Leaving Work Behind

The Blogger’s Style Guide: How to Write Stellar Blog Posts

Written by Tom Ewer on October 22, 2013. 86 Comments

BloggingAt its most basic level, blogging is remarkably simple. After all, just about anyone can blog if they put their mind to it. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

However, there is a big difference between the act of blogging and writing something that is truly worthy of consumption. If you are serious about becoming a blogger then you should be keen to improve your craft.

That’s where the list below comes in: fifty of the most important tips I can give you about the art of blogging. I have gathered them over a period of 2 1/2 years or so, during which time I have written more than a thousand blog posts for over a hundred blogs.

Don’t forget to check out the comments section too, where you can share your own tips and read tips shared by others. Enjoy!

The Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. Grab yourself a copy of The Elements of Style and The Yahoo! Style Guide. They will teach you 90% of what you need to know.
  2. Let your personality shine through — you’re writing a blog post, not a text book.
  3. Stuck for topic ideas? Consider the following: common questions, breaking news and current events, pain points, desires, and personal experience.
  4. Still struggling? Set aside a non-time sensitive block to brainstorm ideas. Try to come up with ideas in batches — not one by one as they’re needed.
  5. Write with your audience in mind — who are you writing for and what are their motivations for reading?
  6. Create a headline that touches on one or more of the following: urgency, speed, ease, desirability, intrigue, controversy, outlandishness.
  7. Write a draft headline when you start a post but don’t finalize it until the end — the writing process will probably inspire you.
  8. Pick a headline/sub-header formatting style and stick to it. I recommend title case — in my opinion, it looks the most professional.
  9. Keep headlines and sub-headers short and snappy — treat them as an exercise in word economy.
  10. Include search-friendly keywords within your headline if doing so does not interfere with its readability.
  11. Don’t use the <h1></h1> tags within your post (they’ll be used for the header) and nest your sub-headers as appropriate (i.e. <h2></h2>, <h3></h3>, etc).
  12. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Get your thoughts down first and worry about how to package and present your post afterwards.
  13. Start every blog post with a short introduction (100-150 words as a rule of thumb) that clearly states what can be expected from reading the post.
  14. End every blog post with a conclusion that highlights the key point(s) made in the post and gives the reader a clear call to action (e.g. “Share your thoughts in the comments section below.”).
  15. Break up your content regularly with sub-headers (every 3-5 paragraphs or so).
  16. Make sure that your sub-headers are consistently phrased (see point six here).
  17. Write using short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple!
  18. Pare out all unnecessary words during the editing process. The fewer words you use, the better. As Strunk and White put it, unnecessary words should be omitted “for the same reasons that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
  19. Use bold to highlight key phrases (but use sparingly!).
  20. Use italics to add emphasis to a particular word.
  21. Use exclamation marks sparingly (and only ever use one (e.g. not “I am so excited!!!!”).
  22. Never use ALL CAPS (it seems like you’re shouting) and do not underline anything (it will look like a link).
  23. Always use apostrophes correctly — both in terms of indicating possession (e.g. “Tom’s blog”) and when abbreviating words (e.g. “you’re”).
  24. Don’t screw comma usage up. The simplest way to prevent this is to speak your writing aloud, as it is written, to determine whether the flow of the words are natural.
  25. Never use ampersands (&) in place of “and” (unless it’s called for, such as in a company name like Johnson & Johnson).
  26. Use hyphens (-) to create compound words and double hyphens (–) to create a break in a sentence.
  27. Do not use double hyphens as a replacement for commas — they are very different.
  28. Semicolons should only be used to separate two statements within a single sentence that are grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction (e.g. “I like KFC burgers; they’re really tasty.”). An easy test is to ask yourself if the two phrases could be separated by a period (i.e. “I like KFC burgers. They’re really tasty.”). If they could, use a semicolon.
  29. When creating links, it is only necessary to include title text if a further explanation of where the link directs to is necessary.
  30. Links that are supplementary to the post (e.g. a link to a longer definition of a particular word) should be set to open in new windows. Links that are intended to move the reader through to a separate part of the site (e.g. the next blog post in a series) should be set to open in the same window.
  31. Use lists whenever possible. They’re attractive to readers and make the text far easier to digest.
  32. Include plenty of graphical elements to break up the relative monotony of your text when possible: photographs, screenshots, blockquotes, tables, charts, and so on.
  33. Images should either be full width or half width (or slightly less) and aligned to the right.
  34. Images should never be aligned to the left — moving the left margin makes the reading process less comfortable.
  35. Make sure that your images aren’t too big (as a rule of thumb, they should be under 100kb and preferably far smaller).
  36. Only use Creative Commons images. My favorite resources are Compfight, Google Advanced Image SearchStock.XCHNG and Icon Finder.
  37. Always credit image authors — I recommend doing so at the bottom of your post in the following format: “Image Credit(s): Author Name
  38. Save images with descriptive file names (e.g. “red-car.jpg”).
  39. Use descriptive alt text for images (e.g. “Red car”).
  40. Don’t include an image for the sake of including an image. It should be in some way relevant to the post.
  41. Never use poor quality images.
  42. Always proof read your posts — ideally by speaking them aloud (you’re far more likely to notice mistakes this way).
  43. If you are able to, leave a post to “mature” overnight and come back to it the next day. You’re likely to want to make some further changes.
  44. Don’t use your spell check as a crutch and never assume it is always right (it isn’t).
  45. Always check the definition of any word you’re not sure about.
  46. Use a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary.
  47. If you can afford to, only write about topics that interest you. Doing otherwise will quickly make you jaded.
  48. Read a lot and write lot — doing so is the best way to become a better writer.
  49. Blogging should be an enjoyable pastime; don’t lose sight of why you’re doing it.
  50. Check out the comments section below for even more tips.

