Writing Tips for Genealogy Bloggers

blog writing

Over the past few days I’ve been in conversation, via e-mail, with one of our new genealogy bloggers from the UK – Caroline Gurney. Caroline’s new blog is entitled Caro’s Family Chronicles and she told me that while she’s found many helpful tips on the GeneaBloggers site, especially in the Blog Resources section, there wasn’t much on the topic of how to write a blog post.

Often I get the best ideas for new features or items at GeneaBloggers from these types of dialogs with members and readers. So here is my list of writing tips for genealogy bloggers, not just for Caroline but also all our new members (we did add 40 new genealogy blogs last week, after all!):

  • Pay Attention to Post Titles. Use an engaging post title, one that will make a potential reader click and read the post. This is important since many use Google Reader or another blog aggregator to read blog posts. Also, from an SEO (search engine optimization) standpoint, include one or more keywords at the start of the post title. An example: Genealogy of Taylor Family rather than Taylor Family Genealogy.  Doing so will help your blog rank higher in Google and other search engines for that keyword.
  • Keep It Brief. The rule of thumb for most blogs including genealogy blogs is to have no more than three to four paragraphs of text in your blog posts. Why? I think this has more to do with a trend towards what I call “sound bites,” “snippets” and “scanning” by Internet users.  More and more folks want to be able to quickly absorb the issues in a post and can do so better with short posts. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing from a family history perspective but I’ve learned to “go with the flow” so to speak. One tip: break a long post into a series of posts with the text “Part One,” “Part Two” etc. in the title.  This will keep readers coming back for more.
  • Make Your Reader Think. Some of the best writing – for blogs and other media – is that which makes the reader stop and think. It makes the post personal to the reader, and can force them to evaluate their own situation relative to that in the blog post. This can also be done by engaging the reader in a dialog and soliciting their input.
  • Use Headings. Declare a topic for a specific paragraph or set of paragraphs with a bold heading. Your blog post will look better in terms of formatting and organization and your reader can quickly scroll down to a specific section.
  • Stay Current. One trick bloggers use to make sure their posts get noticed is to discuss a current news or entertainment item relative to family history.  Example: with the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, discuss any royal weddings in your family (if you are lucky enough to have a royal connection) or discuss how you had watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer back in July, 1981. Or discuss The Great Recession and its issues relative to your family’s experience with The Great Depression in the 1930s.
  • Engage In Dialog. Take a look at the end of this very post. I’m asking readers for their own blog writing tips. Not only does this result in some great ideas entered in the comment section, but it also can result in link backs to your post from other blogs. And dialog builds community – it allows those with similar interests yet dissimilar opinions discuss a specific topic.
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Have An Opinion. As my mother used to say, “G_d gave you a voice so use it!” Posting family history is fine, but discuss your thoughts, your perceptions, your opinion as well.
  • Mix It Up. For most of us, there are many areas we want to cover in writing about our family history and sometimes it is difficult to stay focused. This is were blogging prompts like the Daily Blogging Prompts here at GeneaBloggers can come in handy.
  • Use Images. I almost never create a blog post without some type of image or icon which conveys the topic of the post. Why? Not only does the visual catch the attention of a potential reader, but with certain blog templates and functions (especially a “related posts” gadget”), the thumbnail of the image can attract the reader to click and explore. Make sure you use your own images, secure permission from those who own the copyright to images, or use copyright-free images.
  • Editorial Calendar. To stay organized, think about creating an editorial calendar, much the way magazine editors and professional authors do. Take a week or a month and plan your posts for that period. This also allows you to pre-post especially for those times when you are on vacation or too busy to write.

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Don’t forget that there are several genealogy blogs dedicated to family history writing with many tips and tricks. Check out the entire list here. Also,  in short order we’ll add a Resources for Writing Skills page over at Blog Resources.

Finally, what blog writing tips do you have, especially for our new bloggers? Any strategies to share? How is blog post writing different than other forms of writing? Let us know in the comments or post at your own genealogy blog and place a link to the post in the comments.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

NEHGS Announces Winter Weekend Research Getaway – Effective Use of Technology

New England Historic Genealogical Society - 6th Floor Library

[Editor's Note: the following information was received from the New England Historic Genealogical Society and it looks like a great educational event!]

Winter Weekend Research Getaway – Effective Use of Technology

Thursday, January 27th –  Saturday January 29th 9:00AM- 5:00PM
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 Newbury St.
Boston MA, 02116

NEHGS Weekend Research Getaways combine personal, guided research at the NEHGS Research Library with themed educational lectures to create a unique experience for every participant. Personal consultations with NEHGS genealogists throughout the program allow visitors to explore their own genealogical projects, under the guiding hand of the nation’s leading family history experts.

Our Winter Research Getaway, “Effective Use of Technology,” offers a variety of lectures surrounding “best practices” in using technology including researching online, software, and other topics relevant to any genealogist.

For more information, visit our website at www.AmericanAncestors.org, or call Joshua Taylor at 617-226-1226.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Recap – Cover It Live Chat at Practical Archivist

Cover It Live

This afternoon, between 12:00 pm and 1:30 pm CDT, Sally Jacobs – The Practical Archivist – hosted a web chat entitled Help for the Accidental Archivist over at her Practical Archivist blog. It was a huge success and I wanted to post some information concerning the process and the technology used.

  • I was honored to serve as Sally’s “wingman” as it were.  More like an Ed McMahon to her Janey Carson.  Basically, Sally needed someone to capture all the questions from the participants, moderate them to make sure they were appropriate and on point, and then feed them to her one at a time so she could provide answers.
  • Cover It Live has two type of users – paneltists/producers and participants.  The panelists/producers are allowed to comment and add content while the comments of participants are moderated and approved by a producer.
  • Both Sally and Miriam utilize the free version of Cover It Live which does have limitations on the number of participants and panelists/producers.  The limit is 25 panelists/producers who can have full access and up to 25 participants using the Always Allow feature to publish comments.
  • Cover It Live has a premium version with no such limits, but you must either purchase a subscription or you can use the free premium version but must allow Cover It Live to display advertising on the console used by panelists/producers and participants.
  • As a facilitator, my job was to note the questions, place them in the “holding queue” and then privately message the person asking the question letting them know that their question was in the queue.  Also, I had to keep tabs on Sally answering questions so I could then “approve” the next question for her to answer and for the other participants to see.
  • You can see the entire transcript of the 90 minute chat by visiting Sally’ blog post about the chat here.  I also copied the entire content and pasted it into a Word document for Sally to use.  Most likely she will produce a PDF with some live links to resources.  Look for it soon at her blog.

Overall, this was a great event and a great example of an information professional (genealogist, librarian, historian, archivist) leveraging new technology in order to give back to the genealogy community.

As co-chair of the Virtual Presentation Committee of the Genealogical Speakers Guild, Sally afforded me a unique opportunity to use the Cover It Live platform.  I’ll be adding my notes and insights to the GSG benchmark documents to be released in early 2011.  If you are a genealogist interested in learning more about virtual presentations, I urge you to join GSG – we are working hard to develop a set of best practices and recommendations on presentation platforms for genealogy speakers to use.

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee