«

»

Nov 01

Rules For Writing Blog Articles

by Ken Wilson

KW_blogpost
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:

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

Aaaaaaaargh!

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.

Ken Wilson

http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com

PS

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.

8 comments

1 ping

Skip to comment form

  1. Charles Gardridge

    Ken,

    It’s great that new bloggers like you are taking it seriously and spending the time to think about it all. I suspect that some people who have been blogging for years will take exception and mutter about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs (or whatever the opposite with young people is) but I’m sure we can all learn something, even from you newbies!

    Keep up the good work,

    Charlie

  2. nick bilbrough

    Great Post Ken. I feel inspired to start my own blog now

  3. Marisa Constantinides

    I love the way you explain your blogging style, Ken, and as another “newbie” as the previous commenter called you, I have learnt a lot by reading great blogs, your own featuring very high on that list.

    Incidentally, your art of being a great storyteller shines through and although I am not certain I could imitate your wonderful and very personal style, I find your blog post reads extremely well as great advice on telling a good story.

    Which may is what good blogging is all about – individual people telling their own stories.

    And more than that, just as you have found your own “voice” and very personal style of blogging, I think it’s important for people to find their own “voice”, whatever that may be,Karenne‘s very direct and zesty, wonderful style, Tamas’ beautifully reflective posts, Gavin‘s cleverly crafted posts….

    I am still looking for my own “voice”, if I have one, that is, but reading your post has inspired me to keep looking!
    .-= Marisa Constantinides´s last blog ..Yes, and….. =-.

  4. Ken Wilson

    Thanks for calling me a ‘newbie’, Charles!

    But you’re right – blogging has been around since …. oooo… since I was in my 50s, so a lot of what there is to be said about it has already been said.

    The only reason I think it’s valuable to have another look at the whole kaboodle is the fact that there are lots of new ELT bloggers, many of whom are NNESTs. They have lots of important experiences to relate but at the moment, some of them are writing their blog posts more like an essay than a diary.
    .-= Ken Wilson´s last blog ..Coming up – some sort of culture debate… =-.

  5. Gavin Dudeney

    Ken,

    I suspect you meant ‘advice’ rather than rules, as it happens, no? Thanks to Marisa for describing my blog posts as ‘cleverly crafted’…

    The thing is I read a lot of blogs, and I don’t think there’s one voice or one approach. I very much value blogs that are written as essays, as I also enjoy the occasional story. But really, when I read a blog, it’s not necessarily to read anecdotes, but it’s because the blogger has something to say about something I’m interested in.

    In many ways I prefer strong opinions to the ‘I was walking down the road the other day…’ approach – which is why I think it may be important to make a distinction between ‘rules’ and ‘personal advice’. Each to her own and all that…

    As for Charles, well… it depends how you see ‘newbie’ really. It’s true Ken hasn’t been blogging as long as many of us, but he certainly has found his voice and that’s a good thing.

    Gavin
    .-= Gavin Dudeney´s last blog ..Attitudes To Technology =-.

  6. Karenne Sylvester

    Thanks for the mention, Ken, out of all the wonderful blogs out there, your choosing mine is much appreciated!

    Everyone who finds their own personal voice or their personal approach to what blogging means to them, is really very lucky: blogging is all about the personal expression.

    My recommendation to new bloggers seeking advice is actually, quite simple – read other blogs, lots and lots of other blogs as that’s the very best way to pick up tips on style and format until one finds one’s own way to go about the process, which is, in my opinion, distinctly different from writing anything else.

    I understand what Charles was trying to say, I guess, because when you travel through the blogosphere you definitely come across more dead blogs than live ones.

    To the real newbies, only now starting off, drop the ego when you start out… it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done in your life, you are now on a level-playing-field when it comes to google!

    And never, ever, spam other bloggers by leaving your urls with a “please visit me if you have the chance”

    Be real nice to other bloggers and they’ll be real nice back.

    And finally, we’re all newbies and oldies, I guess, depending on which perspective or where you sit though, Charles!

    Take care,
    Karenne
    .-= Karenne Sylvester´s last blog ..Why Twitter lists are a good idea =-.

    1. Henrick Oprea

      Hello there,

      I have been following some blogs for a while now, and I’ve finally decided to give it a go. I remember that before actually writing anything, I worried a lot about HOW to write it, but what really helped me was doing exactly what you said, Karenne – reading different blogs and, consequently, different writers and styles. I guess this sentence says it all:

      “Everyone who finds their own personal voice or their personal approach to what blogging means to them, is really very lucky: blogging is all about the personal expression.”

      I’m still trying to find my own style. I liked what Ken suggested (just as I really enjoy reading his blog), but I agree with Gavin when he said,

      “when I read a blog, it’s not necessarily to read anecdotes, but it’s because the blogger has something to say about something I’m interested in.”

      To each his own, huh?!

      Cheers,

      Henrick Oprea
      .-= Henrick Oprea´s last blog ..Some concerns about ELT =-.

  7. Alex Case

    “Instead, I made a list of the narrative aspects of the Natasha story”

    Wow, you do that much preparation for a blog post?? I sometimes don’t plan my articles that much, let alone what goes on my blog (and I’m sure it shows)! Are you semi-retired by any chance Ken?
    .-= Alex Case´s last blog ..More ELT publishing bad news? =-.

  1. How to Survive in 2010 – Digitally | Ozge Karaoglu's Blog

    […] to start blogging , 9 Tips to Start Blogging, The Easiest Instructions for How to Start a Blog, Rules for Writing Blog Articles, Ready to Start Blogging? or have a  look at “Blogging in Plain […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>