When structuring anything from a building to a multinational organisation you always need to consider the parts — what are they, where are they, and how are they connected? How do readers move from one part of a blog post to another? What signals indicate a shift to a new part or idea?
What’s the significance of parts and connections for you, as a blogger? Well, imagine three people finding your blog post. Each is in a certain frame of mind, maybe:
- Yay! a new thing from so-and-so!
- Um, what’s this about?
- Is this what I think it is?
Visitor 1. will just dive in, comfortable and confident. But your more typical visitors (2. and 3.) need some help in advance to find their way around.
As always, the rich variety of personal blogs means that every writer has a different solution. Best way I can illustrate this is to show three blog posts, and explain how I think the bloggers have handled the parts. OK, ready?
Example A. Response to a prompt
Thousands of bloggers respond to prompts, and often this is the only content on their blogs. A prompt is a weekly (or daily or monthly) challenge or exercise, a kind of creative entertainment. Examples are NaNoWriMo, Wednesday words, and Norm’s Thursday Doors.
Above is a screenshot of a short blog post from J Walters. In a WordPress Reader excerpt you can see virtually the entire blog post, in five main parts:
- Metadata: the blogger’s name and publication date, which are automatically supplied.
- More metadata: the categories or tags that the blogger supplied when publishing this little post, increasing the chances that readers will find this post among millions of contenders.
- A photograph: double doors set in a stone archway. The photo has metadata attached but it’s not visible here: a descriptive file name and, I hope, either alt-text or a description, which describe what’s in the image. (Why? To provide non-visual information for readers who don’t see the image. 2. To give search engines additional information.)
- A headline: Thursday Doors — Arch, which is succinct and specific, containing two keywords (Thursday Doors and Arch). This headline alerts readers to the content of the blog post.
- Text: two sentences. The first sentence acts like a title for the photo. The second gives context for the photograph, with a link to the original prompt.
A courtyard door, on a walk in Honfleur, France. This post is for Norm’s Thursday Doors, where you can see all kinds of other doors.
How are these five parts signalled and connected?
Easy! Each part is in an accustomed position and changes of font style signal a certain type of content, a part. WordPress blogs have a conventional location in the layout for basic parts such as avatar and date:
- We know where to look for the author and date.
- We know what a headline looks like.
- We expect a headline to describe or summarise what follows.
- We expect that a headline will be followed by text or an image.
Message for bloggers: stick to the conventions and readers won’t be confused. J Walters has a blessedly straightforward and predictable structure for posts on The Photo Junkie. With a post as short as this one, where the writing is concise and clear, nothing else is needed.
Example B. Advice to young film makers
On A Young Filmmaker’s Blog Rose Goldthorp gives advice to others hoping to make their passion into a career. And Rose is certainly passionate and talented: she has been making independent films from her teens.
Besides the WordPress basic parts, you’ll see how this blog post (I’ll take fame if I must…) has six parts:
- a concise introduction with a list of four career paths for film makers
- four sections, one for each career path, and each with its own sub-headline
- a conclusion.
The post is extremely easy to follow because each new part is clearly sign-posted with horizontal rules and sub-headlines. Rose is a delightful, lively writer, and structure is one of her strengths. Which is lucky, because a film can stand or crash on the strength of its structure.
Example C. Engaging with aging
In Doris Carnevali’s marvellous blog, Engaging With Aging, it is sheer excellence of writing that steers us through her essays, which are usually at least 500-600 words. She writes about ageing from a dual perspective: both as a 97-year-old and as an Emerita Professor in the University of Washington School of Nursing.
Returning to the Baby/Todder Stage contains the same essential parts as The Photo Junkie, so readers have basic signposts. A post of this length would usually benefit from division into further parts with sub-headlines or lists.
However, if you are interested in Doris Carnevali’s topic, I’m betting you will keep on reading. Glance at the first line of each paragraph: each one explicitly introduces a shift in reasoning, a new topic. The first few words prepare you for the next development.
A photo of spilled coffee signals a shift to the conclusion, namely that whenever the writer could choose not to regard a decline in her abilities as a catastrophe. Instead, she could respond like a toddler faced with an exciting new challenge. She tells us how simple and powerful this change of attitude proved to be.
Message for bloggers: craft your paragraphs skilfully. Make sure each paragraph has its own topic, and write the first few words almost as if they were a headline for the paragraph. Use transition words to ease readers from one idea into the next one. And even if you are a professor, write short sentences!
Why is this writing skill so powerful?
When reading a web page, most people’s eyes skip over the screen from one stand-out piece of text to another. Stand-out text includes not only headlines and link-text and bold font style, but also the first few words of a paragraph.