I have been writing technical blog posts since 2002, but decided in late 2011 to change my writing style after undertaking various web content and SEO projects for clients and seeing the effects of good (and bad) writing. After 14 months of applying my new blogging ‘rules’, I am pleased with the results: over 11,000 page impressions between December 2011 and today (January 12th, 2013), which represents significantly higher traffic than previously; monthly impressions are increasing at a higher rate, too, which suggests that the content is useful. So here are my ‘rules’ for writing a good technical blog post.
Update: I now run a workshop/tutorial Technical Writing for Blogs and Articles for engineers.
Incidentally, the excellent Pragmatic Programmers recently published Technical Blogging by Antonio Cangiano which offers to take the reader through all the steps needed to blog on technical subjects. However, the book costs over £20/$25 from Amazon, which seems a bit pricey to me – my rules here are free!
When writing blog posts for public consumption, I find it useful to ask myself these questions:
- For whom am I writing? Who is the typical audience member?
- Without a clear idea in my head about the person for whom I am writing, it can be difficult to decide what and how to write.
- What is the one single message I want to convey?
- It’s good to have a ‘take-home’ message; this helps with focusing the post, too.
- I tend to include the main message in the first paragraph.
- How would I summarise the post in 50 words? In 140 characters or less?
- This is useful for Twitter, especially if you’re using WordPress, because Twitter automatically includes a short snippet of your WordPress post in the ‘View Media‘ bit of the tweet.
- If you cannot summarise the post in less then 140 characters, you’ll have trouble tweeting it; reduce the scope and focus to fit the magic 140 chars!
- Do my readers need any special knowledge?
- Requiring special knowledge of readers is fine, as long as you do not exclude others with less specialised knowledge.
- Link to articles which explain the more basic concepts so you can dive straight into the more advanced material which requires special knowledge.
- Have I explained all the terminology?
- Expand acronyms and abbreviations; this helps with SEO too.
- What impression of me does the blog post convey?
- I avoid writing blog posts which rant or ‘mouth off’, as I find that such posts elsewhere generally give me a negative view of the author.
- No-one wants to hear someone moaning on!
- Have I used keywords and outbound links appropriately?
- Search engines look for keywords linked and embedded within text in meaningful ways.
- Would anyone search for the phrase in the blog post title?
- Using a title which people might search for usually gets good results.
- If people would search for that text, the chances are that the blog post itself is worth writing!
- Write as a peer of your readers, not as a teacher.
- This extends to the language you use: ‘we can see that’, rather than ‘you will find that’, etc.
These are not hard-and-fast rules, but judging by the steadily increasing number of visitors to my blog over the past 14 months, and the statistics for posts and articles I have published elsewhere (e.g. on the Four Nines site), these rules have served well.
I’d love to hear of alternative or additional ‘rules’ for technical blogging. What works for you?