Syd’s Guide to Blogging Part I: How to Read

Syd’s Guide to Blogging Part I: How to Read

reading-cat

With the recent release of Ulduar, most raiding WoW players have upped their reading and research. At this point in the progression curve, the ability to extract and process information from different resources on the web is what gives some players a critical edge in strategy or play. I have been blogging since October 2008, but I’ve been reading WoW blogs for a lot longer. However, in the interest of full disclosure, the thing that has inspired me to write a series of meta-blogging posts is my experience teaching college-level literature classes. Since I work in a foreign language, my daily task is teaching students not only how to write well, but how to read. My firm belief is that in order to be a good writer, you first have to be a good reader. If you follow these simple tips, your blog reading will become a more informative and rewarding experience, and your blog writing will probably improve as well.

Tip #1: Know Your Medium

The biggest thing I learned from Matticus when I started working for the site is that blogs differ from traditional writing. Blogs have their own set of rules and conventions, and a thoughtful reader should be aware of them. The following are what I consider the primary blog conventions.

A. Blogs are designed to be skimmable. Writers tend to bold their most important information.
B. Blogs use personal experience as their evidence. Even when facts and numbers are cited, the personal is always paramount.
C. Third, blogs are constrained by design. Bloggers have to develop a shorthand both to combat space restrictions and to keep from revealing too much personal information about the writer and his or her acquaintances.

How does knowing how blogs work make me a better reader? First, because I know that blogs are meant to be skimmable, I read the bolded or highlighted text first in order to find the post’s thesis. At this point you may prioritize and choose to read or not to read. I always choose to read, even if the post has no clear argument, but that’s just me. Identifying the thesis statement might sound trivial, but if you don’t know what you’re reading about, how can you react?

Secondly, because I know that blogs as a genre extract their primary evidence from personal experience, I read any narrative with a critical eye. I don’t take it as absolute “truth,” because I know that autobiography, as a subjective genre, is a prime spot for literary manipulation. When I read someone’s personal experience, I take it as a metaphor for something greater. Sometimes a less skilled blog writer will not provide a thin red thread of meaning that readers can follow through the labyrinth of narrative, but usually a personal account has a “point.” Personal accounts have become my favorite aspect of reading blogs. Because I am attentive to their details, I can sometimes extract more from them than the original writer intended. If you are one of those types who can learn from the experience of others, the personal account of people’s successes, and even more particularly, failures, can enrich your game experience.

Third, I recognize that blog writers are bound by the constraints of their medium. I don’t expect the fullest possible exploration of any topic. I try to read between the lines–many things must be left unsaid to protect the innocent or the guilty, and I depend on the writer’s tone to pick up some of the implications of their argument, especially if I’m dealing with a personal narrative. The public nature of blogs means that writers feel the need to “protect” their real-life and in-game acquaintances, sometimes to the point of obscuring the events that prompted them to write. Regarding the “shorthand” of different blogs, my best advice is to read the same blog over the course of several weeks. The best writers have a strong personal style that allows them to present concepts in an abbreviated form. Familiarity breeds comfort in this case.

Tip #2: Read for Detail

Just because blogs can be skimmed, it doesn’t mean they should be. If you’ve read through the bolded sections, and the post topic interests you, it’s time to go deeper. If you’re reading a guide, and you intend to use that information, take notes. Nothing is more inconvenient than having to go back to a webpage you read earlier in the day 30 seconds before you pull a new boss in order to get the exact name of his abilities. If you have to do that, you didn’t “forget” the information–you never memorized it in the first place. I always tell my students that writing things down–particularly with pen or pencil–makes it easier to create the long-term memory. However, guide-type posts are not the only ones you want to read carefully. Posts on class mechanics or class changes, best-in-slot lists, and opinion pieces on controversial topics actually draw more comments than guides. Many of the people who comment, however, are sloppy readers, and nothing annoys a blogger more. Here’s a little test that, in my mind, you must pass in order to comment on your favorite blogs.

1. Who wrote the article? Go ahead and laugh, but the comments for many of my past posts (I’d say at least 25 in total) identified the author of the post as Matticus, not me. Nothing gets on my left nerve quicker a lack of recognition for my efforts. My right nerve, in case you’re wondering, is reserved for my annoyances with students who don’t come to class. Even if you’re reading on RSS, you need to be able to identify the author. In order to test your reading skills, think of your ten favorite blogs or authors. If you were to receive a stack of papers with the blog posts on them, without any images, formatting, or bylines, you should be able to identify the author. If you can’t, you’re not reading well enough to catch an author’s style or tone. Style refers to the mechanics, rhetorical figures, and structure that an author uses, while tone refers to their word choice, overall attitude, and “sound.” If you can’t understand the style and tone, your comment runs the risk of misunderstanding the post altogether. You might have missed the humor or irony if you’re not reading for it.

