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How to write a blog as a journalist not a blogger
by Richard Shrubb

I’ve been writing professionally for the last seven years. I have learned my trade from hard graft and experience. In the last 18 months I have spent time working with an online creative writing agency. Their job is to draw people into a website and encourage them to stay, hopefully buying what you’re selling them.

I found I disagree with some of the general rules of blogging. Without breaking rules in life, you’re never going to break new ground. This piece will look at the basics of writing a good blog from the standpoint of a professional writer, not just a blogger.

Be enthusiastic!
If you’re bored senseless with what you’re writing, the odds are that the reader will be too. I like to start writing straight after breakfast with caffeine still rushing through my system. Why? I feel brighter and this shows in my writing.

If something bothers you, don’t be afraid of giving it some welly – tell it like it is! If the language is flowery and amusing you’ve got the reader on the hook…

Keep it short…
As soon as I see a piece of online writing is more than 2.5 pages long I click away, unless it is well written. I want to be told quickly and succinctly. Keep a blog to between 500-750 words as a general rule. Never more than 1000.

Tell the story
As a general structure for any piece of writing, you tell the reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them:

Introductory paragraph should introduce what you’re writing about in general terms in around 75 words. This should be catchy – this is the paragraph everyone reads to decide whether to read the rest of the piece. If it is dull they’ll flick…

Tell them what you’re telling them. Try to be succinct. As a general rule, this section should be around 375 words for a typical blog.

Tell them what you have told them. Over 50-75 words, round off what you’re saying.

Quotes and hyperlinks…
This is where we look at bending some of the rules. Content writing agencies use something called Copyscape to ensure their writer isn’t copying too much from other sources. Lazy writers after a fast buck will try it on, so to an extent this is important with regard commercial writing.

As long as the writer of the original script is acknowledged via a hyperlink to his work, don’t be afraid of quoting them. To me, it is the height of arrogance to pretend that you are the original source of some news, when you are plainly not. Writers get original information – bloggers rewrite it. Do you want to read something original or recycled that you’ve read before?

I was once told off for quoting someone too often by the writing agency. I was told it ‘conveyed a lack of authority’. In my view this suggests that bloggers should pretend to be leading experts in their chosen field. This riled me somewhat because as a journalist I am trained to be a conduit of others’ views. If I was blogging on one of my interests – psychedelic pharmacology as an example – this would suggest I stand shoulder to shoulder with Yale and Imperial College London professors. I am not that arrogant I am afraid – I just convey their findings…

In a 1200 word piece I am investigating right now I will aim at a minimum of 10 quotes from 5 interviewees, as well as quoting texts drawn from a new UK law, and consultation papers from the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. My editor at the content writing agency would wet her knickers at all this ‘copied’ content! As a journalist I am using others’ expertise to build an argument. I am a conduit of experts’ views – though I am a specialist writer in my field, I am sorry to say I don’t have a PhD so cannot be an authority…

Edit, edit, edit
Never post something as soon as you have written the first draft.

After I have written the first draft of this blog I am going to the corner shop to buy some fags, have a smoke, and return to edit this piece. Buying and smoking my cigarettes is an important part of the editing process. Why? I can return with a fresh head and cut, correct and edit the piece down.

Make sure the spelling and grammar is perfect, and the paragraphs are in the right order. Ask yourself if the argument is constructed right? [This last sentence was originally two paragraphs further down but I cut and pasted it to where it is now…]
As a general rule the longer you edit something the better it will be. 

Ask a friend
If you really want to post a stunning piece, ask a mate or work colleague to have a look. The more eyes on something the better! Don’t curse them for criticising either. In your current business you got where you are today by learning from mistakes – the same apples to your writing!

Has this told you enough to write something decent? I’ll know whether my argument is good enough after a couple of edits later this morning. By all means contact me through this website if you need help – this is what I am here for…

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