Dec 10 2009

Guidelines for Writing Successful Blog Posts

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Guidelines for writing a good blog post

1) Be original.
A post should represent your own thinking about the reading you have been doing thus far. Although your personal interpretation of any text might be influenced by things said in class, or by other things you have read, try to parse out what you think and write about that. You can certainly respond to what others have said (your professor, your classmates, a literary critic, your high school teacher), but make sure that if you do mention something that someone else has said, you need to give credit to that source.

2) Make some kind of claim.
It’s great to have emotional responses to texts, and there are a lot of emotions to be stirred up by Moby Dick (terror, rage, fear, boredom – the works!). You can certainly mention your emotional response to the text, but try not to build an entire post around ONLY this emotional response. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to be bored by a passage on, for example, try pots in Moby Dick. But once you’ve noted that this passage bores you, you then need to move on from there to talk about what might be redeeming or important or critical about this passage.

If you can’t bring yourself to see anything redeeming or important in the passage, then ask yourself WHY you are bored by this passage: is it because of its attention to technical detail? Well, then, comment on the amazing amounts of technical detail, which, though overwhelmingly bored you, might be something important or significant to notice. Or were you bored because you thought Melville was writing in language that seemed distant, off-putting, or overly fancy? Well, think about why such overly fancy language might be exactly what Melville wanted to use, and give examples of his language (focus on one word or two, and think about why those words are used over and above other, more simple ones. Do they serve to represent big ideas, perhaps?).

Once you’ve gotten past the emotional response and are now on to something a bit more critical, remember that you should be using this post to write something that makes a claim, a statement, an argument. You don’t merely want to make observations. For instance, let’s say you notice two things about a passage in Moby Dick: a) it bored you and didn’t seem at all interesting; b) it was about the artistic representation of whales. It’s important to notice these two things and to make these observations – then, it’s just as important (maybe more so) to move on from these observations and analyze them. Why didn’t the passage seem interesting (was it the language or the level of detail?), and why is it about the artistic representation of whales? And why should the reader (you or others) care? Your blog responses should do more than just notice – they should show the boldness of your thinking. Your blog post should be more than a Facebook status update (which are mostly observations) and more like a long email to a friend with whom you like to discuss weighty, philosophical matters about life.

3) Make it simple, direct, clear.
A blog is a public forum. It is not a paper that travels from your desktop to your professor’s hands – it remains in the public domain. This particular blog is using a shareable, open source platform, which is open to the entire Vassar population. Therefore, you need to think about the quality of your written expression. Think about your tone – is it casual? Too friendly? Not friendly enough? Too personal? Not accessible enough? Think about your language choices: Are your words too long and fancy? Is your language too jargony? Think about your paragraph order: Are you writing in a stream-of-consciousness style where you move about from idea to idea? Or are you more careful, moving paragraphs around so that ideas move logically from one to the next? Think about your grammar, punctuation, usage: are you using clear, simple, direct sentences with little punctuation? Are you varying sentence length to keep things interesting? Are you using commas and semi-colons properly, without mixing them up too much?
Remember to keep your writing simple and remember to PROOFREAD BEFORE YOU POST.

4) Give proper attribution
Provide a link, a web address, or URL, and use MLA style citations, whenever and whatever you quote, even if you quote from the text for our class (Moby Dick). Quotes can come from any source: something mentioned in class, something else you read, a website, Wikipedia, class lecture, YOU MUST CITE YOUR SOURCE.
Citing is a two step process. First, you must always make sure you are citing within the body of the post itself (these are called parenethetical citations). Then, at the end of the post, if you quoted from ANYWHERE (the novel, a website, another source), you need to include a bibliographic citation. An in-text parenthetical citation looks like this:

The novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville begins with the famous phrase, “Call me Ishmael” (1).

Notice how the parenthetical citation includes only the page number; that’s because the author’s name is mentioned in the sentence itself. Normally, if you are quoting from several sources, you would include the name of the author and the page number (Melville 1). If you quote from a website, or another source without pages, you still need to provide the author’s name and, if you can, the date. For more information on how to cite properly, both in the body of the text and in the MLA style bibliography (called a “Works Cited”), please refer to the following website:

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