I’ve been thinking for sometime about doing a how-to for theological and religious blogs as blogging is something I’ve grown increasingly interested in and challenged by. There are many how-to blogs, and websites that cover tips on blogging – here are a few that I love to read regularly: Paulstamatiou.com; Emily Robins; Copyblogger; Lorelle; Blogging Pro; A List Apart and Problogger; these are just a few of the people who are dealing with tips on blogging tips, how to write and how to set up your site design. Many of the things I will write here are things I’ve learned from those listed above. However, none of them really focus on religious based blogging, so I figured I’d help to fill in the gap.
My writing about this is in no way a suggestion that I’ve somehow figured it out, or am doing all the right things, this isn’t true at all. Many of the things I am going to write about I’ve learned via flailing my arms around in the air, or being scolded by my friends and readers. These are the things I’ve learned in the three years since I began blogging on Xanga.com in February 10, 2003.
Pick A Good Platform For Publishing
I’ve moved around a bit in the blogosphere but have finally landed with a great blogging platform. I began writing short letters to my future children (we don’t have any yet) while I was a junior in college on yahoo notes inside their email interface. I wrote with a purpose – to tell my children what I was learning and pass on a bit of wisdom. This migrated into using xanga.com, on Xanga I wrote mainly about theology and talked about daily things we were doing as newly weds. My Xanga blog would not be considered a content-based blog because it was mainly acted as a personal journal. From there I switch to Blogspot, because I wanted to be able to edit the code of the blog, change the style a bit more and I wanted it to be searchable by google. When I switched to blogspot, I continued to a large degree writing about journal entry-type stuff but began to pickup more content as well. I began focusing on Quaker theology, as I understood it, and was learning about it. I also began finding other people who were already doing the same thing, and began networking with others of similar interests. Finally this past winter I moved over to WordPress, which is by far the best platform I’ve used and in my opinion the best available currently. With WordPress, not only do you have access to all the code, but there are thousands of plugins and themes to make your blog look and do just what you’d like.
Write a Content Based Blog
Since I’ve moved to WordPress, I’ve narrowed my focus even more – or at least specified it better. Though I will at times offer little antidotes about random things I do and see, the main focus of my site is on practical and postmodern theology, Quaker and Anabaptist practice, the church in our world today, and Educational Technology. In three words – Theology and Technology. Being content based, means that you provide real and usable information in your posts, it often includes citing others and tends to make an argument or an announcement of one kind or another. I’ve tried to find those things I am most familiar with and write about them. I am not a specialist in any of these areas, but I want to be and so by focusing my writing in these areas I am forced to stay on track.
Content based blogging has a huge advantage over journal type blogging because it puts to use people’s natural gifts and builds off of those gifts and experiences. For instance I have a couple friends I’ve been encouraging to start their own blogs because of their areas of expertise (environmental law and Theological Ethics), both of these areas need to be written about from their Anabaptist perspectives and a content-based blog is a great way to work out their own thoughts while inviting other’s into a dialogue many of us are privy too.
Write for a Broad Audience
You never know who will bump into your blog, and what level of knowledge a person will have of the Bible, Theology, Church History or whatever it is you’re writing on. Don’t assume your readers know what you’re talking about. If you are going to quote from Scripture, let them know it, if you are going to use a Karl Barth quote, better give a short background of the neo-orthodox theologian. All the general rules to writing apply, be descriptive, write clear, spell check and cite (and/or link) your sources.
Pick a common denominator for the kind of person you are writing for. Now I realize there is an aspect to this where we are writing for ourselves, and our own reflections, but really if you are writing and publishing on the web – unless you’ve password protected your site people will read it sooner or later. Plus if you are trying to have a content based blog, which I encourage, then you are in fact writing to be read by someone or some group. Keep your audience in Mind.
Avoid technical language unless you offer some explanation of what it means on your blog. I don’t always follow this all that well and have gotten called out a few times for using loaded language without offering explanations. I am not writing at my best when I do this.
