Applying What School Taught Us About Writing To Blogs

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As a college writing tutor I am acutely aware of skills the professional/academic world finds valuable. In my 3 years of work I have read well over a hundred papers ranging from english close readings, résumés, mathematical proofs, art critiques, lab reports, cover letters, and job applications. One thing that I thought about recently, as I have been reading papers, is how traditional writing taught in schools can be transferred to blog writing techniques. I’m not discriminating by education level here. The basic principles of writing are quite rudimentary and as long as you have had some experience writing in grade school, what I am saying will make sense to you. I mainly want to address some rules that are taught in traditional writing formats that are universally important as well as rules that blog based writing can break to make room for greater creative freedom.

Important Concepts From Traditional Writing

Scope

This refers to the breadth of information your piece of writing will cover. Writing presents information to the reader and scope is a way of describing the variety of topics that will be covered as well as the required level of detail necessary to make your point. Thinking about scope preemptively is quite helpful. This way you can avoid extraneous information while keeping all of the points you make relevant to the theme of your writing. Rambling and jumping from topic to topic can be very difficult for a reader to deal with. Hence planning out the general topics and the detail required for each topic immediately establishes the bounds of the paper. A good way to implement this kind of thinking is breaking down your writing into themes. Start off with the grand theme that describes the main idea of the piece. Then take note of the information necessary to fully describe or analyze that subject. Instead of stopping at that stage, think about how the body of ideas relate to each other and try to group them together. Once you have groups, think about the details necessary to string your more specific ideas together. Fulfilling these objectives will make your writing more concise and make the scope of your writing clear to both you and the reader.

Thesis Statement(s)

I know this phrase evokes some level of fear in the general writing populace, but hear me out for a second. In order to convey messages in writing clearly, central ideas have to come across efficiently. That means a sentence or two should be able to demonstrate the theme of the piece to the reader. The disadvantage of using a lengthy explanation to cover the theme of the paper is that it becomes a full description of the necessary details instead of a concise description of the theme. Then the reader will immediately get absorbed into the thick of your ideas instead of getting some insight into the stream of thought the writing covers. Some foreshadowing is very comfortable to the reader. Convey to them the endpoint you are trying to reach through your writing or a central point of the writing. This way the reader keeps that idea in mind as they are reading your writing and that notion gives the reader context. Otherwise the reader is wandering from thought to thought without an explicit objective in mind that unifies all the information he/she is presented with. In traditional writing there is a thesis statement that summarizes the main argument; for our purposes concern yourself with sentences that clearly convey the various themes you established when considering scope. Thesis statements are the physical mechanism that creates themes within the paper. Therefore those sentences will have to be as deliberate and clear as possible.

Organization

So far we have talked about themes and sentences that establish themes. The next thing to think about is the most efficient progression of ideas through the paper to make your point, or display all the information you want to in a sensical manner. Essentially, knowing the central idea, some supporting information, and the endpoint is not enough. The next step is to consider the order in which minor themes progress through the paper to encompass the main theme and reach the endpoint of the paper. So we are basically talking about ordering the supporting information in the paper. A piece of writing that is well-organized will logically flow from idea to idea. Therefore the reader will be able to consistently follow your train of thought throughout your writing. This entails that ideas in your writing follow from the preceding points. Then step by step the reader arrives at your conclusion. One analogy I give is that you are walking the reader along a path while the reader is blindfolded. You can either give the reader accurate directions, or the blind reader will stumble around in the dark without any guarantees of reaching the desired destination. Points that follow logically from each other and a solid starting point to introduce supporting material gives the reader good directions. This way the reader gets your points with little to no ambiguity. In addition to that they will be more likely to reach the conclusion of your writing in the manner you intended. Therefore the ordering of the details within the body of the writing is extremely crucial to delivering thoughts to the reader accurately, and consistently.

Applying Traditional Techniques To Blog Writing

Unfortunately, traditional writing is very rigid while blog writing would be undermined by such limitations of form. If your goal is to write academic style articles on your blog, then a literal interpretation of traditional writing techniques is for you. All the points I made in the previous section are incredibly relevant to attracting readers and keeping them engaged. However, often times traditional writing techniques teach us to implement the previous concepts in a very direct manner that isn’t designed to be creative, but has been optimized for conveying academic concepts as clearly as possible in the most concise manner (funny how so many academic writers break that rule by babbling endlessly in their textbooks). I have described some of the core elements of good writing that traditional techniques reinforce and now its time to look at couple of advantages blog writing has by providing additional room for creativity.