Your Turn

That’s it folks! The fifty most important tips for blogging that I could think of.

Now it’s your turn. I want the list on this page to ultimately be far more than fifty, and that’s where you come in. I don’t care if you’re brand new to blogging or an pro — share your own blogging tips with us in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Kristina B

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86 Responses to “The Blogger’s Style Guide: How to Write Stellar Blog Posts”

  1. Jawad Khan | WritingMyDestiny
    October 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

    “Write drunk, edit sober.” – absolutely spot on!

    Great post Tom

  2. John Gibb
    October 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    hey Tom

    The list is good “as is”, why would you want to expand on the ideas?

    I understand the ‘link bait’ reason behind these type of ‘resource’ posts… and they benefit readers. However, I prefer to write shorter (non list posts) and give practical advice.

    I mean one thing is to say what to do, and another thing is to reveal the HOW…

    Bloggers should balance ‘top list’ posts with ‘how-to’ guides, right? 🙂

    • Tom Ewer
      October 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Hi John,

      Because more ideas are better!

      I rarely write list posts here on LWB. This one is written as a list post because that is the best possible format for it. Also, I consider the tips to be highly practical.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  3. Teresa Bryan
    October 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I love Hemmingway quote as well.
    I am a beginner and haven’t jumped into the waters so to speak, but am interested in starting. All of the posts up to date have been informative and inspiring as well.

    I would add “Don’t be afraid to start!” or something to that effect. (Now to follow my own suggestion)

  4. Daryl
    October 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    How about – be unique?

  5. Debashish
    October 22, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Awesome tips, Tom. Thanks a lot.
    My natural style is, I write whatever I feel like talking about (drunk mode), no deletions, spell checks, or formatting. The next day, I do editing, paragraph rearrangements etc (sober mode). Sometimes, I find that I end up rewriting 80% of my posts on Day 2.
    It is a great boost of confidence for me that my natural style of writing posts appear as tips (12 and 43) in your list.

  6. Joe
    October 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Great list! I need to start following #2 more I think.

    Also: 24 Don’t screw comma usage up. What are your views on splitting infinitives?

    Joe

      • Joe
        October 25, 2013 at 7:45 am

        Fair enough! On a serious note, what about when you are referring to a filename or a tiny bit of code e.g.:

        Then open the content.php file and add this piece of code

        Normally I go with ‘content.php’ but I’ve seen people change the font. I know you can highlight chunks of text as code in WordPress but when its just a small bit, in a sentence, does anything need to be done?

        Thanks.

        • Tom Ewer
          October 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm

          You’re talking about either the pre or code tag. You can use the pre tag to distinguish that you a referring to a filename, but I don’t consider it necessary. The code tag is only intended to be used when writing code.

  7. Corey Pemberton
    October 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Tom,

    This is a great list post. Thanks for putting it together; I wish more beginning bloggers would read it! And thanks for pointing out #27. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and it’s little things like that that can slow the reader’s momentum and stop them from reading the rest of your posts.

    Good points, all around.

