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.


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)


“Picky eater” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy

Picky Eater

I frequently see articles and blog posts around the web espousing various tips and tricks to get your kids to eat healthy foods. Although I don’t have kids yet, I’ve certainly put some thought into how I plan to manage my eventual children’s diets. But I’m sure when the time comes, I’ll struggle to get my kids to eat their vegetables. What if I get the dreaded “picky eater”??

Perhaps the key is to do away with the concept of a “picky eater” altogether. I recently read this article on Huffington Post titled “6 Tips to Start Your Kids Off Eating Right”, which suggests a more relaxed approach to raising healthy kids. I’d recommend reading the whole post, but here’s the gist:

  • The term “picky eater” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you frequently label your child this way, he or she will make it part of his or her identity. “When a kid hears that they’re a picky eater, it validates for them that shunning certain foods is a part of who they are.”
  • “Hiding” healthy foods isn’t such a good idea.  (For example, concealing cauliflower in a macaroni & cheese dish.*) Your kids will catch on, and will become suspicious of food more generally. That’s definitely not a good thing!
  • Model healthy eating for your kids.  Even if they don’t like asparagus at first, if they see you eating it frequently, they might try it the 20th time. In fact, research shows that it can take 10-20 exposures for a child to begin liking a new food.
  • Your kids won’t starve.  Your job is to provide them lots of healthy options, but they get to choose whether and how much they eat. Never force your child to eat something – that will only create negative emotions around that particular food.

I’ll remember these tips when the time comes, and will be sure never to label my child a “picky eater”!

Do you have any strategies to encourage your kids to eat something other than goldfish crackers? If so, please share!

*Making cauliflower mac & cheese is a great idea – but no need to keep the ingredients a secret!

The “third presenter” method of streamlining your presentation


Here’s an all-too common scenario: Three presenters are scheduled to speak at a seminar, for 15 minutes each. The first two presenters go way over their allotted time, despite the timekeeper’s hand signals, in order hit upon every point they intended to make. The third presenter then comes up to bat, acutely aware that his or her time has been cut short. (S)he blows through his/her slides or notes, lamenting the lack of time, skipping the less-important or already-covered sections in favor of a few key messages.

Recently, I was the third presenter. I didn’t have PowerPoint slides, but had a long list of hand-written notes I intended to cover. The meeting started a bit late, and the two presenters before me went 5-10 minutes over their allotted time, so that by my turn, I was starting five minutes after I was originally supposed to end my talk. Even though I was allowed to take my full ten minutes, I knew that every minute I spoke would take a minute away from the discussion part of the meeting (undoubtedly the most valuable part). So I had to speak quickly.

As I glanced down at my notes, my brain automatically crossed off about half of the talking points on the page. That one’s not as important. That one’s self-evident. That one can be covered during the discussion. Instead I focused on the most salient and most interesting points, and expressed my desire to continue the conversation.

So the question is – if many of my points could be casually cut from the presentation, why did I include them in the first place? I think most presenters will agree that they try to squeeze too much content into any given talk, even knowing that the audience will only retain a few major points.

This experience gave me an idea for a way to streamline future presentations. The strategy is simple: pretend that you are the third presenter. Prepare a fifteen minute presentation as normal, but then pretend that you’re only allowed, say, seven minutes to talk. Practice out loud, using a countdown timer, to make sure that the time pressure is on. What messages and slides do you keep? What do you cut? Hopefully you will emerge with clearer picture of where the strength of your presentation lies. Go back and edit your presentation, focusing on the essential messages that you want the audience to retain. Plan for a clean, concise talk that goes under your allotted time.

…and next time you give a presentation as part of a panel, ask to go first! 😉

Three mantras for a less-cluttered home

For many people, myself included, being tidy and organized doesn’t come naturally. We tire of constantly fighting the second law of thermodynamics in our living spaces, and, dang it, spotless surfaces just aren’t our priority in life. That being said, I would prefer to live in a clean, uncluttered environment. Thus, for day-to-day life, I hold on to a few simple mantras to serve as motivation for tidying up my home. Perhaps they will help you out as well:

1) Complete the Task

How many times have your started a household chore or project – folding the laundry, sorting through old papers, decorating the walls – but stopped partway through? In our homes, we have the freedom to leave projects unfinished or dishes unwashed. In an attempt to counteract this tendency, I developed a very basic mantra for myself – complete the task. It provides a useful nudge to prioritize the unfinished chores or projects before starting any new ones.

  • Just cooked a delicious dinner, but thinking of leaving the dishes for tomorrow? Complete the task.
  • Paid some of your monthly bills, but letting a few linger? Complete the task.
  • Started organizing the pantry last weekend but never finished? Complete the task.

