Writing Tip: Establish Context So Readers Understand Better

If you’re a fan of TV series, serialized novels or the like, you would be familiar with the usual pre-episode introductions. “Previously on (insert title of show here)” it would go. And in book series (particularly those aimed at kids and adolescents), each installment would usually include brief references to character backgrounds. I suppose the purpose of this is to fill in the viewer or reader with some details pertaining to the current storyline, story arc or particular characters or events (in the case of a book).

If you’re a regular viewer or reader, then this might sometimes look corny, or a waste of a few precious seconds of your valuable time. But to a first time viewer, it does wonders. Remember the first time you picked up a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book (yes, I must admit read them in my youth!)? There’s always the few lines saying who’s who, and what this person looked like, and what their habits are. After a while, it gets tiring. But this ensures readers don’t get lost in the story, no matter if he gets to start reading issue #1 or issue #300.

When you write a blog post, do you assume your readers know everything? Do you assume your readers know the entire background of your post, or even your site itself?

Assume Nothing

I think I would rather assume that a reader knows nothing, and at least give him or her tidbits of information that might be helpful in understanding the context or the background of a blog post. Even if blog posts are not like show episodes or book issues, it’s important to establish the context and the background.

Consider this: majority of most blogs’ traffic would come from search engines. In my own experience, 60 to 80% of my traffic comes from the big search engines (depending on the niche). So this means most of my readers are newbies, so to speak. A handful don’t even know what a blog is, judging from how some folks would respond on the comment threads as if they were posting on a forum or sending me a private email. Many people probably just click on the first search result, regardless of whether it’s Wikipedia or a well-optimized (or linked) blog post.

I would guess that many readers–especially search engine referrals–don’t instantly get an idea of what a blog is all about, instead focusing only on the main content. Sometimes, that in itself is enough. But I would definitely want a new reader to stay on, understand what my blog is all about, and possibly return in the future if we share the same interests.

Some tips

So here are a few tips on how to make sure that newbie reader does know what you’re talking about.

Have a brief about this blog blurb on the sidebar. Tell a reader something about your blog or yourself. Write a short paragraph about the main topic of your blog, or your main interests. This would help put your blog posts (and possibly, discussion threads) in context.

Have an About page. This should be a longer version of the “about this blog” sidebar blurb. I like blogs that have a link to their About page both on the header and right after the short sidebar blurb. You can explain a bit about the history of your blog, and what readers might expect to read. You could also include a brief bio of yourself here.

Run a list of related articles right after a blog post. Most readers are satisfied with reading any single blog post to their liking. But if you’ve written about a certain topic several times, then it makes sense to guide your readers to reading those others, as well. Some blogs rely on plugins that automatically generate these, depending on keywords, tags and categories. But the best “related posts” lists are those that are done by hand. (An added advantage is being able to link internally using different sets of anchor texts.)

And then, just as TV series give you a brief peek at what the next episode will be about, you can give your readers quick links to subscribing to your blog right after each post. Give them a choice in getting updates, like RSS, email or even their mobile phone. Folks who are truly interested in what you write about (and how you write them) will leave your site wanting more, so they would appreciated being alerted if you have something new.

In general, write as if every reader were a new one. Establish some background. Put some context into your writing. At least link out to relevant third-party sites, from which readers can get more information; you can even quote from these other sources.

Sure, reading a blog is not always like reading a book. But if you are able to hook readers into becoming a regular reader, and you can get your point across without being vague and confusing, then your blog would be just like that exciting novel you can’t put down.

2 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Establish Context So Readers Understand Better

  1. Yes, I understand that not every visitor have know the background of every my article. But, I assume they are know and have a little on the background of what I have wrote.

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