    Corey

  8. Moses Kerub
    October 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Why should I buy the Yahoo Style Guide anymore? 😉

  9. Razwana
    October 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Love this list, Tom.

    I would add: as well as brainstorming post ideas in bulk, writing more than one post ready for publishing takes the panic out of blogging – that panic when it’s posting day and the screen is blank!

    I disagree with 22. Caps and underlines are part of formatting for me, and are used to emphasise a point, just as bold or italics. I makes the reading more interesting. It comes down to audience (and personal) preference, I guess.

    – Razwana

    • Tom Ewer
      October 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Hey Razwana,

      That’s a very good suggestion!

      My points stand with regards to caps and underlining — I don’t think you can argue against the fact that some people will consider caps to be shouting and some people will think underlined text is a link. Why not just use bold and italics instead, which are universally known for their intended use?

      Cheers,

      Tom

    • Tom Ewer
      October 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Not to mention the fact that many freelance blogging clients will not be impressed by the use of all caps…

  10. Bon Crowder (@mathfour)
    October 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I swear, Tom, you are always talking about that whole title case thing (#8). And your big takeaway is always “pick one and stick with it.”

    Alas, I always think, “I pick one and stick with it in each post.”

    I like to flip between posts. Sometimes I do title case (when my subheadings are not complete sentences). And other times, when I use complete sentences for my headings, I use sentence case.

    I’m not sure if this violates Tom’s Law, but I just needed to say it out loud. (or type it…)

    Thanks again for good stuff!

    • Tom Ewer
      October 23, 2013 at 9:15 pm

      Interesting you should say that, because I have a real pet hate for sentence-long sub-headers. If you’re writing a whole sentence, it’s not really sub-header anymore, is it? It’s just a particularly large sentence in your post.

      So yes, it definitely violates Tom’s law 😉

      • Bon Crowder (@mathfour)
        May 8, 2015 at 11:07 am

        And I still do this, too. I figure, if you want the cliff’s notes version of my post, you can just read all the headers. It’s like a blog post in 3 short sentences.

        Right? Maybe not.

        Wrong? Probably not either.

        😀

  11. Lisa
    October 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    This is a great list – for many different forms of writing, not just blogging! To me, #5 is really the #1 Rule of Blogging (I feel like that requires title case 😉 ), mostly because it’s the one that many — maybe MOST — bloggers don’t understand. I certainly didn’t when I started blogging. For me, realizing that a post is ALWAYS about the reader, not the writer, was the epiphany that transformed my blogging. Even when you tell a story about yourself, you’re still writing about the reader. And being able to talk about yourself while still keeping it focused on the reader is the art of personal blogging in a nutshell.

    However, like Bon, I think shouting is totally okay in blogging if used intentionally and in moderation (and I also use it in blog comments, obviously…!). And although I agree you shouldn’t use an image randomly for the sake of having an image, I do think it’s pretty much always necessary to have at least one image. So I guess I do use images just for the sake of images — I just make sure they’re relevant.

    And although I have the greatest respect for Strunk & White (and also Yahoo!), if I were going to recommend just ONE reference guide for bloggers, it’d be Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks. I also really love Eat, Shoots and Leaves for grammar and style reference. Just because it’s funnier than S&W.

    Last, I usually just tell bloggers (including myself!) to NOT use semicolons, ever. Which is hard because I love semicolons. They’re actually my favorite punctuation mark (yes, I’m a grammar nerd). But I think they’re too formal for most blogs, so I try to resist. (Who was it that said, “If you feel the urge to use a semicolon, lie down until it goes away.”?)

    Oh! And here’s one to add to your list: pay attention to what your readers like, and write more of that. Watch your Google Analytics, and imitate your own success. If you write a post that does really well, analyze why it did well, and do that again.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 23, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      I have to ask: do you shout when you’re have a conversation with someone? If we sat down for a coffee would you tell me that “a post is ALWAYS about the reader”? If you shouted that bit I would think you most odd; what changes in the written form? (Couldn’t resist a semicolon there ;-))

      I’ve not read Headline Hacks so I’m going to do that now.

      Semicolons should be used at all possible opportunities. They’re awesome. We shouldn’t refrain from using them just because some people screw them up.

      And finally, good tip — thanks!

      Tom

  12. Vukasin
    October 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Hi Tom

    This post is awesome. Definitely agree that lists are much effecitive then only throwing ideas into huge posts. Everybody love to read the lists. My last 3 posts were lists and I notice that there are huge difference. More comments, more shares, more visits.

