Fine tune your blog: missions and writing styles
Author’s bio: Maria Nedeva is the blogger behind The Money Principle: a personal finance blog that will ‘make your head hurt and your wallet sing’. There she writes about money management, wealth and the changing rules of money.
There is no point beating around the bush: we bloggers want to be read.
In fact, it doesn’t matter whether we blog for fun, for love or for money – our writing is meaningful only when someone reads it.
Lately, people have little time to read and many sources to choose from. So every time we, bloggers, write and publish something we are in intense competition with each other, with journalists, with reality TV, with the movies and with a myriad other entertainments which temp our potential readers.
Recently I had a chat with a lady, a former journalist, who now works for a website in the UK. Our amicable chat became a friendly debate at the moment she shared her belief that within five to ten years all small personal finance bloggers will disappear – and let me tell you, compared to the site she works for we are all small – because they couldn’t compete on two counts: resources and professionalism.
She was saying that to dig up information is expensive and needs much work by many people; small players don’t have the resources to put behind this so people will stop finding them useful.
Her second point was about the quality of investigation and writing referring to the fact that top journalists are starting to work for major websites – how can ‘one man and his/her dog’ compete with that? How can hobbyist-bloggers reach the level of professionalism that trained and seasoned journalists have?
You have probably guessed I didn’t agree with that; I even insisted on splitting up the bill and paying my part (for a personal finance blogger this is sign of great upset, I think). But my argument was messy and my thinking fuzzy. I just found myself muttering lamely:
‘But I don’t compete on information. People read my blog because of other things…stuff…’
What these ‘other things’ are was left open; I don’t like unfinished business. So, trying to figure out why people read my blog, and any blogs at all, in preference or in parallel to large websites and on-line newspapers, I came up with the following.
Any blog can be described along three different dimensions: thematic niche, missions and style.
Identifying your niche and targeting your blog is important, there is no way around that. But so much has been written about it that I’ll leave it to you to learn about (if you already are not very knowledgeable about it).
Here I’ll do something that you have probably not heard so much about: I’ll tell you what the three possible missions of any blog are, how these match particular writing styles and what does this mean for your blog…and for long term survival of us bloggers.
What is your blog’s mission?
From what I’ve seen, generally blogs develop around a combination of three key missions, namely they aim to inform, educate and entertain.
- Inform: These are the blogs that offer predominantly information (facts) and arguing a position, discussion and/or analysis are secondary and come only after that (if at all). In personal finance, this mission (approach) is popular with some frugality/deals/couponing blogs, some investment blogs and really large sites. It’s worth mentioning though that the really large sites – like the MoneySavingExpert.com in the UK – can afford to have sections of mainly ‘facts’ and also include loads of analysis and discussion.
- Educate: These are the blogs the focus of which is on providing analysis, discussion and explanation of some aspect of life, work and ‘the universe’. Interestingly, the emphasis of these kind of blogs is not on new ‘facts’ but on offering new ‘interpretations’ or views of the world and human behaviour. Hence, the ‘personal’ and personal conviction matter immensely as does the clarity and distinctiveness of the message that the author aims to convey. Most personal development and personal finance blogs will fall under this category and particularly good examples here are FinancialSamurai and MrMoneyMustache. Both sites have a clear and distinctive message and do an exceptional job of presenting complex notions in understandable ways.
- Entertain: These blogs aim to entertain as much, or even more than, they aim to educate or inform. Their voice is distinctive and the author is irreplaceable (these are different to outsource and keep going without the initial author). They can be serious, they can be humorous but they are always very good value as entertainment. Examples are provided by two of my favourites: BudgetsAreSexy and LenPenzo.com.
I am yet to read a blog that has only one of these three mission and only informs, educates or entertains. I am not saying there are no such blogs; just that I don’t read them. And you probably don’t either.
This is all about emphasis and one thing that jumps out immediately is that if the emphasis of your blog is on information you are competing with journalists, embarrassingly large websites and online newspapers. Do you really want to do that?
What is your blog’s style?
No, this is not about the secrets of good writing; important as these are, they are not going to help you position and fine tune your blog.
This is about the three main writing styles that are used by blogs. These are:
- Academic style: Generally, this is a bit more ‘dry’ style of writing where frequent recourse to authority is made. Arguments are sustained and messages conveyed through logic; feelings and personal preferences are kept at bay.
- Story telling: This is a much more ‘colourful’ writing style that not only allows, but welcomes feelings in. Messages are conveyed through stories but still there is a preference for the ‘universal’: the story isn’t directly an immediately about something you have experienced. Even when it is, the message is more general than the occurrence and it is clearly articulated through the story.
- Diary: This writing style works as a chronological and continuous record of daily events.
Each of these writing styles can work and there are examples of very successful blogs using them. However, the one to watch is the ‘diary’ style: this can easily drift into the trivially mundane if you don’t really live a super exciting life, are not a wonderfully exciting person or are not just using this as a style rather than a ‘faithful record’.
How to use missions and style to fine tune your blog?
Okay, here is the thing:
Different missions and writing styles have to fit together.
Let me show you what I mean.
This means that:
- If the primary mission of your blog is to inform you really have to get to grips with the ‘academic’ style of writing;
- ‘Academic’ writing style can be used when educating; as a side note, I am not convinced how effective this is;
- Storytelling is an appropriate writing style when you aim to educate and entertain; you can also convey information through storytelling but this is secondary, it is part of educating;
- ‘Diary’ writing is appropriate primarily when your aim is to entertain; it can be used to educate as well but it is not as effective as ‘story telling’;
- Finally, it is very hard, if not impossible, to entertain using ‘academic’ style and to inform using ‘diary’ writing style.
Any blog ought to, in different measures, inform, educate and entertain. We can get the ‘measure’ somewhat distorted though.
When I looked at The Money Principle, I realised that we mainly educate and entertain using storytelling and ‘academic’ writing style. If we’d like to become an universal destination rather than ‘just another blog’ we will have to do a bit more on the ‘informing’ side.
You may have forgotten but this started because of a debate I had with a journalist about how small blogs can compete with the large sites and online publications. Here is my answer:
‘Blogs can compete by offering an unique blend of informing, educating and entertaining the reader. Bloggers will thrive when they find their own blend and match it with mastery of writing style.’
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Updated for 2017 and beyond.