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How to blog effectively

Begin with your most important point. Use short sentences and clear, non-jargony language. Remember your end goal.

These were among the tips BeyondDC creator and Greater Greater Washington (GGW) blogger Dan Malouff imparted at a recent lunch talk at the Mobility Lab. Malouff discussed how to blog effectively and get published on websites such as GGW.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Among his main points:

  • Put the most important information up front, in the first paragraph, with more specific details and supportive facts following. The glut of information and competition demands clarity and incisiveness. "Lead with the takeaway," Malouff said.
  • Inform before you persuade. The best articles use a piece of news or data as a starting point, and then use it to draw conclusions or make an argument. It's important to explain the context, as readers are not all experts already.
  • Transportation and city planners (not to mention lawyers) like to use jargony language. Blog readers respond better to simple language. Complicated, wordy prose can make an otherwise compelling article unreadable and/or suspicious. Use the rule that easier-to-read is better.
  • Don't use the passive voice much if at all. If you can insert "by zombies" after the verb, then you are using it. For example, the sentence "The use of passive voice is discouraged" is easy to identify as passive voice since one could add "by zombies" and the sentence would still make sense. Instead, the sentence could read "Don't use the passive voice." (Avoid nominalizations, like "the utilization of this grammatical construction leads to complication of the communication," too.)
  • Keep articles short. A thousand words is typically too long. The "sweet spot" for web writing is 300 to 600 words.
  • Keep the blog post to one main idea. If you want readers to remember more than one big takeaway, then split the article up into multiple posts.
Here are Malouff's slides:

Mobility Lab Communications Director Paul Mackie facilitated the lecture. He called blogging an inherently democratizing medium. He said that institutions such as the New York Times are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Anyone with a keyboard now has a voice. Mackie described blogging as a way to "become a thought leader."

(Author's note: This article is 374 words long and, therefore, perfect.)

Cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

Paul Goddin is the urban affairs reporter at Mobility Lab. Paul has lived in the area for 20 years. He holds a degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia. He doesnít own a car, preferring to get around by biking, walking, or transit. In his spare time, he enjoys exploring new places, watching movies, and taking photos of architecture.  


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Good stuff for any writer. Many part-time writers struggle with these things.

by movement on Jul 16, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Inform before you persuade.

Good idea! GGW should try this tactic some time.

by Scoot on Jul 16, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

GGW is, hands down, my favorite blog. You guys and gals do everything right!

by Jay Roberts on Jul 16, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport

this is one of the most informative blogs I have ever read. I learn a great deal.

one issue that many blogs face - how do you balance the need to keep comments on topic, with the desire to keep an open active discussion of all sides of an issue?

I find some commenters come here either with the intention of disrupting GGW, often by focusing on particular issues that are not the topic of the post at hand, that demand proofs from others on topics they have raised, etc. I tend to find GGW too tolerant of such obviously disruptive commenting practices, but OTOH I know that despite GGW's high degree of tolerance, some accuse it of being one-sided, so rightfully GGW wants to avoid looking like it censors disagreement, as some other blogs are said to. But I think some people take advantage of that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 16, 2014 3:31 pm • linkreport

What's better than a Dan Malouff talk? Nothing, DC. Nothing.

by mazzie on Jul 16, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

The slides and this write-up were excellent.

by kob on Jul 16, 2014 11:02 pm • linkreport

"Inform before you persuade."


I will say that some of the ggw bloggers, like Alpert, follow this rule pretty well but many don't. Letting people decide for themselves is the key to impartial journalism.

Stating the merits of a trail idea, with respect to ggw's pro-transit/ped/cyclist focus, or the negative impacts of a road project is one thing. A 10-paragraph tirade about how incompotent motorists are or why opponents of the Columbia streetcar are totally wrong and inane is another.

by K Street on Jul 17, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

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