Raising the Tone

Regular readers will know that I’m an avid blogger; I produce an entry every week come rain, shine or public holiday.

Always open to an alternative point of view, however, I clicked on a sponsored post a couple of weeks ago about the topic of how blogging doesn’t lead to book sales. Sponsored posts are usually an indicator of quality, often containing persuasive text and statistics to support the blogger’s point of view.

In this case, an author was selling a book via Kindle about how to increase Kindle sales, but using what amounted to a 3,700-word rant. I then headed to the author’s Amazon page to read what others had to say about this guy; the consensus was that the information was useful, but they objected to some unnecessary and offensive material within the text. In short, the writer had adopted the wrong tone.

Judging the tone of a piece can be a tricky business. Something meant in a satirical or sarcastic manner can be interpreted as serious or libellous, and that’s partly why I believe it’s important to take a break from a piece and to look at it later with fresh eyes.

But this sponsored post wasn’t a one-off piece written on a bad day. Everywhere this author had been published, there appeared the same attitude and the same comments. The reason I’m not linking to his site isn’t to do with the tone of that page; he’s also a pickup artist, so I’d rather not drive any more traffic there.

Fortunately, there are countless other examples available. I’d like to single out the Washington Post as having a particular problem. Consider these two headlines, published around six months apart:

In both cases, we have an accusation. Firstly, the reader is told they know nothing about US Independence Day. Secondly, it’s the sub-headline that causes a problem; it assumes that the reader has no mental impairment. This is a deliberate move from the publication to anger the reader and therefore generate a click.

And it works. An excellent article from Wired lays out the psychology behind emotional responses, and it’s noted that other emotions also attract readers. Some websites follow a two-sentence structure designed to entice curiosity without revealing too many details; a journalist from Poynter explains how Upworthy headlines operate.

What I haven’t been able to find is why we as a culture haven’t collectively learnt to ignore these sensationalist tactics, just as many users have become selectively blind to banner and sidebar advertising.

In my years of running this blog, I probably haven’t judged my tone correctly in every single entry. However, I always aim to bring people on board by moderating my words in such a way that people are engaged, not outraged.

Looking back over the last three months, each week has attracted between two and eight presses of the Like button, plus the occasional new follower. I’d much rather have two engaged readers than have a hundred people visit, be offended, and leave permanently.

Advertisements

Helping @SuitedSorted Improve His Blog, and Hints for Everyone Else.

I hadn’t written a response blog for years, and now this is my second in a fortnight. But this time, it was requested.

Scott Graham runs Suited Sorted on Blogspot, where he has recently re-focused on Android technology, although he has back entries discussing music, television, holidays, and weight loss. He has asked for some constructive criticism about the page, and with ten years’ blogging experience, I reckon I’m qualified to pass on some tips.

Tone, spelling, and grammar

Scott wonders if he’s a little too conversational. There’s a certain style that many bloggers go for, whether they mean to or not. The closest off-line equivalent is an opinion column in a newspaper. You’re telling the reader your view on a particular matter, but using everyday spoken words. For instance, you’ll say asked for rather than requested, or use contractions like can’t instead of cannot.

Cartoon about spelling mistakes in blogs
Thats verry true

But this isn’t a licence to spell words any old way, or leave out punctuation where it’s needed. Almost every piece of blogging software has a spellchecker. Spelling extensions are available for Firefox and Chrome, most mobile phones have the facility built-in, and the latest edition of Microsoft Word even lets you post to WordPress directly. If the reader doesn’t have to decode what you’re trying to tell them, your message will come across much stronger.

Scott, you’re doing fine on that front.

Layout

Newspapers and magazines learnt early on that long articles do not translate well to the Web. When you’re reading a three-page printed interview, your neck automatically moves downwards as your eyes follow the text, where scrolling down with your hands requires more conscious effort. A normal screen – not an e-ink display – is also brighter than a page, so it’s harder to read from.

That’s why I restrict my paragraphs to about three to six lines, and leave a clear line between each one. A lot of people will give up reading a wall of text, if they attempt it at all.

Your paragraphs can be quite long, Scott, but certainly not the dreaded wall.

Attracting attention

Using the site analytics tools on WordPress, I’ve found that my posts attract more attention and reaction if I post them between around 6pm and 10pm Monday to Friday. Entries made at any time on Saturday or Sunday simply don’t seem to be noticed. Certain tags also seem to generate interest, while others have no effect.

For years, I posted with LiveJournal and tagged my entries. I very much accepted that hardly anyone except my friends read the page, as they were the only ones to comment. But when I moved to WordPress, I realised I’d been missing out on this vital piece of analysis. Everyone will be different, and some will find that daytime or weekend posts work for them.

So keep tagging your entries, Scott, and have a look at Blogspot’s analysis tools to find out exactly when people are reading you. I hope you’ve found this critique helpful.

To everyone else, I’ll be pleased if any of my suggestions help you with your own blogging.