What Makes a Good Blog?

Blogging, in general, has overall strategies and individual tactics. I’m not going to talk about why to blog, what to blog in general (although I will touch on what to blog in particular), or how often to blog. This is just a blog on tactics. What makes a good blog? How do you sit down and write, right now, a satisfying blog post?

First: what is a blog post?

It’s not a news article; it’s not a diary entry. It is not quite a newspaper opinion piece, but it’s close: newspaper opinion pieces are much bigger in scope than your average blog. A blog ideally contains neither reasoned arguments nor ranting, although sometimes it does so.

A blog is a writer’s opinion on a topic—their thoughts, if you will.

And yet it is perfectly possible to enjoy a blog when you disagree with the opinion presented, and even if you know the facts are a bit off. And it is perfectly possible to hate a blog even when you agree with it.

A blog, then, is not merely a writer’s opinion on a topic, although without an opinion, a blog will feel flat, stiff, and uninteresting.

What makes a blog enjoyable? What makes it worthwhile?

The facts that are presented in a blog—really, even the topic of the blog itself—is more or less immaterial. It’s all about who’s writing the blog, not about what’s being written.

Your voice.

Whatever you write, however you write it, should carry your voice. But blogs especially should carry your voice.

A simple pattern for a blog is to make clear the facts or situations you want to discuss, give your opinion on them, then conclude that you’re right to do so. A perfectly good blog results.

You often see it in food-writing blogs: the recipe is explained; the author gives their opinion about how the recipe turned out, what adaptations they made to their source, and what they would do differently the next time; the author concludes that the food was eaten (victory!). Then comes the recipe, which many readers would prefer to read first.

There are other food blog patterns, like “let me tell you about my vacation, after which I cooked this thing” and semi-informative articles about food or health that seem fact-focused, but are mainly about hooking the reader with an opinion.

For an example of the latter, here’s a blog on selecting the best chickpeas at food-writing website The Kitchn: “I Tried 10 Different Cans of Chickpeas and There Was One Clear Winner.” It would seem like an informative, fact-filled piece. Several types of chickpeas are tested in various states: drained and uncooked, in hummus, roasted and crispy. In the end, one of the types of chickpeas is declared the winner.

Are the chickpeas tested in any sort of objective way? No. No metrics were mentioned. Are the chickpeas tested by a panel of experts? Also no. They were tested by “a group of testers” in a blind tasting—the same sort of situation as the taste tests between Coke and Pepsi in years of yore.

Was the blog written with an objective tone? Wow, no. It’s 675 words long. Thirteen of those words were I. Three mys. One your. Fourteen wes. Two ours. The blog is written with a personal tone, centered on the author and the testing group. About five percent of the words are personal pronouns.

Should the blog have been tested objectively, by a panel of experts, in an impersonal tone? I don’t think so; I enjoyed the blog that was there, and would have been less interested in a dry article. Will I rush out and buy the recommended brand of chickpeas? No. I thought about making some hummus, though.

Mmmm, hummus.

When reading the article, you might not notice that it’s written from an opinionated position. A journalist would notice, of course. But an average reader would probably not do so—unless they didn’t like the tone of the blog, or they disagreed with the opinion. Most people will simply be drawn along by the piece. It’s a solid piece, although not exceptional: the most action you’re likely to be inspired to do is to stop and think about food in general, chickpeas in particular, perhaps a specific chickpea brand or two, and wish that you had more time to cook—or feel proud that you were taking the time to cook.

However, the blog doesn’t contain a lot of personality, a lot of the author’s voice. You get a sense that you know someone has written the piece; it wasn’t generated by a computer. But who wrote the piece isn’t clear: they like chickpeas and would prefer their chickpeas to have a reasonably good quality. More than that is difficult to guess. And, for what the piece is meant to do, that is sufficient.

What interests me in a blog is when I can get a sense of who the author is, without the author having to describe themselves.—Some authors do describe themselves, at great length, and are amusing when they do so. The Bloggess has made a career for herself in describing herself and her (mis-)adventures, things that she likes, and (yay!) things that she doesn’t.  Other authors don’t describe themselves; Seth Godin always amuses me, even though he talks about you and about generalities far more often than he talks about himself or anything so specific as to have a location, a date, or a name. Here’s a fairly typical blog: “Of course it’s a difficult problem.” He goes on to say “All the easy ones are already solved.” His blog is a bit Zen, a bit oversimplified, even a bit patronizing—but I always enjoy it, and I admire the skill with which he reveals himself without actually giving you information about himself in the blogs (although he does provide more information elsewhere).

Those are good blogs. But what about the best blogs?

I don’t know about other writers, but here’s how it works for me: my most satisfying, “best” blog posts happen when the process of writing changes my opinion of what I write. Those are the fun blogs, the ones where I learn that ancient Romans used to ward off the evil eye with flying penises. This blog is one such blog post, too. When I journaled on this topic as an early draft, I completely missed the opinionated-but-not-voicy blog posts that are the mainstay of most “informative” blogs. I went searching for a random, typical voicy foodie blog, and almost facepalmed myself. Duh.

I feel like this post only livens up when I reached the point where I stopped regurgitating what I already had in mind to write. Before that, it’s stiff and uninteresting (in my opinion). A bunch of stuffy blather. I decided to leave the opening as it was, though, so you could see the difference. At least it’s clear, and it’s not too long. I hope it’s not so offputting that people skip this blog before they get to what I consider the good parts, but—well. I couldn’t blame them if they did.

The endings of blogs are always the worst for me. I usually scroll up to the beginning and see if there’s something I can steal.—No, not this time. It bores me. I’m just going to have to come up with an ending on my own. My past self didn’t leave me any bread crumbs to find my way home.

So let me just say that I’m glad I wrote this, even if it wasn’t what I expected to have written when I started. Viva la blog!

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