Get Your Church Involved
Don’t say things you don’t want your community to read! Maybe this should be rule #1 for theological blogs. If you can’t say something on your blog that you don’t want people in your congregation or your pastor, or you boss or your spouse or whoever to read don’t write it on the web. Or better yet, rethink why you’d say something like that anyway.
Getting your church involved is a great way to 1) encourage community interaction throughout the week when you aren’t able to see each other face to face, 2) encourage others in your church to start blogging, 3) get to know you and your ideas better, 4) participate with you on your Journey and 5) dialogue about things that aren’t always easy to talk about in public settings. I’ve read, and written posts about topics that people aren’t necessarily comfortable with sharing publicly but want to share. Blogs are a great way to work ideas and thoughts out in a dialogue format with the comfort of having time to think about what you say before you say it.
Of course there is a flip side to this – sometimes people get really flagrant on blogs and say really stupid and mean stuff. If you are the author of a theological blog – your motto should always be, be gracious.??? There are some things that cannot be worked out over the internet and need face to face interaction to be dealt with.
A List Apart – Identity Matters
Avoid Sweeping Dogmatic Statements
Religious people are already viewed as dogmatic enough by the rest of the world, theological blogs need to never make sweeping dogmatic statements; I guess this may be the only acceptable sweeping dogmatic statement in the blogging world. There are two reasons for not making dogmatic statements on a blog. First because most people leave their comments open – this suggests the possibility for the course of the writers own thinking and writing to change course. Secondly – no one really knows enough to assume he or she is in a position to make wide sweeping remarks about anything.
Allow for Conversation and Have an Open Mind
Recently I listened to Dustin Diaz’s podcast where Dustin interviewed Jeremy Keith, both are web design gurus. One topic of discussion was on Jeremy Keith’s view on commenting on blogs. I agree with where he is coming from, often times comments are not very helpful and at worst they are offensive so he decided to turn them off. However I don’t think we should turn our comments off, at least not for theological blogs. Rather I fall more on the side of Bryan Veloso’s writing on the subject. Bryan concludes,
I actually think one of the best comments you can leave is one that understands where Im coming from but doesnt completely agree with my point. That always seems to start some enlightening discussion.
I think that for theological blogs, and really for all content based blogs, comments provide an important feedback loop. Though comments can be lame at times they can also be very useful in 1) clarifying the conversation, 2) moving it forward, 3) and keeping the author honest. This is why having one’s community involved in your blog is so important as well. These are the people that know you best, and know whether what you are saying is really how you live, or worse yet, what you really believe.
Commenting is also important because it gives people a place to work out their own thoughts on the matter. I recently wrote a fairly popular – at least by gathering in light standards on Immigration. I realized later that I never left a comment responding to anyone, and though I should have, the comments continued to come from people who wanted to share their thoughts on the matter (An even better example of the usefulness of comments can be seen on over 400 comments about my XFBA posts I wrote earlier this year). This process of dialoging with feedback is very important for theological blogging. I have written things that were misrepresented someone or something, had some misunderstanding or was too strongly stated and I’ve been thankful for comments to not take my word for granted but challenge me in what I said.
Read A Broad Variety of Blogs
There are important blogs that have written about RSS feed readers and so I don’t need to say anything new here plus I’ve written one just covering the basics of Rojo.com the reader I use. In short – RSS has given us the opportunity to read and keep up on many blogs without having to visit each page to check and see if they’ve been updated. Because of this Really Simple Syndication, we as theologians can focus on reading and keeping up with a wide variety of blogs. This gives us a way to be exposed to new, different and even competing ideas about the world we live in. Good theology takes cues from the whole world, and acknowledges that competing views are valid and need to be heard out.