  13. Sylvia
    October 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    #25 Never use ampersands.

    Unless it’s part of your blogging style. Blogger Mayi Carles of heartmadeblog.com never uses the word “and”. She substitutes a plus sign for the word and. It’s her quirky thing.

    Don’t be afraid to break the rules; but remain consistent. (I was afraid to use a semi colon after reading #28.)

    #39 Use keywords as the alt text for images.

    Great article!

    • Tom Ewer
      October 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      Hey Sylvia,

      #25 I’ll give you that one, although I’m in danger of calling the grammar police 😉

      #39 I wish people would stop using keywords. The alt text should describe what the image is, not what words you would like it to rank for. Usability first, SEO second. Sorry — pet hate of mine 😉

      Cheers,

      Tom

  14. Tammy Tutterow
    October 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    A debate I have with a group of bloggers I manage:
    We write a lot of tutorials. Each text step is accompanied by a photo illustrating that text. I say that the accompanying text belongs under the photo, like a photo caption. My thought is that as you scoll down, you see the photo and then read the text. It gives you the mental picture as you read. Members of my team feel it should be text first so that you read first and then clarify what you read as move down to the photo.

    I have scoured the internet for a style guide that would give some direction over which would be more correct. What are your thoughts?

  15. @PamelaMKramer - A Renaissance Woman
    October 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Great tips but blogging style isn’t a one size fits all.

    Agree with Sylvia about #39. Use key words.

    Your image suggestion doesn’t work for me. There are entire workshops dedicated to creating pinnable images. For many bloggers that is their highest traffic resource.

    We alter our images for pinterest, descriptions within pinterest and top that off with a Twitter tweet. It’s all linked together.

    For example if I wanted to read your article for later.
    1.) You don’t have a Pinterest social share button in your line up.
    2.) I have to use my tool bar and capture your wordle.net image and when I pin it to my “Tips for bloggers” boards that doesn’t tell my followers anything other than “blogging.” I would have to copy and paste your title in the description box. Otherwise they wouldn’t come to read your article. 🙂

    If you prefer screen shots I have a post you can see here —> http://www.pamelamkramer.com/a-useful-tip-for-pinterest-descriptions

    • Tom Ewer
      October 23, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Hi Pamela,

      Don’t use keywords! Use a description of the image — that’s what the alt text is actually intended for (i.e. those who don’t have images turned on in their browser or who can’t see images will get a description instead).

      Admittedly, I was lazy with the alt text image in this post, but I’m trying to set a standard here (you know, do as I say but not as I do :-)).

      Cheers,

      Tom

  16. Kirsty Stuart
    October 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    This post is epic. I’ll be running through the whole thing time and again I’m sure.

    I agree with the italics and bold point, although I’ve recently installed a new theme on my blog and neither of these are showing on the front screen! I’ve had to resort to replacing italics with underlines this week! You’re right – it doesn’t look good. Eek.

    Anyway, I loved this list post Tom, so thanks.

  17. Jackson Anderson
    October 23, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Bang, straight to the bookmarked list!

    This is killer Tom, absolutely covers everything!

    Something I know I’m not doing which was mentioned on this list is the whole stuff, now my brief and probably incorrect understanding is these code benefit the SEO readability of your post?

    Do you have a particular reference that would be best in explaining that or shall I just get on google haha?

    Also totally agree regarding Bolt & Italics VS CAPITALS and underlines,
    I know when I write my first drafts out I use the capitals approach but come editing and formatting for WordPress I’ll change it to italics.

    One tip I don’t underestimate the value of, Thanks again Tom!

  18. Shamatae
    October 23, 2013 at 2:37 am

    This is great post and has me both inspired and excited to write my next week of posts. Thanks so much!

  19. Ragnar
    October 23, 2013 at 2:57 am

    For some reason it is hard for me to let a post mature overnight.. I need to stop being so impatient and just suck it up and let my writing be better for it.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 23, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      It aint easy — I wrote this then published it immediately 😉

      • Jackson Davies
        October 24, 2013 at 4:42 pm

        Hi Tom and Ragnar!

        If you’ve read anything from Darren Rowse who’s a bit like Tom on steroids (and from Australia) you’ll know that he likes to idea marinate his posts for 2 days. I think it is a wise strategy. I’ve had one particular post that I’ve been sitting on for a while because it just isn’t done 100% yet. I just hope it doesn’t end up like the second Duke Nukem. Fingers crossed!

  20. Susan C
    October 23, 2013 at 3:57 am

    Thank you for he list. I too am a beginner who hasn’t started :). Any day now …

  21. Laura Raisanen
    October 25, 2013 at 2:53 am

    Hi Tom,

    Ha ha, love that quote, it’s absolutely spot on!

