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

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Comments

8 thoughts on “Writing Tips for Genealogy Bloggers

  1. Know your topic, and have a beginning, middle and end. I guess the next thing would be don’t jump around, stick with the subject so it all goes with the title. Oh yes, proof at least twice.

  2. Focus on content. Not twirly things, not gimmicks, not link exchanges (especially not those!)…just content.

    All the goofy stuff isn’t going to help if your content isn’t compelling…and if your content IS compelling, you won’t need the goofy stuff.

    Make human connections with people and write good stuff. That’s really the most important thing to know about blogging.

    (Pictures are good too though)

  3. I always write in Word and then later I paste my stories into the blogger website. This gives me a chance to really slow down and think. I prewrite lots of posts ahead of time, and then enter them into Blogger about a week ahead of time. Some stories take weeks or months to finish, others I can write in fifteen minutes. All my stories are saved in folders by the month, with the biggest folder being my unfinished stories! I have a large folder for images, too, which I save as I go along, knowing I’ll use them eventually. This way, if I need to, I can email a story to relatives, experts or curators elsewhere for some feedback before I put it on the blog.

  4. My writing process is very much like Heather’s – from Word to Blogger. I imagine myself talking to a friendly interlocutor, write it down, edit out 5 to 30 percent of the unnecessary material, and add whatever is needed to make it flow more smoothly and logically. And, as Barbara said, proof it at least twice. I write down ideas and as much of a beginning as I can whenever I get new ideas – have a folder full of those. I add pictures when I have good ones, but otherwise I focus on content and writing style rather than taking time I don’t have to search for graphics.

  5. I have a folder called Posts-Drafts for works in progress which I write in Word. I also have a folder for photos and artwork that I am slowly collecting (with information for credits where appropriate).

    Once I’ve got a post written and proofed, I move it over to Blogger and put the finishing touches on (such as links). Then I proof it again.

    I schedule a lot of my posts. I really like the idea of an editorial calendar so I’ll have to start working on that!

    Also, I try to keep with 3-5 paragraphs and around 500 words or less. If it needs to be longer, I make the article into a series. Short is definitely better.

  6. Thank you so much, Thomas, for these really helpful tips and thank you also to everyone who contributed their ideas in the comments. Now I need to put them all into practice. I’m extremely new to blogging but enjoying it immensely. Geneabloggers is proving to be an excellent source of help and inspiration for me.

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