Blogs: July 2007 Archives

Blog Writing Tips for Students and Others

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You've started a blog, but now what? I've been getting some questions from people about what they should put in their blogs, so I thought I would begin compiling some blog writing tips.

DECIDE YOUR THEME

There are lots of good blogging models out there including personal diaries, social commentaries, news updates, research notes, notes on different hobbies, project announcements and corporate update blogs. However, it's generally recommended that you pick a theme and stick with it.

Once you pick a theme for your blog, you may find it is easier to start writing. One of the nice features of the Blogs at Penn State is that you can begin more than one blog, so you can decide if you want to separate different aspects of your life or keep them together.

GENERAL TIPS

1. Use standard English spelling or punctuation. These conventions make text easier to read and scan.

2. On the of the other hand, you want may your blog style to be a little "looser" than a formal academic or work writing genre...even if your blog is course or work-related. People are hopefully reading your blog to see what YOU think.

3. Include links to other sites to back up your opinions or verify facts. If you believe Joe Paterno is the greatest football coach ever...link to some sports articles to back you up.

4. Length is tricky. Short entries are good, especially for quick news items or links, but many successful bloggers write entries about the size of a front-page Daily Collegian article. If you writing as an "expert", you do want to provide enough detail to show your knowledge.

5. Use subsections for longer entries.

6. Remember that blogs are public. You are free to write whatever you want, but remember that a future employer (or a parent) could be reading your entries.

7. Now go ahead and write. It may take you a while to find your "voice," but it will usually come in time. If it's a personal blog, you may find yourself deleting entries, but that is part of the learning process.

8. The "Unpublished" setting is a great tool for drafts. Some blog entries may take a bit of time to compose, but if your entry's Status is set to "Unpublished", you can save often without posting it to the public.

TIPS FOR COURSE-RELATED OR WORK-RELATED BLOGS

You may choose (or be asked to) write a blog for a course or some aspect of your work at Penn State. Here are some tips that may help you get started.

1. If you are asked to do a blog, ask what kinds of information the person is looking for. An instructor may even provide style guidelines.

2. Maintain a professional tone. It's OK to express an opinion, but you may wish to be careful of how you frame negative comments. These are public blogs, so you never know who may be reading...

3. Longer posts may be OK. In many blogs about research, course work, or work-related issues, the reader may be looking for a more detailed analysis than if he or she were reading a personal blog.

4. Use tags or categories. This will help readers find previous articles in the topics they are interested in. The more professional a blog's theme is, the more important it is to archive content by topics.

LINKS

Blogs and Accessibility

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I was in a meeting yesterday with Bill Welsh of the Office for Disability Services along with Christian Vinten-Johansen, Dave and Wendy to discuss accessibility of new technologies including blogs.

How accessible were the blogs? Fairly accessibile, but with some quirks.

POSITIVES
* Movable Type incorporates comprehensible ALT Tags for image icons
* Movable Type generates well structured XHTML which makes it easier for screen reader users to navigate a blog posting
* Tabbed browsing is enabled, even in the side buttons (you have to keep tabbing though)
* Entry forms fields were generally well labelled for screen reader access
* Color contrast is generally good from the entry side. Color variation in post themes are more variable, but good contrast themes are available

GOTCHAS
The big gotcha was all the embedded Javascript included in the code. It's not clear how a screen reader would be able to handle all of it.

A visually impaired user could likely read a blog and probably add comments, but could they post to their own blog without help? We will see.

COURSE ALTERNATIVES
If a course is requiring the use of blogs for a course, it may be the case that you would need to allow for alternate technologies such as an ANGEL Discussion Forum or e-mail for some users.

In some cases, a saavy visually impaired user could post their own entries in static Web pages (I used to do that myself in a 'pseudo-blog')