There is virtually no barrier to writing blog posts. Anyone with an internet connection can sit down and start blogging. However, because anyone can do it, there is a lot of competition. If you want your blog post to stand out and be noticed it needs to provide some value to the reader. Specifically, it has to provide enough value to justify reading it. That is not a low bar. In this post, I describe a model that I have created to alleviate this issue. The model helps me decide which blog posts to write and how.
For a starting point, decide what type of post to write. Based on my experience and research I have come up with what I believe to be the three most important characteristics: short, well-researched, and practically applicable. Any combination of these yields a different type of blog post — eg. a tutorial is short and practically applicable. Here is the mode:
Let’s discuss each characteristic in turn.
If I had more time I would have written a shorter blog post.
— Blaze Pascal
Some people think that writing something short is faster, and if it is short it also costs less effort for the reader. However, writing concisely in a manner that still provides value is extremely difficult. It requires real attention to keeping the scope limited.
The dangers of short posts are numerous. First, while reducing you risk cutting away something valuable, because you have no padding. Alternatively, you may not have time to dive deep enough to teach the reader anything. Or perhaps most critically the brevity could stem from missing important introduction or conclusion, that tells people how valuable a post is.
Whenever I encounter people with a tendency for writing short posts I always recommend the following process for them: Pick something concrete they know how to do — like how to get two specific tools to work together. Then write up the steps it takes to get this to work. Put emphasis on what problems may arise and how to solve them — this increases searchability because when people get stuck they search online.
The introduction to such a post comes naturally: “After reading this you will know how to setup …”, the value of which is clear. In a tutorial blog post, the value comes from the practical applicability, and the brevity reduces the cost.
Give a person a tool she’ll use it for a day,
teach a person a tool she’ll use it every day.
Practically applicable means giving people something they can apply in their work immediately. That could be through giving them a new tool, solving a problem they have right now, or helping them make a decision — like this post. This provides immediate value for the readers who are having the problem or are facing the decision. Your introduction should be good enough that people know within 30 seconds whether they can find value in your post.
One type of practical blog posts that I find myself looking up in some form every day is comparisons between technologies, products, or whatever. Writing these is straight-forward, although time-consuming. Pick some competitors, and some interesting parameters — this is where you express your individuality and creativity. Then evaluate each competitor on the parameters.
I’m not slacking off, I’m researching.
I should start by clarifying that when I say “research” I mean nothing formal, I simply mean building knowledge. This means that this is where you can save time as a writer, by writing about something you already have knowledge about. Anything you do builds some kind of knowledge, and you can write about anything you have enough knowledge about.
The value of posts in this category comes from saving other people from doing their own research. Sometimes I meet people who have some brilliant idea, who think they can just publish it in a blog post and let people figure out the details. However, knowing that the value of these is not the novelty, this does not work. An idea is a good basis, but you need to figure out how to put it in context, find its limitations, and scope.
What one understands deeply, one expresses clearly.
— Olivier Danvy
Finally, rhetoric and grammar can always be compensated for by providing more value. But it is a pretty simple way to reduce the cost of reading it to make sure your text is spell- and grammar checked, and presents the information in an order and way that supports your point.
Don’t believe quotes on the internet.
— Albert Einstein
A blog post will be successful if it provides more value to the reader than the effort she has to put into reading it. There are many ways to achieve this: being entertaining, provoking emotions, etc. However, two of the most reliable ways anyone can add value is to present something practically applicable, or give the reader access to research, saving her from doing it. Two ways to reduce cost is to write concisely, focused, and remove anything that is out of scope, resulting in a short blog post. Another way is to make sure your post is well-written.
If you want something else that is well-researched and practically applicable you should check out my book about refactoring: