The following is a guest post by Ben Minson, one of my technical writing colleagues. Ben's blog, which also focuses on technical communication, is called Gryphon Mountain Journals. Check it out. (You can subscribe to his RSS feed here.)
My wife recently bought a book for me entitled Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World's Top Bloggers. Blogging has been around for about ten years now, but one blogger said in this book that he thinks blogging is still in its infancy and has a lot of potential. If you're thinking about blogging, that's good news.
One of the questions that the interviewer, Michael Banks, typically asked each blogger is what advice he or she had for other bloggers or for people thinking about starting. With the range of advice you'd think could come from 30 people, so far there are three main themes or pieces of advice that characterize the answers.
I heard this from Tom himself before I started blogging, so this wasn't news to me. But the question "What should I blog about?" probably runs circles around in every prospective blogger's head. It's the same answer to "What should be my major in college?" The answer is to pick the thing that makes you tick and go with it.
The "heroes" also advise you not to set out to make money. If that's your goal, it's going to be obvious, and you're going to turn people off. They'll know you're interested only in their money rather than in expressing ideas and encouraging discussion. One of the things that turns me off of Web sites in general is when I see more ads than content. I don't like having to wade through commercials to get to the meat of things. Some people expect ads, but for the vets, advertising (if they have any) came after the blogs were well established.
Generally, your passion is what you know. So write about what you know. It will be more natural if it's something you can talk about with enthusiasm and understanding.
The main rule here is to produce quality content. Don't post just because you think you need new content every day or every other day. Give your readers something of value. Of course, what is one reader's treasure trove is another's garbage pile, so realize that what appeals to some may not to others. But if you personally think a subject isn't worth the time it takes to click the "Publish" button, don't write about it.
Next, write well, or at least the best that you can. A blog fosters frequent writing, but if you recognize shortcomings or errors in your writing (or others point them out), do what it takes to improve.
Allow open discussions about your posts. Be respectful to those who comment, even if they sound overly critical. At work, we have a list of "cultural beliefs," or guiding philosophies specific to working in our department. One is "speak up"—give honest and respectful feedback. A corollary to this that I have heard, though not one of the official beliefs, is to "make it safe" to speak up. We ought to try to receive feedback graciously, even if the feedback hurts. Your readers aren't going to visit your blog if you respond to their comments with criticism or insults. Further, don't just encourage users to make comments, but use them to improve yourself.
The vets don't all encourage posting comments on other sites, but they suggest that if you do participate in discussions, don't do it just to get traffic. Contribute meaningfully to the conversation. It's obvious when you've posted a comment just to draw attention to your own blog. That kind of comment may get blocked by administrators, but if it doesn't, looking like a beggar won't reflect well on your site or what you have to say. Participate on others' blogs meaningfully, and they'll be more interested in drawing attention to your blog.
You'll notice that I'm guest-posting, which is one way to generate traffic. I didn't ask Tom to do so—I didn't even think of it. He offered, and I appreciate the opportunity to stand on the I'd Rather Be Writing stage for a day. Don't take for granted any such opportunities that you're given, and don't put across the idea that you're doing the hosting blogger a favor by posting on his blog.
Opinions may vary on what success means for a blog. Some would say that success is making enough money from a blog that you can do it full-time. Others may say they'll consider themselves successful when they have a million readers. For many of the bloggers interviewed in Blogging Heroes, success is providing content that connects with readers. Success is giving readers something valuable to think about and discuss, some way to make their voice heard, and a source of information or answers to questions that they may have really needed. If you write with these goals in mind, your blog will be more satisfying, and the million-dollar deals and million-reader audiences just may come along on their own.
To write a guest post for I'd Rather Be Writing, send me an email letting me know.
Get new posts delivered straight to your inbox.
I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.