Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ready, Aim, Blog!

What is a blog?

Original photo from Morguefile

If you Google the question, which I did, you'll get the following definition:  "a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis."  A blog can be a totally private space for recording your thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. but where's the fun in that?   To gain the full experience of blogging, your blog should be open for others to read and comment on what you're sharing.  Writing a blog should allow you and others to gain a broader perspective centered around a specific topic.

But blogs aren't just for personal use.  Many companies are using blogs to interact with their clients and keep them up-to-date on the latest information.  Even in education we are seeing more blogs being used to share apps and web tools for use in the classroom, as well as thoughts and shifts in pedagogy.  Many educators are using blogs to create a transparent look into their classroom by sharing lessons, student projects and favorite class links.

Why do people blog?

Some people blog to share their ideas and thoughts about a specific topic.  They enjoy writing or feel they can communicate their thoughts and ideas more clearly in writing.  Others blog because it's a requirement of their job.  Some blog to provide tips, pointers and inspiration to those poor souls who are required to blog as part of their job description.

Fundamental Elements

Over the past couple of months, I've been reading articles, blogs and blog posts and books about blogging personally, professionally and in the classroom.  Through all these readings, I've discovered some fundamental elements about blogging.

Define your audience and purpose:  This statement takes me back to the days of learning how to write an essay.  We always had to know who our audience was and what our main theme/purpose was for writing.  The same is true with a blog.  If I'm going to write a blog focusing on automotive how-tos, then I need to decide what knowledge level I want my readers to already have as they are reading the blog.  I can't use technical terms if my audience is focused on none mechanical individuals.  (I don't know where this example came from as I'm the least likely candidate to write a blog about anything car related, but I think you get the point.)

Plan out the blog:  Sounds like outlining to me, but with a little twist.  This kind of planning is setting up the number of times you want to post to your blog per week, when you will do your blogging and developing a list of topics to get you started.  One tip I read mentioned writing several blog posts and scheduling their actual post dates before publicly sharing your new blog.  This will help you stay ahead of the posting, which is necessary when life throws a curve ball your way.  It's also fun to schedule those posts to come out at 3:00am.  People will ask, "Do you ever sleep!"

Just write it:  I remember trying to write essays as a student and staring at a blank piece of paper.  Sure I had my outline, but that opening sentence was always a killer.  Those crazy teachers put restrictions on us, like don't start your essay with "My paper is about..." or "I'm going to tell you about..."  You know what, sometimes you just have to start out with "I'm going to tell you about..." just to get the momentum going.  The beauty of writing is editing.  I know - I always hated having to rewrite my papers too, but technology has made the process much less painful.  So, when I'm stuck on a title or opening line, I just put something generic in to get the words flowing.  Once the creative juices are flowing, I go back and tweak those titles and opening lines.

Edit, but don't aim for perfection:  I've heard bloggers talking about blogging who never edit their work.  They just write it and post it.  After all, you can go back and edit it later.  That doesn't work for me.  I'm not a throw it together and it looks & sounds great person.  I always hated those students in school who wrote their paper the night before in an hour and got an A.  That seemed like a great injustice to those of us who slaved hours, days, weeks on our essays!  So, I still edit my blog posts, but I don't spend as much time editing.  I do read through my posts so I can correct any glaring changes, then I let it go.  My writing will never be perfect, so I've stopped aiming for perfection.

Include a photo:  I haven't read or heard this from any other bloggers, but I've added this to my list just recently for one reason - Pinterest.  Yes, that ever popular content curator site is great, but if there is no image it won't save that website for you.  Pinterest claims you can add your own image, but let's face it if extra effort is involved most people won't go to the trouble.  So, add one picture you took or you found online that represents something about your blog post.

Give credit where credit is due:  Sometimes my inspiration for blog posts come from other things I read online.  It could be a blog post, article, or even an image.  I always give credit to images I find online, but I've also started linking to those blog posts and articles that have inspired me or provided some of the content for my blog post.  Giving credit isn't as stiff as those required essays and comp papers where you had to use MLA or APA formatting.  The norm is giving the title, author and web link.  It is also a good idea to give yourself some credit.  For instance, if I were writing about online bookmarking I could link to other blog posts I had written related that topic.

Get started:  Sometimes half the battle of any project is just getting started.  The same is true with blogging.  Whether you are being required to blog for a class, work, organization or you're just blogging for personal reasons, nothing will happen unless you get started.  When I started this blog for work, I took time to think about the purpose, audience, how often I wanted to post, topic ideas, etc.  But there finally came a time when I just had to pick the blog tool, customize the look and start writing.

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