2. What is the date of the article? My second pet peeve about blog commenters arises from reading negative comments on outdated posts. For example, one commenter noted that my observations about Ulduar mana regen were completely wrong. Of course they were! The post in question was written on February 7, before the PTR or concrete numbers were available. If you’re going to criticize someone’s argument, make sure you understand the context in which their article was written.

3. What is the article about? Certain blogs have certain preoccupations, and articles run in series. In addition, multiple blog authors enter into dialogue with each other. If you’re just reading one thing, you might be reading in a vaccuum. Before you press that comment button, try to make sure you know what the actual topic is.

4. What argument does the writer make? The classic, and in my mind the best, way to construct an argument is to have a thesis and an antithesis–or in other words, a point and a counterpoint. I see some commenters read so quickly that they mistake someone’s antithesis for their thesis. The commenter thinks they’re arguing against the blog poster when in fact they’re reinforcing the original author’s claim. These comments usually have me shaking my head.

5. What are the author’s strong points? I learned in my grad school classes that while anyone can identify a literary critic’s flaws, it’s much more difficult to pinpoint their strengths. Before you comment, especially if you’re going to argue with the writer, make sure you’re able to understand them well enough to identify the potential merit of the post. It’s rare that a seasoned blogger creates an entirely off-the-wall argument–well, except for those who do it on purpose. As for those guys, you should be able to identify them by their tone and style.

Tip #3: Read Both Deeply and Widely

Some blog readers follow one or two blogs exclusively. In particular, I know of many readers who consult only WoWInsider and occasionally the outside posts that it links to. Learn to be critical of your media. One blog, even a great one like World of Matticus, is only one perspective. All blogs have a certain ideological slant, and if you’re not aware of that, it will influence you. However, if you just read random posts here and there, you’ll never understand any of the particular writers. The ideal blog reader will choose 10 or so writers or sites and consult them fairly regularly. How much reading you do depends on your time, but think about it this way. If you read just one guide or watch just one video of a boss fight, what is your chance of success? There’s only a slim chance that one specific strategy will work for your guild. However, if you read/watch 10 different guides, you have 10 potential paths to boss death. Even the most careless reader’s chance of success would go up.

Conclusions: The Benefits of Reading Critically

Reading isn’t easy, folks. We learn to do it in elementary school, but many of us grow up blind to all but the most obvious meaning of the things we read. Critical reading takes time and care, but the effort is well-spent. There is a certain delight in understanding a skilled writer’s metaphors or wry sense of humor. The process of careful reading, particularly when your reading material comes from writers who are worthy of imitation, can enhance your own writing. I urge you to beg, borrow, and steal style and inspiration from other writers. If I were giving advice on writing fiction, I would tell you to go read your favorite genre voraciously for a year, take notes on what you like and don’t like, and only then start your own novel. My advice to aspiring or current bloggers is much the same. Read authors you admire and let them teach you.

sydsignature2

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Comments

  1. Good post Matt wait, Sydera,

    You are correct. Most people that come to my big blog don’t really read a couple of posts to get my tone or sense of humor and end up judging on just one entry. I think the more post by an author people read, the more information they actually get out of it.

    Logtar
    http://logtar.com/wow

    logtars last blog post..Tween Tramps

  2. Great post.

    I am really not fond of the writing style that says you should bold for emphasis in the middle of paragraphs (although maybe that’s more of an American convention? I know my brother in law does that too and he’s from Florida). To me, bold is for headings and italics is for emphasis.

    In any case, don’t be like my brother-in-law and randomly bold words in the middle of sentences for no reason. All I can assume is that he writes as he thinks and the words had more emphasis in his head. But it’s very annoying (to me!)

    Do you have any favourite blogs (aside from this one), Sydera? I mean, for writing style as much as anything.

  3. Great post Matticus!

    Hehe, jk Sydera. Great post, especially for a soon-to-be blog writer. First post is being posted in 13 days! This was a great article for me, it has definitely expanded on how I should approach blogging.

  4. Interesting post – fascinating to see how people actually should be reading and see the different ways quantified. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the post Sydera. I’ve done a couple of guest posts for Matt, and just started my own blog (I like having the creative outlet) and it’s always nice to read how others do it. I think having your own flow and style is most important, and hopefully (as you mentioned) readers will eventually be able to recognize your writing simply from the pace and tone.

    Adgamorixs last blog post..The Razor’s Edge

  6. @spinks – Bold is simply a better visual jump point then italics; particularly in an online medium. That bolded remark better damn well be a stand alone sentence of significant importance though. Thesis or conclusion, it must stand out and relate to the surrounding text.

    I’m shocked people could confuse your writing with Matt. You started with a kitten and didn’t make a single hockey reference!

    You talk about list posts, strategies and opinions. NOTHING is more aggravating then a “Here is my opinion” without some sort of though process explanation. It’s not enough to make your opinion known; you need to make a plausible case if you want the respect of your readers.

