Monday, February 13, 2012

Style and Tone in a Blog

Getting started with my blog, I feel a little like I'm wandering into a deep dark cave. I know there are thousands, millions of other people out there in this cave with me, but I can't see them, and I don't know if they can see me. But once in a while, we stumble into each other.

As I grope my way around in the dark, I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing. How should I write? What kind of style and tone is appropriate? Will people be reading this, or is it little more than a glorified journal?

Here are a few answers I've tripped across so far:

Authority: The internet is made of audacity and hot air. As near as I can figure, presenting yourself as anything less than the absolute authority on a subject is a major faux pas. For example, in this post, I've already made it clear that I have no idea what I'm doing. Yet now I'm about to proceed to give you all my advice. Welcome to the internet. (*sigh* this bullet point is going to take some getting used to for me.)

Topic: It goes without saying that you should write about what you care about. If you are genuinely engaged with your subject matter, you will have far more of substance to say than if you are writing for some other reason (e.g. you think it's what you "should" write, for any misguided reason.) I also speculate that a blog will likely be more successful if focused on a single topic. Readers who know what to expect will be more likely to come back.

That said... I may deviate from that last point in my own blog. I have a core purpose for this blog, but as it is also a "personal" blog, I plan on experimenting with sharing other observations from time to time as well (as I am doing in this very post.) We'll see how that works out.

Style and Tone: This is the question which really got me started along this line of inquiry. After putting some thought into it, I've come to the conclusion that the correct tone for a blog post is light and conversational--but this does not excuse bad writing. "Conversational," is not an excuse for "long and rambling" and "light" does not mean you don't have to put effort in.

So what does it mean? I think "conversational" just means informal. You can throw jokes in.You can address the reader. And you can refer to yourself (which we were all instructed not to do in college). "Light" simply means easy to read. Use simple sentences. Don't weigh down your prose with heavy words. Get the point across, but don't be pretentious about it. (I was a lit major; this is basically anathema to everything I was ever taught.)

For myself, I have a tendency to write in a long and rambling style. Learning to adjust my style to be more punchy and to-the-point is one of my major growth areas as a writer.

Length: On the strong research platform of a 30 second google search and a link provided by Stuart, I have drawn the conclusion that a good guideline is to keep posts over 250 words and under 1000 words. Honestly, the best answer to this is, "as long as you need." The topic should determine the length... but between 250-1000 words does provide a good guideline. Just try to stay (see above) light and to-the-point, and if you have more to say, you may want to split it into a few posts, each comfortably meal-sized.

Presentation: This point cannot be emphasized enough: the title and the first few lines MUST accurately represent what the rest of the post is about. From my own observations (backed up by more popular wisdom) you can only count on a reader to view the title and maybe the first few lines. That's long enough for most of us (me at least) to determine if I want to read the whole thing. There is no point in burying valuable content deep in an the text of an unrelated post.

Last but not least...
Readership: Gosh, when I figure this one out, I'll let you know. I still have only eight followers. On the other hand, I'm up to eight followers, some of whom I don't even know OMG!!!

And that concludes this week's session of Professor Ashton. Hope you enjoyed =)

P.S. 750 words, not too bad! (more or less... after edits)


  1. Greetings! Nice to see I'm not the only one stumbling around in this cave. Thought I'd comment in case you were wondering who I am and why I've suddenly popped up as a follower on your site.

    I've just written a gamebook and started a blog myself, so I stumbled across yours when trawling the net for similar content.

    Congratulations on a great blog with some very interesting posts. I wish you every success with your project and look forward to seeing how it develops (WARNING: prepare yourself to have some number-related nightmares while writing it - I certainly did and mine is about as simple as you can get!).

  2. Hi William, nice to have you aboard ;) I checked out the Tower of Clavius Boon, and it looks pretty amusing. I'm looking forward to reading it, and seeing how your own blog develops!

    As far as the number-related nightmares... *sigh* yes, yes. I am well aware of those. I've already written several gamebooks (which you can find on my Gamebook Fiction page, if you're interested) and I swear, trying to tidy up the number at the end is, if not the hardest part, certainly the biggest pain in the ass. No matter how careful I am, there are always errors.