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Counterargument to the Importance of Categories in Blogs

by Tom Johnson on Jul 4, 2007
categories: blogging technical-writing

CategoriesIn an interview with Lorelle Van Fossen on adii, Lorelle says,

I have a very narrow focus on Lorelle on WordPress. There are a lot of topics I'd love to cover but won't. I write about blogging and WordPress. That's basically it. If it doesn't tie in nicely, it won't go on that blog. I write very little about monetizing blogs as that turns blogs into businesses, and there are plenty who cover that market. The only time I cover that subject is when it directly applies to WordPress and blogs. So it's a narrow path I write on that blog.

Part of Lorelle's success is her tight focus on a highly popular topic, WordPress — especially with a how-to bent. (She also writes for The Blog Herald, which is another excellent resource to learn about blogging—but only about blogging.)

Two Small Exceptions

It's fine to keep your categories narrow and focused, but there are two small exceptions where categories become problematic:

  1. If you're just starting out your blog, you may not know what categories you're most interested in. If you lock yourself into the wrong categories up front, you may not find inspiration to post often. Blogging can become a chore.
  2. If your focus is too narrow, you may get bored with the topic. As human beings, we generally have a variety of interests.

Content Springs from Focus

On the other hand, much of what Lorelle says is true. As a prime example, the Hello Kitty Hell blog seems to be going on strong for almost a year now and has about 850 readers. It's amazing that someone can maintain a lively blog with such a narrow focus. (Of course I don't really read it.)

Beth Long, a creative technical writer, says that having a focus for her blog gives her more inspiration to write. She says,

My former blog was anemic and badly tended, with random posts about random topics interspersed through the months with no regularity or common theme. This blog, on the other hand, has a clearly stated focus (the intersection of the creative and the technical), and while I'm not afraid to stray from the main topic of the blog, the very fact of having a main topic has been crucial in enabling me to post almost daily.

So yes, content springs from having focus. And having focus creates appeal for readers. But ...

Counterargument to Categories

Despite the importance of having focus, there are also variables of voice and personality. Some writers can write about anything and I'll find it interesting. My wife's blog is a case in point. She's just a clever, witty writer and I enjoy reading her perspectives.

I would find it boring if she always wrote about the same topic. Can you imagine our dinner conversations?

Same goes for novelists. It's not the subject or topic they're writing about that matters — it's their voice, their charismatic literary persona that draws us in and captivates us. Like a good date, you can spend the night talking about everything and nothing — and be perfectly happy, not remembering a thing of what you talked about. Instead, you remember the liveliness, the emotion and energy.

And like dating, blogs are tools that build relationships. They are not encyclopedic entries. Blogs are social software, a realm where voice, persona, authenticity, and realness matter. (Which is why I can't understand why Scott Abel writes his blog in third person.)

So while yes, categories are important. You should have a focus on your blog. I should expect to find a somewhat common theme. But I should also learn to love reading you.

A question for my readers: Do you read any blogs with a voice and persona that stands out in a captivating way?

Additional Resources

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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