How to Find Your Blogging Voice

What writing style will produce the best results on your blog?
If you look at blogging as the digital equivalent of writing a diary, then the answer to my question is easy: you write the way you want to write and to heck with any guidelines or suggestions, and, yes, damn the grammar torpedoes! Who needs results anyway?
If you’re reading this, however, odds are good that your interests extend beyond just having a Web site where you can record your own intimate thoughts and experiences. Your weblog, or weblog-to-be, is focused on effective communication; on sharing what you know; on trying to influence people regarding your own ideas, opinions, and perspective; and perhaps on convincing people that your product or service is worth a second look.
Now we’re moving into the territory of just plain good writing, and that’s something we can spend some time exploring!

Let me preface all my remarks by saying that while I think rules are made to be broken, as the proverb tells us, they should only be broken when you really understand the consequences of that divergence. Often, it’s better to stick with the rules than to live your life on the grammatical cutting edge.

Spelling Counts

One of the greatest additions to the world of writing has been the spelling systems now included in just about every writing tool. Even Web browsers have built-in spell checkers (notably Apple’s Safari browser). Given this preponderance of spelling aids, why on Earth do so many people still have so many grievous misspellings on their weblogs?
There’s a more subtle issue: using correct spelling demonstrates a respect for the reader, which is one of the foundational concepts underlying all good writing and blogging.
Don’t forget that you can also edit your blog entries after they’ve gone live on your site. Once you’ve posted something, go and read it again, then fix all the mistakes you find. If others email you about typos or something similar, fix them in the article too. It’s a benefit that everyone who reads your blog in the future will greatly appreciate.

Grammar Counts Too

Maybe I’m a boring old writer guy or something, but I personally find it a lot easier to read grammatically correct writing than material from someone who believes that rules like punctuation, capitalization and tense agreement are sacrificed on the altar of self-expression. Yech!
In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret: I actually edit comments left on my weblogs to fix grammatical errors and clean up any spelling issues. Why? Because I want the entire experience of reading my pages to be pleasant and thought-provoking, not baffling, confusing, or insulting.
Different communities have different expectations of spelling and grammar, of course, but I haven’t yet seen a community—even of teens—where good writing reflects poorly on the writer. I have seen, however, some terrible writing in areas where the author is clearly trying—and failing—to gain credibility or influence in his or her community.

Tips for the Online World

In addition to spelling and grammar, there are also layout and word choice issues that are worth considering if you seek to gain maximum benefit from your blogging efforts.
Text layout is a good place to start. Many of the text layout best practices have been around for decades, if not centuries, and reflect technological limitations or quirks of reproduction that are no longer relevant. I learned how to type on a typewriter, for example, and absorbed the rule that paragraphs should not have any separation between them and always begin with a tab indent. This is no longer true and the most readable text online does the exact opposite, with blank lines between paragraphs and no indentation at all.
And then there’s the issue of text alignment in a paragraph. Look at a magazine or book and you’ll likely notice that both the left and right margins are neatly aligned, with the inter-character and inter-word spacing adjusted to produce lines that are all the exact same length. The problem is, readability studies show that having a ragged right margin—where the text is left aligned but each line is left alone to be as long or short as necessary—is much more readable and therefore a better online practice.
If you must have that right margin neatly aligned, well, then you must. But if you have the choice, always let it drop to ragged right to produce the most pleasant read possible.
Finally, remember that while blogs tend to place well with search engines already, paying a bit of attention to search engine algorithms can be darn useful, specifically making sure that you’re writing in the language your community uses, and that your keywords appear at least a half-dozen times in a given blog entry. If you’re writing about strollers, make sure you use the word “strollers” with some frequency in your entries, rather than slipping into the common referent “it” as we do in speech.

Finding That Elusive Voice

Once you have the basics down, and you know how to present the information for readability, it’s time to decide what sort of “writing personality” you want to convey with your blog. Do you want to write in first person? Do you want to use slang? Do you want to include jokes? Do you want to share intimate details of your personal life?
Consider Hollywood stars for a moment. How many of them invite the paparazzi into their homes for photo sessions versus how many have a “public” life that might well be completely different from their private lives?
There’s an unquestionable element of voyeurism and exhibitionism involved in blogging, as many teens learn with a shock when their personal musings are suddenly being shared by thousands of unknown Internet denizens.
Your challenge is to decide where along the continuum of boring, staid press release writing to highly intimate personal sharing you want to be, and then stay there. You can inject personality, just be conscious that people who don’t know you—and perhaps don’t like you— are going to be reading your blog entries and forwarding them to their friends and colleagues.
One of the best ways to learn your blogging voice is to read a lot of other bloggers and ask yourself whether you’re comfortable with their writing style, whether they seem to be a friend chatting with you or some self-important twit pontificating, and which you find most appealing. Then be inspired by that and try to create a writing persona that matches what you believe are the best practices.
For me, that writing persona is very conversational, and I will often inject words like “Um” or “Err” or “Hmmm” into my writing, as if I’m sitting across from you in a cafe and we’re chatting over a cup of tea.
Your voice will vary, but there’s no more important aspect for becoming a successful blogger. A good blogging voice will help you gain fans, communicate effectively, and influence your readership as you desire. And, um, good luck to you, too! 🙂

I originally published this article in the Web Design Reference Guide area of InformIT as Finding Your Blogging Voice. It’s reprinted with permission and remains © 2006 by Dave Taylor.

6 comments on “How to Find Your Blogging Voice

  1. Dave:
    Great article. I agree with your points that spelling and grammar count. For some reason I get especially annoyed by people who confuse the words “your” and “you’re”.
    I also like what you have to say about finding one’s voice. I did a post yesterday. I was complimenting an author on his book. He called me today and said “thanks for your candid thoughts”. I was really pleased, as I strive to present myself as a common sense, candid, forthright person on my blog. At least one person noticed this.
    Keep up the good work on this blog, I’ve bookmarked it and will return often.
    Bud Bilanich,
    The Common Sense Guy

  2. Great post. Thinking about what interests you enough to write about on a regular basis is key. Some people are drawn to reporting on the latest news to hit the wire, which some prefer to chew on new concepts a bit before sharing their thoughts. Both have a lot of value as blogging voices.

  3. Dave, I must admit, you have a very eloquent blogging voice. Your style is easy going and low key, but not dry.
    All of the points you made are well worth remembering, but the use of proper spelling and good grammar should have particular emphasis. A blog riddled with error becomes much harder for the reader to follow and comprehend.

  4. Dave,
    I appreciate the way you talked about blogging voice. Several bloggers do not know that texts are intermediated by voices. And that these voices change according to the variation of text genres. In an argumentative text, for instance, the dominant voice is an objective one, with no space for emotionality and bias. But in blogging, a more friendly interactive voice should prevail. One should, as you have said, imagine oneself in a cafe chatting with friends. For the main puropose of blogging after all is the exchange of ideas pertaining to all topics.

  5. Great advice. I’m also new to the blogging world and working to create a genuine voice for our blog. Thank you for the tips.
    One of the things I’ll take away from this is article is that it’s okay to do a little clean-up on blog comments to correct spelling and grammar. It seems courteous to the blogger that commented and for your readers.

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