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A hitchhiker's guide to good blogging

Updated: 2014-01-18 07:54
By Berlin Fang ( China Daily)

A hitchhiker's guide to good bloggingI started to blog in 2004 while I was a graduate student at Syracuse University. In the decade that has followed, my blog has fetched more than 20 million page hits. The exposure has also brought invitations to write columns for various newspapers and magazines, including China Daily and Southern Metropolis Daily, as well as the Chinese versions of The New York Times, Financial Times and Holland Online. I have published three collections of essays based largely on blog posts, too.

Vanity aside, I am saying this to take the stigma off blogging, which used to be perceived as verbal doodles produced in basements by people who do not have a job or life. Blogging is an effective way to engage with a cross section of people in an informal way.

When you start to blog, do not be burdened by the small stuff, "techniques" such as the proper length, the frequency of publishing or the time to release articles. With the multitude of blogging vendors out there, there is no point detailing the mechanics of a particular one. But writing habits matter a lot, for which I have a few suggestions.

Pet your topics. The Internet does not always reward the desire to succeed, but it rewards passion and the effort you invest in a topic. Those devoted to their craft become famous because they get increasingly better at what they do.

Similarly, in blogging, narrow focus on readership leads to myopia, with which you may write to please the crowd. But that is a bad way to start for new bloggers. Instead, keep cultivating your passion and expertise related to your topics. Make sure you do not write about things you do not feel strongly about. Be ambitious, for you may be able to use blogging to make some positive changes.

Research your topics. Initially, you do not have to be an expert in every aspect of the topic you write about. That's where research comes in. Although you may sometimes get advice to write what you are familiar with, truth of the matter is, all writers research. For your blogging to be useful, do your homework. You may not start as an expert, but make sure you end as one after you finish writing about a topic.

Refrain from rants. Quite a number of people take to blogging to vent their feelings on a topic or life. This may have some therapeutic effect when you are frustrated with the state of things, but you will not get a lot of mileage out of rants. In a John Cheever short story, a middle-class couple's new radio continuously picks up sounds from the neighbors, whose miscellaneous miseries eventually destroy the fine equilibrium in their marriage. This is to say, sooner or later, people leave negative bloggers who define themselves by useless negativity. Constructive suggestions and solutions will go farther.

Provoke views, not the viewers. I enjoy a good debate in the comments section if commentators contribute to a civil, mutually beneficial dialogue. Readers can help me revise my otherwise erroneous ideas, see blind spots in the reasoning process, or resolve conflicting views that I may have. I like to make people think, using my blog post as a start, not as an end in itself. I draw energy and wisdom from their feedback. However, watch out for personal attacks or belittling sarcasm or other obnoxious behaviors. Unless I want to create a "teachable moment" for other readers, I do not spend too much time fighting with "bullies". I simply reserve the right to remove such comments to end an otherwise ugly and useless fight.

Keep writing. The greatest secret of success in blogging is to keep at it. You may suffer from the writer's block once in a while. In such cases, write shorter pieces to keep yourself in the habit of writing. The more you write the more you can write.

China has close to 600 million "netizens", many of whom read or write some kind of blogs or micro blogs. Blogging has become a mainstream method of consumption and production of public opinion. That's why you can find blogging to be an effective way of making sense of the world around you, and an avenue for you to make a difference.

The author is a US-based instructional designer, literary translator and columnist writing on cross-cultural issues.

(China Daily 01/18/2014 page5)