The Mechanics of Blog Writing

Occasionally I get questions from readers asking how I go about blogging. I’m not certain if I’m doing this in a business-savvy manner all the time (see my friend Chef Katrina for advice on that), but when it comes to content, I’m pretty fearless at coughing up entries twice a week. How does that happen? Well, let’s get started.

  • Consistent timing: Back in November of last year, I made the decision to go with regular days and times of posting (Mondays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time). This regularity of timing helps my readers anticipate content at specific times–sort of like watching their favorite television shows, for those of you who don’t record your TV viewing, like me.
  • Central theme and audience: Once I made the decision not to write about space on this blog, I had to narrow down my content so it wouldn’t be as meandering and inconsistent as my personal blog. This, again, goes to consistency and helps my readers know what to expect when they read my site. In my case, I decided to write about the business of technical writing, which means primarily writing about all the things they don’t teach you in formal classes about technical communication. I will throw in some of the mechanics occasionally, but my goal is to offer advice to the technical writing student or professional that can offer insight into all the things that happen around the technical writer when s/he is not writing.
  • Maintaining consistent style: I don’t know how to impart style to you, though I’ve seen some writers try it. For me, the way I write for this blog is the same way I’d talk (with, perhaps, a bit more politeness and clarity) in the office or at a saloon after work. There are some things I might get spun up or passionate about (space exploration or ethics), but I try not to be too pompous. I’m just a guy who’s done a lot of things and has some ideas to share. My style might be too casual for some–I’m certain a few of my former English professors would be or are horrified by fast-and-loose interpretation of “the rules” of technical writing–and it might be too academic for others. Fair enough. I read somewhere that you can’t please everyone–you’re not pizza. Or that if everyone agrees with you, you’re not expressing any opinions worth hearing. Regardless, the best way to maintain your personal style in a blog is simply to keep writing. If two times a week isn’t enough, try writing daily. But you know what you want to say, and whether you realize it or not, you have your own distinctive way of saying it. It’s one of the mysteries of writing and one of the things I love, so the less “explanation,” for me, the better.
  • Setting boundaries: “The business of technical writing” is still a pretty broad topic. That may–and has, on this page–cover anything from editing to resumes to career hunting to dealing with customers. However, you might also notice that I have my own particular blind spots or topics that I avoid: politics, sexual harassment, racism/sexism, or women’s fashion. Guilty. These are topics that I’ve generally covered under the blanket heading of “leave it outside the office.” Another suggestion would be to follow the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they would wish to be treated.”I also don’t cover issues like dating, marriage, or kids in this blog because I don’t engage in any of that, either. Those are all personal choices of mine, and far be it for me to inflict my monklike existence on the rest of you. I don’t feel obligated to write about these topics, either. I’m here to write about what interests me. I might offer up advice if I were asked about one of these topics, but so far, thankfully, no one has; and anyhow I’m not certain my advice would do you any good anyhow.

    One last note on setting boundaries: If I find myself sharing negative situations about a customer, manager, or peer, I do my level best to focus on the situation and not “name names.” The I extract as much personal and company information as possible because the point of sharing the story is usually to show a) something I screwed up or b) how to fix a situation. It’s really in nobody’s best interest to gripe about a customer online, and I wince when I see people do it, knowing full well where they work. The point of social media is that it’s social–other people will see it. Maybe even your peers, customers, or managers. If you wouldn’t something to their face, why would you post it online? My two cents.

  • Writing blogs ahead of time: A lot of what I write is what media people call “evergreen” content, meaning it could be posted at any time, regardless of what’s happening in the world or even the time of year. That being the case, I can write several entries at a time and schedule them in advance for the appropriate date/time.  Occasionally a situation will crop up that I feel requires moving addressing to address the events of the day, which causes me to shuffle the order of other entries, but you’re none the wiser because there’s no real order to what I’m writing here.
  • How I come up with ideas: Again, given my relatively broad topic and my known audience, I rarely have a problem coming up with ideas. Sometimes I’m writing later than I’d like–this particular entry is being written on the morning it’s due (50 minutes from when I type these exact words–but anything in my work life is likely to spark an entry. And yes, I cover some topics more than once. It’s inevitable. The point is to provide a different emphasis or spin on how to think about those topics. Usually all it takes is a confluence of audience-situation-opinion to get me started.
  • Entry length: I have no personal rules on blog post length. I suppose I should, though I don’t often go longer than 1,500 words. What I’ve started doing is adding more headings or bullets so people can scan the longer entries and decide if the content is right for them. Maybe I’ll do some more investigating on this matter to investigate how many words I cough up at a given moment, but for now, I usually write 250-1,000 words, depending on the topic and how much I have to say. Occasionally I break up entries into multiple parts.
  • Reader response: When I get emails or comments from my readers, I make an effort to reply promptly and politely. Fortunately, I’ve yet to face a situation where someone was rude enough that I had to block them or delete their comments, though that has happened in other forums.Flipping back to the positive side, I appreciate the fact that some of you have taken the time to write, and I appreciate your indulgence if I’ve turned my response to your questions into blog entries. This isn’t to air your personal business, but simply because I believe that the questions I receive are worth sharing…and because it’s entirely possible that others might have the same question but were simply afraid to ask. I do, when asked, change or remove names or specific details. However, if there’s ever a situation you prefer that I not blog about, perhaps I’m the wrong guy to ask, because one way or another, I probably will write about it. The goal is to be fair with my readers and to share what I know.

If you’re interested in writing your own blog about technical writing, by all means, do so! These are my guidelines, this is my blog, so everything above applies to me. Like I said, I have blind spots and a particular viewpoint. You, being who you are, have your own insights, viewpoints, and yes, blind spots. If you have things worth saying, the readers will come.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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