Becoming a Successful Blogger

Dan Drezner has published the penultimate draft of “SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BLOG,” a commissioned book chapter for the American Political Science Association, on how to be a successful political science blogger. For an academic paper, it’s short and quite jargon free.

Much of it deals with the benefits and pitfalls of blogging for scholars but there is plenty of useful advice for fledgling or would-be bloggers of all stripes. This is especially critical:

The distribution of links and traffic in the blogosphere is remarkable skewed, with a few blogs commanding the overwhelming share of links and hits. Over time the “elite” blogs have become more and more entrenched, creating a barrier to building up a significant reader base. Latecomers may therefore find it difficult to attract significant numbers of readers.

These ten points, which are explained in greater detail in the paper, are relevant regardless of your profession:

    1) Imagine your audience.
    2) Think small at first..
    3) Write clearly and concisely.
    4) Link, link, link.
    5) Remember — you are the editor.
    6) Develop a thick skin.
    7) Respect the boundaries.
    8) Expect and correct misinterpretations.
    9) Dilute the risk if necessary.
    10) If it’s not fun, then don’t do it!

Simply remembering that what you write on the blog may be read by others–and thinking through the implications of that–will save you a lot of heartburn and make the experience much more worthwhile.

UPDATE: Lorelle VanFossen has a much longer list, although there’s some overlap.

Again, just the high level points follow; click the link for the explanations.

    1. Don’t Just Show, Show and Tell
    2. Keywords, Keywords, Keywords
    3. Write Clickable Titles
    4. Make Your Point in the First 200 Words
    5. Blog Writing Is About Editing
    6. Make Your Words Timeless
    7. Don’t Waste Words
    8. Explain Jargon
    9. Use Descriptions in Images and Links
    10. Use Descriptions for Flash, Podcasts, Videocasts, and Screencasts
    11. Present a Problem, The Solution, and The Results
    12. Just the Facts, Ma’am
    13. If You Have 100 Top Priorities, You Have No Priorities At All
    14. Originality Will Always Win:
    15. Move The Reader Through the Story
    16. Blog Paragraphs Are Short
    17. Use Command Verbs to Teach
    18. No Wishy-Washy Passive Voice
    19. Use Nouns and Synonyms
    20. Comments Are Content
    21. Visualize Who You Are Writing To
    22. Clean Up Old Posts
    23. Write Kinda Like You Talk
    24. Mind Reading Writing
    25. Avoid Screaming
    26. Punctuate Properly
    27. Blog Writing Isn’t About Smiley Faces
    28. Teach Your Readers.
    29. Make Me Think
    30. Write With Conviction and Passion
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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I suppose it depends on how you define “successful”. If it means that you’re getting your ideas out there and have cultivated a small readership, then just start blogging, post frequently, and keep on doing it. If it means you’re in the EcoSystem Top 20, then I continue to maintain that the keys to success are:

    1) Start in 2003 and/or have name recognition to start out with.

    2) Be outrageous/throw red meat.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I think that’s largely true. I think he’s just defining it in terms of building a quality audience and getting personal satisfaction.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Personal satisfaction?

    Post on whatever you want to post on when you want to post on it. Either be satisfied with what you get or be willing to do what it takes to get what you’ll be satisfied with. I think the former is the better path which probably shows why my numbers are about the same as they were a year ago.

  4. Jim Durbin says:

    Early adopters do have an advantage, but there is a real danger in using network theory to predict traffic for bloggers.

    Back when Clay Shirky and Den Beste were talking about power laws and blogging, it was assumed that all the low hanging fruit was gone.

    Then along came Wizbang, Malkin, and a guy named Markos.

    Today – small communities that have nothing to do with politics (moms, travel, homes, real estate recruiting, knitting (yes, knitting), can build communities of interest that drive thousands adn tens of thousands of daily visitors). Just today, I spoke to a woman who has one year of blog experience who is now at 300,000 page views a month, a PR6, and over 6,000 daily visits.

    She’s on track to do over 2,000,000 uniques in 2007 – and no one in the political blogosphere has ever heard of her. Is it harder to break in? Sure – but that doesn’t mean much.

    Clinton was a third rate candidate until he won the primary and then the general election. Imagine a blogger covering a 1992 Clinton-like candidate and using that success to launch a site.

    How is it possible? Simple. Preferential attachment, which is the theory for why the rich get richer in link count and traffic, is often confused as an absolute. Rarely is the fitness of the site taken into account, or if it is, fitness is defined in narrow enough terms that newcomers can’t be predicted to join the elite.

    It’s a huge mistake – there are many ways to generate traffic that are not used by some old-school bloggers. While early adoption is a significant advantage, it in no way constitutes a barrier of entrenched interests.

  5. If longevity were the key factor I’d be one of the biggest names in the blogosphere. Still, after over seven years of plugging away I haven’t found the “secret” to amassing oodles of readers. Yet I toil on trying to figure it out.

    I’ve gotten much pleasure writing and meeting so many interesting people. I can’t imagine myself not weblogging. It’s completely in my DNA.