ISP Journals – What makes a good blog post?

11 02 2011

Writing a blog post is different than writing an essay.  It is less structured, more informal and includes your opinion.  There is no set length, in terms of words or numbers of paragraphs.  That isn’t to say there aren’t expectations for your posts.  Felix Salmon, a financial blogger for Reuters, has this to say about blogging:

Blogs are a conversation. Remember that. They’re not a sermon, they’re not a news article, they’re much closer to a discussion in the pub, or sometimes a graduate seminar. They can be funny, or serious, or angry; they can be two words or 20,000 words long; they can be pretty much whatever you want them to be, including heavily reported. But they’re distinguished by having voice, which is one necessary part of a conversation.

I want you to notice a couple of things about the information above.  First, Mr. Salmon’s name is a link to his blog.  This allows an interested reader to find his most recent posts.  Second, I’ve included a link, using the word blogging, to the post that I excerpted.  This is the equivalent of a footnote in a formal essay.  I don’t expect footnotes; I do expect links to any statistics or research that you use to support your arguments.  Third, I’ve excerpted a portion of his post on blogging to help make my point.  As long as a link to the original post is present and the excerpt is indented (use the quote button on the toolbar) this is acceptable.  It isn’t plagiarism as I have sourced the material and made it clear that the writing isn’t mine.

Links are a key feature of blogging.  They allow the reader to further explore ideas and opinions that are related to the post.  They also allow the reader to check the origin of statistics to determine for themselves the relevance and reliability of the source.   You need to do some research for your posts.  Incorporate links to these sites in your post if and when they help enhance the depth and/or breadth of your arguments.

Your posts are supposed to include your opinion but it must be an informed opinion.  What is an informed opinion?  It is an opinion that uses facts, statistics, and valid research to support well-reasoned conclusions.  I could have an opinion that the world is flat but objective, scientific evidence would prove me wrong.  It is an uninformed opinion.  It could be my opinion that all government spending is unnecessary and wasteful but a reasonable person could point out any number of areas (policing, justice system, military, education) where at least some minimum government expenditures are necessary.  I’m looking for well-reasoned arguments not hyperbole and exaggeration.

Remember, economists disagree – frequently.  Separating the facts from the opinions can be difficult.  At this point in your economic education you may not be able to tell the difference between a reasonable argument and

Any blog post worth reading will employ proper spelling and grammar.  Proof-read your work (this is definitely a case of doing as your teacher says not as your teacher does!).  You should also have some form of conclusion.  It doesn’t need to be a formal one as you would write for an essay but you do need to end your post by coming to some conclusion.

Check the rubric to see if your post meets the expectations.  Make sure your follow the links in the original journal post.  I try to lead you towards interesting and reputable sites to help you with your research.  I try, wherever possible, to separate the sources that use more positive statements from the sources that use more normative statements.

Some examples of different styles and approaches to blogging.

First some economics and finance blogs (you may not understand everything in these posts yet as we haven’t studied these topics but hopefully you can get a sense of the different arguments and perspectives on the issues).  Just because I selected these posts, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in them and not that my agreement should matter.  Don’t change your opinion on an issue simply because you want to agree with my perspective.  Students last semester presented well-reasoned arguments for ideas that I didn’t agree with but still received full marks.

Felix Salmon

Jobless Benefits Extension Will Reduce Unemployment, Not Increase It (notice how he uses links and quotes to present multiple perspectives on the issue and refutes the perspectives he doesn’t agree with using clear, well-reasoned rebuttals, he then comes to a clear conclusion)

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-Winning Economist, Columnist and Blogger for the New York Times

Mr. Krugman’s blog entries are normally shorter than what I am expected but he is remarkably good at breaking down difficult concepts into easy-to-understand points as well as using facts to support his arguments. A few of my recent favourites:

  • Gradual Trends and Extreme Events (on global warming and extreme weather)
  • Multidimensional Europe (considers multiple perspectives, uses facts and statistics to support arguments)
  • Economics and Morality (this post has a clear opinion and uses some evidence to support it – it does, however, include a number of arguments presented as positive statements when they might be better considered normative statements (example below) – when you win a Nobel Prize you can make statements like this, until then include some evidence (proved to be the road to hell how?)

Utopia, of perfect economic justice, has proved to be the road to hell, while welfare-state capitalism — a market economy with its rough edges smoothed by a strong safety net — has produced the most decent societies ever known.

Eric Schoenberg, Associate Director, Center for Decision Sciences, Columbia Business School writing for the Huffington Post

Greg Mankiw, Economist, Harvard Professor

  • On Inequality (clearly structured arguments, uses research to support arguments, comes to a clear conclusion)

And for a non-economic blog…

John Scalzi (sci-fi author and long-time blogger)

  • On teenage writing (longer entry, notice the structure and clear thesis – the language is relatively informal but it works for the style of the entry)
  • On How Many Times I Should Get Paid For a Book (notice the link to the origins of the topic, this is a well-reasoned opinion that considers multiple perspectives on the issue)
  • Being Poor (not a great example of what I expect but a very interesting look into what poor means)

To get a good idea of what I expect, check out the Journal Hall of Fame to see the best journals from last semester.  I’ve removed the prompts (as some will be re-used) but you should be able to determine the general prompt from the content of the post.

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