On reading notes, blog posts and tweets

Posted: October 1, 2014 in About reading & writing blogs

I hope the exercise we did in class this week – capturing the essence of each paper in one tweet – got you thinking about how to write smartly and concisely. I would like to challenge you to adopt the same approach when you write your reading notes and blog posts.

In your reading notes, aim for quality, not quantity. Write one “tweet” that summarizes the main point of the reading rather than 2 rambling paragraphs that make me wonder whether you understood what you read. Capture the essence. The reading notes I ask for are not a simple summary of what you read. That’s too easy. You can keep a summary for yourself if it helps you, but what I ask for is an assessment – thinking about those ideas and deciding which one is the most important. As you saw in class, that’s not easy – it requires more thinking, less writing. Let that be your mantra:

More thinking, less doing. Work smart.

For your blog posts, which I have really enjoyed reading, I invite you to become familiar with blogging culture and expectations. I feel that most of you expect way more of yourselves than blogging requires. I asked you about this yesterday, but didn’t get answers, so I don’t know if my feeling is correct…

Not every blog post needs to be smart and well-documented. It is OK to post a short commentary, an example, a half-baked thought that shows us what you’re thinking about. It’s OK to keep blog posts short, concise, and smart. It’s OK to keep each sentence short, concise, and smart. Academic writing is notoriously bad. Unlearn it.

In academese, the writer’s chief goal is to defend himself against the accusation that he is naïve about his own enterprise. So academics describe what other academics do instead of what they study (“In recent years there has been increased interest in X”). They use many metaconcepts—concepts about concepts, like level, perspective, framework, and approach—instead of writing “call the police,” they write, “approach this problem from a law-enforcement perspective.” They turn verbs into nouns—instead of writing, “People cooperated more,” they write, “Levels of cooperation increased.” And they sprinkle their prose with hedges—somewhat, virtually, partially—in an attempt to get off the hook should anyone ever try to prove them wrong.  – Harvard Psychologist Steven Pinker, from his book that came out yesterday and that I can’t wait to read.

So, tell me. In your understanding, what makes good writing? What makes good writing for blog posts?

  1. When I write blog posts and tweets, I always try to let my personality come through in them. While I spend a lot of time on them, I try to make them seem relatively casual and sprinkle in jokes and sarcasm. Mostly I try to be funny or witty (some would say I achieve neither) and create a blend of information and entertainment – #infotainment.

    I do have a habit of getting a tad verbose though. I saw a brilliant quote that probably applies to this very comment, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

  2. esidnam says:

    This post was helpful for me, because all of the blog writing I have done in the past has been for clients as a Copy Writer. For those blogs, my criteria had been to create well-documented, well-written blogs that involve research, external links, SEO, unique images, attention to voice, and a couple rounds of copy editing. I have been enforcing many of these criteria on my own blog, but it’s made it difficult to turn out posts quickly. Also, I am still trying to find my own unique voice as a blogger, and I know that will take time. On one hand, I am happy with the quality of my posts because of my criteria, but I think I need to learn to be more comfortable with limiting my criteria to a post that includes at least one unique/thought or commentary and is written well.

  3. DMCrim says:

    In my blog post, I have tried to provide enough information for readers to understand what I am talking about without sounding boring (or so I hope). Sometimes I save drafts of blogs because I don’t think I have enough information to post – so now I know that is okay and I can / should post these blogs even if they are short! This is my first time blogging so I am still getting the hang of it and the proper etiquette. Thanks for clarifying!

  4. Kellin T. says:

    The goal with my blog is to write something that I would want to read, something that would spark — and hold — my interest as a reader. I want to write something that provides useful information and/or ideas, but I don’t necessarily want it to be written on the level of a manuscript I would submit for publication. In my opinion, the dissemination of information in certain arenas can be just as fun and approachable as it useful. This is what I strive for when writing my blog.

  5. jaredmwright says:

    Hmm, I must say I’m am mostly accustomed to writing academically, so I tend to approach my blog this way. I have been focused on “crafting my professional image” so I hold it a very high standard, but also on topics I think are entertaining. I will try to use less academese and inject more personality.

  6. joygreenleaf says:

    This blog is so helpful!!! Before I read it, I constantly struggle on my blog topics, the tone, the length etc. I am totally with Jared, I paid too much attention to “craft a professional image” so I tried to carefully select the topics (add values to my audience), incorporate graphs and pictures (spice up the blog), cite multiple sources (improve credibility) and write in a professional tone (professional image). Because I use these criteria, blogging is “weekly essay” to me. Honestly, I did not enjoy it. When I found something interesting, instead of blog about it, I try to read other related articles to form an “unbiased” opinion before I start to blog. It is sometimes very painful. Before I know enough about it, I cannot blog; and after I knew enough to form an opinion, the issue is no longer as current, so it will not add as much value (so I have to abandon the topic and go back to my cycle). Thank you for this post, Dr. V!

  7. joygreenleaf says:

    And questions: what exactly is a blogging voice?