Take Me On A Writing Adventure

Academic writing reinforces that the main theme has to be abruptly stated very early in the paper. Creative writing on blogs doesn’t have to adhere to that. The same principle of knowing your themes as a writer applies, and your reader should be able to discern the theme from the writing. However, there’s nothing wrong with taking your reader on a writing adventure. I view this as pulling your reader through an entire stream of thought while keeping them glued to the ideas of the present moment. This basically means you have an idea of how the big picture of your writing unfolds, but you string the reader through your thoughts in a logical manner without making the big picture completely obvious. I do this quite a lot. I have a specific idea I would like to discuss, but I start with a memory or an anecdote about random thoughts in my head. These thoughts and experiences lead to a sensical wandering through an entire stream of thought. To be more technical, I appear to be rambling without actually rambling and I think that has a neat effect when the reader reaches the end of the piece and realizes all the information was relevant. This is only possible through knowing my scope, planning thesis-like statements that keep the reader informed of my thematic ideas to connect all the rambling, and keeping my thoughts generally organized. So my point here is that you do not need to blatantly explain the theme or how the themes unfold in advance. In a creative way their existence will inform the reader without being blatantly obvious in a manner that makes the writing dry.

Titles For Organization

Well, I have been using titles throughout this entire article. Many fields of academic writing that fall within liberal arts categories (english, sociology, anthropology, classical studies, stuff like that) frown upon marking themed sections with titles. The advantage of a title is that it eliminates the need to stick in transition sentences that serve the purpose of directly connecting one paragraph to another. I’m mainly talking about connecting through phrasing, the ideas of your writing should still transition properly by following logically from each other as discussed previously. Titles simply make the theme of a section very obvious and eliminate thinking about efficient phrasing for transitioning an idea from one paragraph to the other. Titles are a good way to cut down on the rambling necessary to avoid abrupt transitions between related ideas in the context of a greater theme. You can outline the main theme with a title and outline the minor themes with titles as well. This is an easy way to demonstrate the logical progression of ideas in your writing while being more concise. The titles of minor themes should relate back to the main theme and as long as they do that, you are already establishing how a particular idea relates to the hierarchy of information within the writing. As long as that condition is met, titles will accurately convey your themes to the reader without confusing them with abrupt jumps, from thought to thought.

Visual and Audio Media

This is blogging’s biggest advantage over traditional writing. Media such as audio, picture galleries, and GIFs can be placed within posts  Yes, pictures are nice to look at, but I find that sometimes the reader has no idea why that picture appears where it does within the post. I think it’s important to treat media like any other sentence within the paper. Good media choices will contribute to the theme and often times replace countless words while conveying a direct message. So it’s important to not be too vague or random with the pictures, video and audio that goes into your post or the reader will get confused. I don’t think the inclusion of irrelevant media that doesn’t further your point helps the post. It distracts the reader from the main point you are emphasizing. If you look at mediocre blogs their pictures may seem somewhat related. If you look at top rate blogs they choose pictures that speak directly to the themes they are writing about. Thus media should fit within the scope of your writing to be included and it should help with organization as well as establishing themes. Following these guidelines will make your media choices much more valuable within the context of your post.

I hope you found my thoughts on blog writing somewhat useful. I’m coming from the perspective that most of us bloggers had some amount of schooling related to writing practices. Why not take some of those skills we spent practicing and use them in our blog writing? I find that the principles that traditional writing invokes are universal, but you can be as creative as you want to be in applying those principles. You’re not confined to literal interpretations of traditional writing principles as long as you understand the purpose behind organization, thesis statements, and scope. In this way blogs have a lot more freedom in the form their writing pieces take. That can be efficiently utilized as long as the basic principles are observed.

*The featured image is a snapshot of the writing center I work at. That is the main tutoring area. After reading an article about DMCA notices hitting blogs for their usage of copyrighted photos, I am determined to find photos from the creative commons and to take more pictures on my own. In addition to not wanting to invoke fines, I also don’t want to carelessly use the work of others on my blog. This will probably be tomorrow’s topic. See what we learned in school isn’t completely bogus; don’t plagiarize.

3 comments on “Applying What School Taught Us About Writing To Blogs

  1. iggy23 says:

    You really do your job justice here. With that much breadth and scope in this post, it’s hard to find a debatable point here. I think that we should be well-drilled in this already because we cannot be trying to remember the foundations of writing. I may be harsh on this but I feel that these should be at our fingertips if we want to excel in writing, be it formal or informal. Maybe it’s because I focused on this due to my ambition of becoming a journalist. As you also said, audio and visual media are really important in blogging – and we should use it to our advantage as much as we can. While I’m not aiming to become the best blogger ever, I think it would be useful to pick up these pointers to make my blog more credible than it is at the moment.

    How do you even come up with these topics to post everyday? They’re in depth and that speaks of your commitment. I’m still light years away from that 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • royyman32 says:

      I think people with technical writing experience like you are very aware of these principles. However if the number of people I work with every day demonstrates anything, many people who have things to write need help with writing principles. I definitely agree that these concepts are required to excel at writing in general. I guess I suffer from a constantly active brain which keeps me up at night and results in blog posts 🙂 And I disagree, you’re a really skilled writer as well and your thoughts come across very clearly 🙂 Thanks for your feedback and your insights.

      Liked by 1 person

      • iggy23 says:

        Nah you’re too kind. I’ve still much to learn in terms of writing. It’s good that you have an active brain though, I think many people enjoy your posts a lot so keep it up!

        Liked by 1 person

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