Getting Started with RSS
Benefits and Uses of Website Feeds
A list of Readers
Say Something New
When we write, we don’t need to continue to repeat and rehash old arguments. One thing I think that plagues the Religious community is a lack of creativity – let your blogs be a place where you try to take something old and make it new – or even better yet try to come up with some new perspective on an issue. I remember a professor telling us when I was at Malone, that when we write, write as though you are coming up with something new, something fresh, and write it with passion. Its not always the case that you will say something new, and if you use an idea that has been used before you’d better cite it, but its not hard to come up with a unique perspective on this or that topic. Make your writing interesting and creative, don’t be like the preacher that recycles his or her 52 sermons every year, saying the same thing over and over and over…
Keep It Short Enough to Read and Use Clear Titles and Headlines
I rarely read long articles, of which this post is one really long article. I don’t have time to read more than 1,500 words from one person in a day, one reason for this is because I try to read about 25-50 blogs on a given day. This is normal for many people these days, so help them out keep your posts at a readable length, and use clear titles and plenty of subtitles that will help the reader skim.
Using Titles Effectively
Clues of an Amateur Blogger
Writing Headlines that get Results
Write Regularly Write As A Spiritual Discipline
This is a basic point that all the how-to blogs talk about – post regularly. My own posting schedule is two to three times a week depending on my schedule, you don’t need to write everyday but find something that works for you and keep at it. If you are sporadic in your posts, you may very well get booted from someone’s feed reader, bookmark or top 10 list. People will forget that you are out there writing on the web and move on to another person who writes often.
Further, I find writing to be a spiritual exercise. It is a way to set time aside, reflect on God and your life, consider how things through your day or week have affected you and how that changes or creates your own narrative. For me writing is very much apart of my own spiritual discipline, writing regularly encourages this.
How Often Should A Blogger Post?
Write a Series
I like to write series on occasion, and in fact this post may have been better as a two part series don’t you think? Well if you are going to write a series you need to think about it before you do it. Once you’re all done writing your posts be sure to go back through and have them all link to each other (you can see what I did on the XFBA Series). Another tip that Darren from Problogger points to is the need to have a central page for the series (I’ve done this by creating a Featured page). Another fun thing to do is find collaborators to write with you on a topic, even finding people with different views than yourself is a great idea to help broaden your series’ appeal and readership.
Writing A Successful Series
Theological Book Reviews
I don’t think there could ever be enough theological book reviews, okay there are a few books I’d wish would go away but other than leaving those few behind I think the rule generally applies. Book reviews from various authors help readers get at ideas about the book from different angles. If you read a lot of theology, church history, philosophy and ethics then write out the main ideas to those books when you’re done. Let people know whether it was a good book and how it might be useful in a church or academic context.
Importance of Tagging and Boosting Traffic
If you are going to help the theological and religious community out by putting your thoughts on the web, then you need to make it easily accessible and easily found. Boosting traffic is not bad if it is for the right reasons, i.e. getting people interested in what you’re interested in seems like a good reason to me. Using tagging systems like Technorati and Delicious are ways that can help your blog gain visibility. Read the related articles below for better ideas about how to use tags and boost your traffic.
Putting Thought Into Categories and Tags
Problems With Tags
Boosting Traffic from Lorelle
How to boost traffic from Paul
Let Your Readers Know Where You Are Coming From
Finally, if you are going to write about theology and religion, then let people know where you’re coming from. We live in a postmodern world where most people don’t really believe that its possible to be objective about things like that anymore, so just tell us who you are and why you think what you do. This means you need to have a good About page where we hear a bit of your story and where you explain the boundaries and purpose of your blog. You also need an easily accessible Contact page where we can contact you just in case you either said something brilliant or something not-so-nice. I personally don’t like, and so don’t visit for long, websites where pretend names are used, there is no way to contact that person personally and you have no idea who he or she really is. This isn’t the way to build readership.
What Have I Missed?
I am sure I’ve missed some points about theological blogging and so I leave this open ended for suggestions…
I hope that these might acts as tips and a resource for how to get started and refine theological blogs. I’ve added tons of links to this article where I have found most of my ideas and where you will certainly gain even more knowledge than I could possible disseminate on my own. Please ask me if you have any other questions.
Also see — My article on How to Get Started Blogging for Beginners