A Blogger’s Guide to Best Practices

By Andrew C. Revkin
Dot Earth Blogger, The New York Times
Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding
Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies
Pace University

For me blogging is not just about page views or unique visitors, but about inquiry, dialogue and meaning. My blogging is a portrait of me learning, not me telling others what to think or feel.

If I had to choose the top three tips to give bloggers, they’d be:

Blog about subjects you can’t stay away from, that excite or energize you, and then the blogging process won’t seem like work. It will simply be a part of how you live and communicate.

Community and Communication
The best blogs are not merely output, but are part of a broader conversation with a community that you help create. That means that a big part of blogging is not blogging – but building community by reading, commenting and linking (especially linking) to others exploring similar issues or ideas, including people who might disagree with you. This will implicitly involve Twitter, Facebook and email lists. (With almost every Dot Earth post, I send an e-mail to contacts, experts and other bloggers who I think would be interested.)

Don’t be afraid to blog slowly sometimes. There are plenty of aggregators snatching nuggets from the flood, but meaning and consequences tend to build more through reflection – or at least a rhythm that involves “reviewing the bidding,” as one of my former New York Times editors liked to say after a busy day of reporting some breaking-news story.

Here are some FAQs – with answers – for best blogging practices:

Q1: How often should a blog have a new post?

This depends on the blogger’s biorhythm, for the most part. Once you establish a niche and audience you can set the general sense of the metabolism of your blog. Some of my blogging students at Pace can’t avoid blogging several times a day; others once or twice a week.

Q2: Does a blog post need to be all original thought and information, or are there different types of posts (like sharing another post, etc.) and what might be some cardinal rules to follow if posting or referring to someone else’s post in your own?

My decades as a hard-working journalist – what is now called a content creator – led me to be passionate about carefully crediting others’ work, whether a photo or an idea. Most blogs can and should cite and excerpt the work of others often; if it’s only about you, you’re not really blogging, to my mind. But credit, credit, credit.

Q3: Is it best to have ALL comments and posts moderated (going to someone who reviews and approves)?

I urge my Pace blogging students always to get at least one independent set of eyeballs on a post before it’s published. Everyone needs an editor, at least for typos and also to be sure ideas are conveyed clearly and in a way that a first-time visitor to a subject can absorb. Even on Dot Earth, my Times blog, with several million visitors a year, well more than half on any day are new to the blog, so I can’t assume some sense of a communal history.

The Times has a hard rule that all comments must be vetted to avoid posting slander or malicious content. I would recommend that all blogs have this policy if the goal is to shape a reasoned and civil conversation on a subject. This Dot Earth post has more.

Q4: If comments are moderated, what are some typical red flags that would signal a comment should not be approved? [What is the decision process you use to decide to approve or not?]

Comments should be akin to a civil conversation. As a great Monty Python skit once explained, an argument is not simply contradiction, and certainly not name-calling. The best way to establish productive discourse is to set and post solid ground rules. There are a lot of great discussions of comment policy online. (I found this assortment by Googling for “comment policy blogs”; Google is a blogger’s best friend!)

Q5: If comments are moderated, is it a constant checking of email that you should do, or is a few times a day okay?

Periodically I explain to my readers that time constraints mean there can be delays in vetting. If I’m traveling or there’s a technical problem, I’ll add a note to posts explaining the slowdown.

Q6: Is it vital for a blogger/contributor to respond to comments to his or her post – and if so, should he or she respond to as many as possible, or be rather selective?

Responding to constructive comments should be seen less as a task and more as an implicit part of blogging – at least if the goal is (as I said above) to build a community.

Q7: If I have multiple pages on my blog, should they all have room for comments, or should only the home page and others that might solicit dialogue be reserved for comments?

My blog only has room for comments under each post. I would actually like to develop a comment stream around my blogroll – my list of go-to Web sites and blogs – but have never quite gotten around to it.

Q8: What is best practice for blogroll links. Should blogroll links be only to other blogs? Is there such a thing as too long of a roll? Is it customary to add a link in the blogroll if you mention an organization or initiative of some kind in a post?

The name “blogroll” is too limiting, even though I use it. I encourage my students to develop resource pages, lists of favorite blogs, etc., as needed. Often time is the limiting factor. I’d love to have all kinds of resources on Dot Earth’s home page, for instance, but can rarely find time to add updates. One thing to realize is that nearly all blog traffic comes to particular posts – not to a home page. (That doesn’t mean the standing content on a homepage isn’t important, just that it may not be worth investing a lot of time managing it once it’s set up.

Additional Resources and Reading: