Simple tips for writing an effective blog post

In this era of information overload, you need to make your writing both eye-catching and actionable to garner any readership. Below, you’ll find my top six tips for making your blog post more readable and more understandable. These guidelines are easy to implement, and will ensure that your blog post gets more eyes and more results!

Julie MacCartee's top blogging tips1) Put the most important information first.

  • Most people only read the first paragraph of a blog post, so make sure it stands alone. Assume it’s all someone will read, and write it accordingly.

  • Your main point should be the first sentence in your blog post, not the last!

  • Write in an “inverted pyramid” style. Basically, put the newsworthy stuff first, then provide more details.

2) Keep sentences short. Keep paragraphs short.

  • An API study showed that articles with 8-word sentences (on average) had 100% comprehension. Those with 43-word sentences had less than 10% comprehension.

  • Paragraphs should be 1-4 sentences, and should contain a single topic or concept. Varying the length of sentences improves readability, too.

3) Use bullet points, subheadings, and/or bolding to highlight key points.

  • 79% of people scan blog posts, rather than read them word-for-word. Therefore, you need to give them visual cues for what to read.

  • Read through your subheadings, bullet points, and bolded words and imagine that they are ALL the reader will see. Do they convey the desired message?

4) Provide actionable recommendations for your audience.

  • Readers shouldn’t just walk away from your post saying, “That’s nice.” They should learn something new that changes their behavior or way of thinking.

  • Ask yourself, “What do I want my readers to do after reading my post?” Tell them!

  • No blog post is complete without links. Link to the next post, paper, or site you want someone to read.

5) Use casual language.

  • Jargony, impersonal information is dry and hard to remember. Avoid it when possible.

  • Don’t be afraid to use “I” and tell a story from your own perspective. Let your personality shine through!

  • Should you throw in a question? Perhaps – they can focus readers’ attention.

6) Make the headline catchy!

  • Puns and jokes aren’t necessary. Just use clear language to help the reader know what they’re about to see.

  • Ask yourself, “Would I click on this headline?”

BONUS TIP: Share your post far and wide! When authors share their own posts, the posts get many more views.

So what do I want you to do? Keep this list handy, and next time you start writing a blog post, try to incorporate all six of these tips. No matter how knowledgeable the reader, EVERYONE appreciates a simple, actionable, and enjoyable post. You can write one!

A version of this post originally appeared on Agrilinks, targeted at an international development audience.


Ideas to help your toddler not hate baths

Some toddlers hate baths, at least for a stretch of time. I know this because my daughter went through several long stretches when she cried during every bath and tried to climb out. She was scared of having water poured over her head, but I couldn’t find a better way to wash her hair.

Based on our experience, here are some things to try if your toddler hates baths:

1) Stay positive. No matter how much your child fusses and resists, keep a calm demeanor and a smile on your face during bath time. Our emotions rub off on our kids.

2) Get the washing part over with quickly, then let your kid relax and play in the tub. Letting her linger in the tub without the threat of rinsing can help her get used to happy bath time. Sometimes, let her take a bath that does not involve washing at all – just splashing and playing!

3) Role play bath time with a doll or stuffed animal. This was a highly effective technique for us. We pretended that my daughter’s stuffed flamingo didn’t like baths because water got in her face, and we reminded flamingo to close her eyes and mouth as we pretended to pour water over her head. Thanks to the role playing, My daughter rapidly learned to close her eyes in the bath “like flamingo.”

4) Try a visor or washcloth to keep water out of your child’s face. Your kid might enjoy the task of holding the item over their forehead to keep the water at bay.

5) Anthropomorphize the water. It sounds silly, but treating the water as a “character” can help a kid feel more comfortable with it. Say “Hi water!” as it’s filling the tub, and “Bye-bye water!” as it’s going down the drain. Try phrases like, “The water likes to help get you clean!” and “The water likes it when you splash!”

6) Take a shower. It can be fun for a toddler to take a shower with mommy and daddy, and this will help him get used to the feeling of water falling on his head. Just make sure that your shower has a bath mat for traction.

My toddler is much more comfortable in the bath now. She has even started laying on her tummy and blowing bubbles. Bath time is finally fun!

Five reasons to get to the airport EARLY with a toddler

Last month, I almost missed my flight due to the challenges of traveling with a 21-month-old. While optimism is a good personal trait, it’s best avoided on travel days. I wish that I had arrived at the airport a full hour earlier to give myself some breathing room.

To help you avoid the same mistake, here are five reasons to get to the airport EARLY with a toddler:

1) You’ll be schlepping extra stuff. (Add 10-20 mins.) When you’re used to breezing through an airport with a purse and a wheeled carry-on, it’s easy to forget how much longer it takes to manage all of the STUFF that a toddler requires. If you are bringing a stroller, pack n play, car seat, and/or diaper bag, you are going to be encumbered. Don’t forget that the toddler herself is essentially another piece of baggage.

2) Your lap child might need a boarding pass. (Add 10-20 mins.) If you are flying with a lap child (i.e. if you didn’t purchase a seat for your child under 2 years old) you may need to go to the ticketing counter to show your child’s birth certificate and pick up a boarding pass. Southwest, for example, requires that parents get a boarding pass for their lap child, but does not issue them in advance – you have to pick it up at the airport and show a copy of the birth certificate. If lines at the ticketing counter are long, you might be in for a stressful wait. [Note that a printed copy or even a scan of the birth certificate on your phone/computer are acceptable; you don’t need the original.]

3) Security delays are likely. (Add 5-10 mins.) Going through the security checkpoint will take longer with a baby or toddler, especially if you’re not a frequent flyer. Last time I flew with my kid, I plum forgot to remove my laptop from my bag, and so had to wait around for the additional screening. Also, kids are allowed liquids in excess of the 3oz rule – such as pouches, formula, breastmilk, or medicines – but these may require additional screening, and thus additional time.

4) Poop happens. (Add 10 mins.) As we all know, even the most “regular” kid might produce a dirty diaper at any moment. Changing a kid on the plane is not an easy task, so you’ll want to build in at least 10 minutes before boarding to hustle off to the restroom.

5) Toddlers have tempers. (Add 10 mins.) Toddlers are independent creatures who don’t always tolerate being led around, or being forced into a stroller when they want to walk and explore. If your kid winds up face-down crying on the ground (like mine recently did) you’ll be glad that you built in some extra time to soothe and distract her rather than having to wrestle and drag a melting fusspants towards the gate in time for family boarding.

So there you have it – five good reasons to add about 60 minutes to your arrival time at the airport for your next trip!

Have additional suggestions? Horror stories about almost missing your flight with a toddler? Share in the comments below!

Golden tips for hosting webinars

I recently served as a panelist for a “webinar on webinars,” hosted by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR). The online event featured seven experts in managing and facilitating all types of webinars, mostly in the agricultural development space, and covered a range of discussion topics, including favorite platforms, getting the right people to attend, speaker prep, lessons learned from failure, and other golden tips for hosting webinars. Check out the recording (here and below) for a wealth of advice from those of us who have been there, done that!

Buzzworthy: A new blog series on edible insects, agricultural development and food security

Buzzworthy logoThis blog post was cross-posted from Agrilinks.

Have you heard the buzz about entomophagy, the practice of eating insects? It’s more common than you might think. Two billion people around the world consume insects as a regular part of their diet. Beetle larvae, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, termites and stink bugs are particularly popular as edibles.

Insects are considered delicacies in some communities and provide an important nutritional boost to undernourished people in others. Rearing or harvesting insects requires very little feed, land and water compared with raising conventional livestock like cows and chickens, which is part of why insects are trending in conversations about sustainable food systems. In the years ahead, insects have great potential to fill an ever-growing need for protein, fatty acids and key minerals in the diets of both humans and livestock.

In this blog series, I will explore the relevance of entomophagy to global food security. I will address questions such as:

  • Who is eating insects? Where and why?
  • How nutritious are insects, and how might they contribute to sustainable diets?
  • What are some examples of insect-based livelihoods in developing countries?
  • Why should agricultural development practitioners care about edible insects, and what actions should we take?

For a quick introduction to entomophagy and its role in agricultural development, check out this six-minute lightning talk:


If you are up for a longer read, I highly recommend FAO’s 2013 report, “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security”. This report examines and summarizes the available research on entomophagy. It interweaves case studies, personal examples, caveats, and knowledge gaps to make the case for further attention to edible insects in a global food security context.

What questions do you have about edible insects? Share them in the comments below, or email me, and I will do my best to answer your questions in future blog posts!

A blog is not the same thing as a blog post

I routinely see and hear the word “blog” used incorrectly – not just in conversation, but in official newsletters and publications. Let’s break out the old SAT analogy format to clarify the term:

blog is to blog post as magazine is to article

“I just wrote a blog about the health benefits of napping!” is akin to saying, “I submitted a magazine to National Geographic about the sleep habits of Zebras!”

When you use the word “blog”, you are referring to the entire web page that contains a list of entries, not to one of the entries themselves. A blog is a type of website, or a feature within a website. An individual entry on a blog is usually called a “blog post”. (With a space – not “blogpost”.) For example, right now, you are reading a blog post on my blog. (Not a blog on my blog.)

When you are referring to an individual, dated, authored entry within a blog, you have a few options, including:  blog post ~ post ~ entry ~ article ~ piece

Just don’t call a blog post a blog!

Need more convincing? Here is how the word “blog” is defined by various outlets:

  • “a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries (“posts”)” (Wikipedia)
  • “a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors” (Merriam-Webster)
  • “a list of journal entries posted on a web page” (
  • A website, similar to an online journal, that includes chronological entries made by individuals. (BusinessDictionary)

I could not find a single source that defines a “blog” as the individual entry on a blog (aka a “blog post”). If you are able to find one, please share!

It’s true that colloquial usage can morph into correct usage, and maybe that’s what’s happening. But until then, please don’t confuse your readers by implying that you wrote an entire, multi-entry blog on “10 reasons to take a nap right now” when you only wrote a single blog post.

Related article: This is a Blog Post. It Is Not a “Blog.” (Slate)


Oysters: An ethical choice

Photo of OystersAwhile back, Slate published a great article on why vegans should eat oysters. The author writes, “Oysters may be animals, but even the strictest ethicist should feel comfortable eating them by the boatload.”

From my observations, the main reasons that vegans choose not to eat animal products are: 1) animal products are implicated in the greatest portion of the environmental destruction linked with food production; 2) many animals suffer when they are raised and killed for food; and 3) there are clear health reasons to limit meat and dairy. Oysters, savvy bivalves that they are, stand firm against these three points.

First, oysters are good for the environment. They are listed as a “Best Choice” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. Most oysters are farmed, but unlike other farmed seafood, they require very few inputs. In fact, they can improve their local ecosystems by filtering the water. I used to think that oysters could actually break down or sequester chemical pollutants, but their main effect is to remove algae, sediment, and excess nutrients, which improves water clarity and the conditions for other organisms to thrive. They also build reef structures that provide habitat for other tiny organisms.

Second, oysters feel about as much pain as plants do. They have no central nervous system, and there is no evidence to suggest they suffer any more pain than, say, a portobello. Humans have labeled them animals within our classification system, but they clearly belong in a different category from creatures with brains.

Lastly, oysters are a good source of of zinc, iron, calcium, selenium, and Vitamin B12 – nutrients that are abundant in certain animal products but that vegans might have a harder time obtaining. I’d argue that a few oysters are a better choice than a multivitamin, considering that vitamin and mineral supplement pills may be ineffective or even harmful.

Writing this post definitely has me craving a half-dozen oysters on the half shell!

Choose Your Own Adventure, new mom edition!

The time is 2:00 pm. You are home on maternity leave with your 6-week-old baby, and your spouse is at work. The baby just fell asleep, but you’re not sure for how long she’ll stay that way. What do you do?

Option 1: Lay down for a nap yourself
—>Go to C, E, G, I, or K

Option 2: Take a shower for the first time in 3 days
—>Go to B, D, or F

Option 3: Do the dishes and clean your cluttered apartment
—>Go to H, L, or M

Option 4: Write overdue thank-you notes
—>Go to A or J


A Wait, what? Thank-you notes should never trump sleep for an exhausted new mom! Go to Option 1. (However, people start to ask you if you received their gift, and you feel super guilty.)

B You hear the baby crying mid-shower. So much for shaving your legs!

C Congratulations, you get a 1.5-hour nap! But consequently you miss the Amazon delivery of the size 1 diapers you desperately need.

D You take an amazing, 20-minute shower. But you accidentally put way too much leave-in-conditioner in your hair, so it looks super greasy. You feel icky, but oh well, it’ll be 2 days ’til your next shower!

E Your baby wakes you after only 15 minutes. How could she be hungry again? Is this a growth spurt? Keep truckin’, mama…

F You get in the shower, but only after you turn on the water do you discover that you’re out of soap. Also, you forgot a towel. It’s a drippy walk down the hall to the linen closet!

G You lay down for a nap, but the baby is groaning and tossing and turning (even though she’s asleep). This makes it too hard for you to sleep, so you just lay there scrolling through Facebook. Oh well!

H You tidy up your apartment, and feel great about it. But the next day, it’s suddenly even messier than before! You decide it’s okay to live in squalor for the time being.

I You sleep for one hour (yay!) but it is fraught with dreams about accidentally leaving your baby at home unattended when you return to work.

J You successfully take a 5-minute shower and write 2 thank you notes before the baby wakes. Unfortunately, you can’t remember who gave you 3 of your gifts…guess those people aren’t getting thank yous!

K You fall asleep but wake up cold and soaking wet – looks like your letdown reflex was activated in your sleep again!

L You empty the dishwasher but then say, F*ck it, I need a nap. Go to Option 1.

M You tidy up quickly, but forget to empty the bag in the diaper pail, which is 100% full when the baby has his afternoon poo-splosion.