  7. Sydera says:

    Fear not, I’m planning a meta-blogging series.

    My “How to Write” posts (about 10 I think) will cover problems from the writing end.

    None of these reading tips help that much if you’re not reading good material!

    I have a TON of favorite bloggers and blog posts, and you’ll see them linked and discussed in this series.

    Just to name a few writers (aside from the WoM team of course) who are really good at their craft: Larísa of pinkpigtailnn, Anna of Too Many Annas, Phaelia of course (sniff!), BBB, the much-missed Auzara, Runyarusco from Unbearably HoT, Saresa from Destructive Reach, Siha from Banana Shoulders, and Keeva from Tree Bark Jacket. There are others that I love too, but these blogs stand out as very writerly. To note: I don’t judge bloggers based on grammar and mechanics but rather on style and substance. I would never want to, say, exclude a non-native English speaker like Larísa from a list of exceptional writers because I’ve seen a grammar issue or two in her blogs. I don’t grade my students on grammar either! I know what it’s like to work in a second language (and a third, and a fourth)…so I lost my pickiness about such things. And besides, native speakers make a lot of mistakes too (but I’m harder on them).

  8. I use my friends in my writing, naming them specifically. Is that something I shouldn’t do? I hadn’t really thought about it honestly.

    I’ve never even thought about bolding things like that. I can see how it is helpful for skimming but it is also very distracting. My eyes want to jump ahead and see what is so important.

    REALLY great post though and I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of the series.

    Xeonios last blog post..New Disc Gear List!

  9. There is such a lack of reading, comprehension, and critial thinking skills out there. It makes me warm and fuzzy to see people not only practice, but teach these things to other people.

    Zulwigas last blog post..Heard in Ulduar

  10. Some people like to read everything. Some people (like me) only have a limited amount of time to glean from a post. I skim it first and ask myself what is the point that this author is making. If I can’t figure it out in 10 seconds, I skip it and move on to something else.

    Syd devours posts. I read them if they catch my eye.

    The trick here is to write it so that it appeals to both of us. This is where formatting kicks in. You don’t have to write a lengthy post or a strictly bullet-point list post. Combine the two and use formatting to achieve the goal in the way Syd has done here.

    Xeonio: I will rarely ever name my guildies in blog. I”ve been harassed before in game due to my connections here. I know Syd’s had similar experiences. That’s why for me, it’s a personal policy not to name specific players unless I mask or change their names.

  11. Don’t worry Xeonio: I’m going to talk about the blog-anonymity issue in one of my metablogging posts.

    That’s something that I handle differently from Matt, and differently from other bloggers. I may even get a little mini-interview in there from people who I think walk that line well.

  12. Bonkers says:

    <Bonkers> I have an idea for how to be recognized as the post author. </Bonkers>

  13. I can’t help it, but I’m hopelessly interested in meta-blogging posts and I must say that I really liked your take on this one. Personally I’m not a fan of highlightening through bold text, but hey, it’s a matter of taste. What I really agree about is that you have to give a blogger some time, that you should read many posts to get to know him a bit better. A sort of relationship will grow out of it and it’s very rewarding in the long run.

    Also: thank you so much for the mentioning in the reply to the comments! Even though I’m not into healing at all, I like your general oriented posts, and I also really like the way you’re acting in the community, taking your time to comment on other blogs – and in a very intresting and ambitions way. I like you as a writer and therefore II feel very much honored to be on your list – in spite of my shortcomings when it comes to spelling and grammar.

  14. Sydera says:

    @Larísa: Glad to see your comment. I absolutely love the pinkpigtailinn, but I won’t spoil my upcoming article by telling you exactly why.

    As for spelling and grammar: you should see the horrible things I do to the Spanish language when I try to publish in it. I need an editor. I really admire your ability to blog in English and to write better than most native speakers in it.

  15. Thank you for the very humbling reminder to read first and write later. I believe I started writing my own blog before I had read enough other blogs. Now that I’m a little overwhelmed with work, I probably need to remember to read first and write later again…

  16. Great post… I think sometimes I am too much of a skimmer… but if the post is correctly formatted, and grabs my attention, I will go back and reread, once or twice to either get what I need out of it, or make a completely pointless comment… a little less pointless.

    Gnomeaggedons last blog post..I am a weak willed Gnome

  17. Hi Syd,
    just want to say have really enjoyed this and the second part.
    I’m a relatively new blogger myself and until I really get into the stream of it I’ve basically been using the place as an output for my brain stream at the moment, somewhere just to spout out rubbish about my WoW life.
    I’m hoping eventually to get myself sorted into blogging properly and your posts are really helpful 🙂
    thanks
    Soph

    Sophie (Espreya-Terenas-EU)s last blog post..Busy busy busy

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  1. […] week or so ago I read… actually it was on May 1st… whatever.  I read an article by Sydera on blogging.  It was pretty good and focused on listening.  It was very interesting and […]

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