:

  • They scan to see whether the content is relevant.

  • They are more likely to scan the top of the page than the bottom.

  • They look at headings, boldfaced terms, and images.

Thus the Style Guide advises:

  • Keep it short: use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, bulleted lists.

  • Front-load your content: put the most important content in the upper-left area of the screen.

  • Keep it simple: include only one or two ideas per short paragraph, choose common words over more difficult ones.

The Huffington Post is a site I visit often. Some of the site's bloggers are real experts in this genre. I especially like Bill Maher, who is always witty and funny. Here is how he writes about the NFL and socialism.

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging recommends the following rules:

  1. Blog often

  2. Perfect is the enemy of done.

  3. Write like you speak

  4. Focus on specific details

  5. Own your topic: think of your topic as you beat

  6. Know your audience

  7. Write short: we live in an ADD culture

  8. Become part of the conversation with like-minded blogs

I especially like "perfect is the enemy of done."

When I started, I did not know how to cut and paste from a Word doc and did not know there is a devise for checking spelling in Blogger. Now I have learned gradually. I even know how to post a video. This is a video on how to create a blog with Blogger. May be you should start one too.