by Ken Wilson
I promised Burcu that I would write something about writing a blog, and try to establish some rules of good blogging. Now I’m worried – ARE there any rules of good blogging? Or is writing about writing a bit like telling jokes about why jokes are funny? Doomed to failure.
I’ll try to find some rules and we’ll see what happens.
The above sentence gives us our first useful rule. Sometimes it’s good to have a paragraph that’s only one sentence long.
Or even a phrase.
You may think that this is a silly rule, but I think it’s important. It actually helps readers if the text is occasionally broken up, especially if they are reading the blog in a foreign language. As you glance down the page, you see that it isn’t all densely-packed words.
So, Rule 1 of writing a blog article – Don’t write dense texts.
And here are two more:
Rule 2 – Personalise.
Rule 3 – Don’t be obsessed with yourself.
At first sight, rules 2 and 3 seem to be contradictory. As always, a practical example will help.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about working as a teacher trainer in London in the 1970s. I trained native speakers of English who wanted to be TEFL teachers but who had never learned English and didn’t know much (ie anything) about the way it worked.
Here are three ways that I could have started the article.
I could have started it like this:
Back in the 1970s, I was a teacher trainer at International House in London. It was a great time for teaching English – blah, blah, yadda yadda.
If you aren’t familiar with the expression yadda yadda, google it.
There’s nothing wrong with starting an article like this, but to my taste, there is too much about ME from the very beginning. However, number 1 is certainly better than this.
The CELTA course, the basic training requirement for a job in English language teaching, grew out of the International House 4-week training course which came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. International House was a school in Central London and the principal was a man called John Haycraft.
This is interesting information but the beginning of the article should try to grab my attention a bit more successfully than that.
Here’s the third way.
Alvin was a stocky 21-year-old from Liverpool. It was Tuesday afternoon, the second day of the International House four-week course which was the precursor of the current CELTA course.
The Liverpudlian was doing his first-ever ten-minute lesson. In front of him was a bunch of guinea pig students. Alvin stared rather menacingly at the students. Suddenly, his hand came crashing down on the table in front of him.
This is more or less the way I started the article. I personalised it, in the sense that I wrote about something that I was involved with (I was Alvin’s monitor on this training session), but it doesn’t start as if it’s all about me. And I tried to find some drama in the story, or at least a narrative thread of some kind. I hope that you would like to know more about Alvin from that short introduction.
Rule 4 – If want to write an opinion piece, which you hope will lead to discussion, you can still find a way to make the blog a narrative, and if possible, a narrative with plenty of background description.
Here’s an example:
A few weeks ago, I was talking to an old friend called Ana Pilar Martinez, a primary school teacher of English in Zaragoza, Spain. She was telling me that she was a little bit apprehensive about the new CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) system that the Spanish government was thinking of introducing into primary education. Ana Pilar was worried that she wouldn’t know enough about, for example, science and history to be able to teach it in English to 7-11 year-olds.
This is a serious problem, which I can’t go into now, but it reminded me of a conversation I had with a teacher called Natasha in a city called Lviv in Ukraine some time in the 1990s.
I had just visited her class, and one of her pupils was this amazing 12-year-old boy who knew the names of all the kings and queens of England. I mean ALL of them. When I had a coffee with Natasha after the class, I remarked that it must be wonderful to have a pupil like that, who could help with information whenever the subject was history.
She told me that things didn’t work like that in Ukraine. The class expected her to know everything about everything. Not just English, they expected her to know about history, science etc etc. She wasn’t allowed to ask the students about anything.
I thought at the time this was crazy. And talking to Ana Pilar reminded me of the story and made me want to blog about it. But how could I make it interesting?
I could have started like this:
Many countries in the world, including Turkey and Spain, are giving serious consideration to incorporating CLIL into primary education…
Again, important stuff, but not my style. It doesn’t grab your attention.
Instead, I made a list of the narrative aspects of the Natasha story.
1 I was in a very interesting Ukrainian city called Lviv. Most of my readers wouldn’t know about that so I should describe it.
2 Something strange happened when I arrived at the school.
3 Something strange happened when I went into Natasha’s classroom.
4 I had the conversation with Natasha, which I described above.
Remembering my rule about narrative and description, I started the blog post like this:
Depending on where you’re from and which language you speak, the biggest city in Western Ukraine is called Lviv, L’viv, L’vov, Lwów, Lemberg or even Leopolis. Despite being one of the many Central European cities that has suffered at the hands of all kinds of invaders and megalomaniacs, Lviv has come through its tribulations largely unscathed. It’s a fine city with many beautiful buildings in the centre, although some of them could do with a bit of a clean.
(Then I wanted to create the atmosphere of the school visit to Natasha’s school. Note: the head teacher was also called Natasha.)
I walked into the gloomy entrance hall of the school. A woman with a dazzling smile walked towards us. She extended her hand in greeting.
“Good morning, Mr Wilson,” she said. ”I’m Natasha Vasylyuk, and I’m the head teacher. Welcome to our school.”
As our hands met, all the lights in the entrance hall went out. Wow, I thought, that’s a clever trick. Does she do that to impress ALL her foreign visitors?
“Oh, a power cut,” she said, making it sound as unimportant as running out of brown sugar. “Follow me.”
In the sudden darkness, we groped our way up a wide stone staircase and then down a corridor. Each classroom door had a large window in it. The children took candles out from under or inside their desks and lit them. They created enough light to read their books and do any written work.
Natasha opened the door of the room at the end. All the candles were lit, so it looked like a rather nice French bistro rather than a classroom. At the front of the class was a tall woman with blonde hair. She was holding a cassette in her hand. When she saw me, she moaned quite loudly in Ukrainian.
(The problem for Natasha the teacher was that she couldn’t use the cassette because of the power cut. I decided to help.)
“Don’t worry,” I whispered. “If you run out of things to do, I can do something with the class for the rest of the time.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” she whispered back.
“You’re welcome,” I whispered in reply.
We both then looked at the class, a bright-looking bunch of 12-year-olds. They were all smirking at the sight of their beloved teacher whispering to a strange grey-haired foreign bloke dressed in black.
Natasha addressed her brood. “Boys and girls,” she said brightly. “This is Mr Wilson. He is your teacher today.”
And she sat down.
The thirty-two respectful 12-year-olds looked at me with a mixture of amusement and expectation.
“Hello!” I said, rather too loudly.
“HELLO!” they bellowed back.
Now, I don’t expect bloggers to take my way of doing things as the ONLY way. There may be people reading this who think I have ‘dumbed down’ the material. Others may think that they couldn’t possibly write a narrative in this way. I’m not making rules for every blogger, but if you can see something valuable in it, then you may be able to write something similar.
That’s the way I write blog posts. Hope it helps.
If you want an example of someone who does this kind of blogging really well, go to Karenne Sylvester’s blog .
Karenne wears her heart on her sleeve, as we say, so you always know what her opinions are. But she also comes across as generous spirited, and interested in the people around her. And her writing is bright and funny.