2) Gone in 60 Seconds

Admit it – you sometimes neglect to do the most basic of tasks, such as:

  • Putting a used dish directly into the dishwasher
  • Hanging up a piece of clothing you’ve decided not to wear
  • Putting the new roll of toilet paper on the holder
  • Filling the ice cube tray or the Brita pitcher

What do all of these tasks have in common? They all take less than a minute to complete. One rule that I’ve found very useful for household management is to never put off a chore that can be conquered in 60 seconds or less. A minute here and there should have little effect on your day. But if you continually put off the quick, easy chores for a couple of days, you’ll wind up with a major clean-up on your hands. I try to keep the 60 second rule at the forefront of my mind, so that I don’t procrastinate on simple tasks. Conquering the low-hanging fruit of chores keeps a house clean and livable.

3) A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place

This time-tested saying has definitely helped me organize my living space. To abide by it, every item in your home should have its own “place,” or a spot where it belongs. This goes not just for the obvious pairings – socks in the sock drawer – but for every knick-knack, piece of paper, food item, and toiletry. If an item doesn’t have a proper place, then you must either make a place for it, or get rid of the item. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all the miscellaneous or useless items in your home, but it does mean they need a designated spot, even if it’s just in the “junk box” under your bed. Once this rule is enforced, then cleaning & organizing becomes a matter or returning everything to its proper place. I think this feels much less daunting.

Do you have any mantras or rules that you use to keep your living space in order? I’d love to hear other suggestions, as I am always striving for a cleaner, less-cluttered home!


Lessons learned from my recent international travel fiasco

I just returned from a whirlwind work trip to the beautiful country of Nepal. While my experience in Nepal was extraordinary in every way, my experience getting there was…not. Here are some lessons learned from three tiresome days filled with lengthy flights, long lines, delays, and lost luggage:

Demand all of your boarding passes at the beginning of your trip

My outbound itinerary consisted of three legs:

  • Dulles->JFK
  • JFK->Abu Dhabi
  • Abu Dhabi->Kathmandu

When I checked in at Dulles, I was given my boarding passes for the first two legs, but not the third. The attendant at the check-in counter told me that I would need to get my third boarding pass at the airport in Abu Dhabi. “No problem,” I thought. “That’s just how things are done. I have a four-hour layover, so it will be fine.” Not so. Due to fog issues, there were massive delays and glacially-paced queues at the Abu Dhabi airport. My travel companions and I seemingly had no shot at getting our boarding passes in time. By the time we actually found an airport official to help us, still an hour before our flight, our seats had been given away to stand-by passengers because we hadn’t checked in. Of course, employees at the Abu Dhabi airport were confused as to why we didn’t already have our boarding passes in the first place, and said we could have gotten them at the initial Dulles check-in. Sigh. We wound up being re-booked on another flight to Kathmandu the next day, spending the night at a hotel in Abu Dhabi, and arriving a day later than planned.

Take a carry-on

While the two colleagues with whom I was traveling took carry-on suitcases, I decided to check my bag. “My last international trip went so smoothly,” I thought. “There won’t be any problems.” I must have forgotten to knock on wood, because my suitcase did indeed get lost somewhere along the line. I arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday, and didn’t hear any news about my bag until Tuesday afternoon (it was found, hooray!). Due to my schedule, I wasn’t able to pick it up until Wednesday. Thank goodness my colleague was able to loan me some work-appropriate shoes in the interim. In the future, I am planning to bring only a carry-on suitcase on international trips, especially for trips that are less than two weeks in warmer climates. This brings me to my next tip…

Pack lightly

I have a tendency to overpack, as I suspect most travelers do. But being without my suitcase reminded me how little I actually need on a trip. For five days, I lived a blissfully simple existence, with zero clothing choices and only the most basic of toiletries. On future trips, I intend to pack a very simple wardrobe with easily-washable items and no frills.

If your luggage is delayed, be sure to get a WorldTracer ID number

When your bag doesn’t show up at baggage claim, you are required to fill out a passenger property form to report it. The attendant should provide you with a 10-digit WorldTracer file reference number that you can use to track your bag. For whatever reason, the person I was working with did not write the number on my form, and I had to call United Airlines later to request it.

Take photos of all of your boarding passes and bag tags

I’ve gotten in the habit of snapping quick photos of all necessary travel documents with my cell phone. You never know when you might lose one of those tiny pieces of paper…or be asked to provide one to an airline staff member and not get it back.

Remember your travel power adapter

Invest in a worldwide power adapter and keep it on you. You never know when you might need to charge your cell phone and not be able to find the right kind of outlet. I completely forgot that I needed a travel adapter and had to borrow from others.

Build in an extra vacation day at the END of a work trip

My original itinerary had me arriving in Kathmandu with a day to spare before my conference, during which I had planned to explore and enjoy the city. However, due to my travel delays, I arrived a day later than planned. Thank goodness I had that extra day built in, or else I might have missed the first day of my meeting. However, from now on I am going to build in any vacation days at the end, rather than the beginning, of my work trips, to ensure I don’t miss out on the opportunity for some free time in a new place. I also think that one is more prepared (and less jet-lagged) at the end of the trip for doing some relaxing and exploring.

Despite my travel troubles, it was all worth it for this view of the Himalayas from my airplane window:


Do you have any rules of thumb to make sure your international travel experiences run smoothly?