Advice for writing a professional blog post
April 9, 2020 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I've been asked by my employer to write a blog post on an aspect of my work. I don't consider myself a writer, and most of the writing I do at work is to produce technical reports. Do you have any advice or good resources to write a professional yet engaging blog post?

Most of the advice I see is for starting a professional blog, which I am not doing, and I also don't need to do any search engine optimization or things like that as far as I know. I'm not trying to sell anything or make money on advertising. Though I'm sure my employer would be happy to get more website hits, that's not the main aim. My work and this project are legitimately interesting to the usual audience of my (large and well-known) organization's blog, so making it appealing to readers should be achievable. I'm looking for a methodology on how to approach this, examples of phrasing etc., examples of good professional blogs, as my impression is that this is a style that I'm not really familiar with.
posted by sizeable beetle to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So is this to be a single blog post or the first of a series? What is your intended audience - people who already understand the in-language/jargon/culture or are you trying to go a bit wider and bring in some adjacent disciplines?

I blog and follow maybe 50 other pro blogs and twitters. What attracts me to a blog is 1 - a real attempt to engage, so more personal/open/even-intimate than other longform writing 2 - meaningful graphics made for the text (and original photos), even if that is code swatches or annotated functions. Avoid generic graphics as if people see something they've already seen they will swipe left.

Most people/orgs I follow are using their blog to attract new contracts/equity/new colleagues.

The most useful pro blog for technical writing and graphics is Ken Hughes' Brushing up Science "tips on ways to improve every component of the presentation of science: figures, talks, tables, typesetting, posters, etc. Please take a little bit of time and think about your work from a design perspective, you’re bound to learn something."

Waterprogramming is a favourite at the interface of hydrology, graphic comms and programming.

functionalecologists is by the British Ecological Society journal backgrounding recent authors.
posted by unearthed at 4:17 PM on April 9, 2020

Blog posts are usually informal and personal in tone, even the professional ones. How would you describe what you do to an interested peer at a professional event? Write that down.

It's always good to have some stories along with descriptions. Have a go-to anecdote that always entertains your peers? Write that down, too. If not, no worries.

It's hard to point out specific examples because "blogs" are as varied as "books" at this point, so to get a sense of overall style and length and amount of "marketing vs personal", take a look at the blog posts from your company, your company's competitors, and any personal blogs from employees, partners, and customers.
posted by troyer at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2020

Come up with an outline, bounce it off of someone, then fill it in.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:08 PM on April 9, 2020

You can do this! Writing is not much different from thinking aloud, except that you have to type it out, and you get multiple attempts to get it right thanks to the drafting process.

It will help you to get a sense of what the main takeaway is that you want people to get from this post. Imagine one person telling another about the interesting article they just read: "You should read this! You'll learn how/why ____" — fill in the blank with your idea. You can be surprisingly blatant about this; only rarely does misdirection or subtlety actually serve an editorial goal. Tell readers upfront what they'll learn from your blog post; break it down into a few supporting facets; keep your eye on the central theme at all times.

Oh, and write a terrible first draft*. This is important! You'll want to get all the ideas out on paper, so to speak, without judgment so you can look at them and be like, "Okay, first paragraph is a good idea, B gets a bit off topic and should be a subset of C, D is actually just my shopping list lol, and E is really funny and might be a good opener." Stages are important in writing, and it really helps if you can spread the work across more than one day so you get the benefit of a fresh brain. Hemingway is credited with the saying "Write drunk, edit sober," and there's some truth to this — you don't need to get hammered but you do need an early stage where you aren't constantly deleting the sentence you just wrote because it seems boring or bad to you. I think there's even a Hemingway app out there that doesn't let you backspace or something. When I write an article I expect to write maybe 1,000 words for every 400 that will actually end up publishing. That might even be a little low.

Finally, I've heard people say this article really helped them with writing, so I'm sharing it in case it helps you here, too. Good luck!

* on preview, oceanjesse's comment about an outline is great advice; I regularly start with an outline before I get into full sentences.
posted by saramour at 8:15 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation it helped if I wrote as if I was telling a pretty smart friend about my job. So, I asked a friend to listen to me tell them about my job and to ask questions. I tried to incorporate the answers to their questions. I thought telling it in a folksy tone was good, but if you are a technical person, write to your voice.
posted by AugustWest at 8:41 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who has managed organizations' blogs in the past: you've gotten good advice. One important thing: look at the other blog posts, especially those written by members of the team who manage the blog, and see how they are written. There may be a house style. Pay attention to things like use of subject headers, average paragraph length, post structure, etc. How do most posts open? How long are they? Are there blog posts similar to the one you've been asked to write? What is the flow of those posts?

Also, you say your work is interesting to the blog's audience. What are people usually interested in? What do they find surprising? What do they ask about? Focus on things like that.
posted by lunasol at 9:32 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Paul Graham's write like you talk is a good starting place if you want to readjust to writing for the public. The vast majority of folks write too much, or try to be too formal. Internal and academic writing tends to be emphasize formulaic introductions, conclusions, jargon, and context that isn't actually beneficial for writing on the internet.

As others have said, figure out what's interesting about what you're writing. Make sure that that interesting thing is properly emphasized. An outline might help you nail that down, or you might just want to do a few drafts and keep slimming down the sentences and words that aren't strictly necessary.

So, spare formalities, figure out the cool part, and emphasize it. People will forgive missing oxford commas and the occasional typo if they're learning something neat and having fun.
posted by tmcw at 10:01 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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