    Great tips all around, I especially agree with being yourself and letting your personality shine through. That’s the way forward if you want to be unique and get your own voice across.

    I also can’t seem to leave it overnight until I publish a post. Usually I write it and carefully check it straight away and then it’s already published. Sometimes I leave it for a few hours but even then I’m itching to get it out!

    Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend!

    Laura

  22. Andrew M. Warner (@ Shadeofinfo)
    October 27, 2013 at 4:52 am

    Hi Tom,

    I think point number 5 is key however many people tend to write for the search engines and not for their target audience. Like you said, let your personality show through, you’re not writing a text book.

    AND YEAH, HOW ANNOYING WOULD THIS BE IF SOMEONE WROTE LIKE THIS FOR THEIR WHOLE BLOG POST. UNFORTUNATELY, I’VE SEEN A FEW BLOGS DO THIS.

    But overall, some very great points here

  23. Andrew M. Warner (@ Shadeofinfo)
    October 27, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Oh and I think that you should always give as much information as you possibly could. Giving as much information is something alot of people don’t do. They have a broad topic and choose to write only 400 – 600 words on it. But while doing that, then don’t put as much key information as needed leaving the post virtually incomplete.

    Not sure if you’ll agree with me on that point but I’ve experienced that alot of times.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 29, 2013 at 10:42 am

      I definitely agree, although the key is to do so while still being concise. If you can cover everything that needs to be covered in 600 words, then don’t feel the need to write any more.

  24. Iain
    October 27, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Awesome style guide Tom.

    One word on the usage of a thesaurus, people should be really careful not to be too wordy by using words that you wouldn’t normally use.

    You can make yourself sound like an ass if you use ridiculous words.

  25. Tom Southern
    October 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Ah writing … grammar … hmm … Always bound to get a good response. I surprise myself with how much I’m riled by how spelling, style, etc. is mistaken for grammar by a lot of people.

    But more importantly, Style is personal. Not just to writers but to their audiences. Style comes from not worrying about whether your apostrophes are in the right place or not. It comes from letting your character and personality mingle with your message to entertain people. This comes with practice.

    And then there’s the Atlantic in between whether you put a comma before the word “and” or not and stuff like that where discussions on grammar are concerned.

    Your tip to read out loud as a editing tool is a good one. Certainly works for me (most of the time).

    All in all, the best cure for writing understandable and good content is to read a lot. Good writing in all its guises rubs off on you then.

    • Tom Ewer
      October 29, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Hi Tom,

      “Style comes from not worrying about whether your apostrophes are in the right place or not.” Did you really mean that? I think it’s entirely possible to write with style while still having respect for the English language. While the rules can certainly be bent to allow for artistic style, misplacing apostrophes can be nothing other than a grammatical error.

      Cheers,

      Tom

      • Tom Southern
        October 30, 2013 at 10:22 am

        Yes, good English matters. I’m not for bending rules. But Style and English are two separate things. I think people think English plays too big a part in moulding their style. That’s what I meant by not worrying about apostrophes while shaping style and keeping the two separate.

        Of course, what you write needs to make sense. And yes, I laugh at those signs whose meanings are changed by apostrophe misuse and graffiti whose angst message is crumpled by misspellings too.

        But you can have excellent English and lack style (character, engaging writing, etc.). Equally, you can have excellent English and great style.

  26. Zippywriter
    November 1, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Tom! These are excellent tips. Thank you for sharing your invaluable insight. Always entertaining and educational to read your posts. Best wishes! 🙂

  27. Leandro Thomas
    January 19, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Great style guide and still extremely valid today. Refer to it all the time.

  28. catrinel
    April 29, 2015 at 8:40 am

    “The less words you use, the better.”

    I’m sure both Strunk and White would agree that, especially in an essay on style, the “fewer” words you use, the better.

    http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk3.html

  29. Bon Crowder (@mathfour)
    May 8, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Boy howdy, I’ve missed you.

    Just googled to find your bold vs. italics rules. Thanks again for having this list of other guidelines too!

    #comebacktohouston

    #IknowPlanesGoBothWays

    #xoxo

  30. Judy
    May 23, 2016 at 6:57 am

    It was a concise, to the point, no BS education and I enjoyed every single word!

    Many thanks for the guidance. I just wrote what I consider a better article than I’ve written in a very long while.

    Must be something I drank!

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