Freshly Pressed Focus — Cocktail Hour: Apples to Apples

Today we are featuring “Cocktail Hour: Apples to Apples” on the homepage of WordPress.com, from the blog Shallot’s Web. What makes this post worthy of such fame and fortune?

First, ’tis the season for apples, at least in the Northern hemisphere. Farmer’s markets, grocery stores and roadside stands are brimming with barrels of apples for sale. So, lots of people are wondering what they can make with all those apples. And this recipe from Shallot’s Web is not your ordinary apple pie or apple sauce recipe, this one is putting a great spin on a cocktail, just in time for the weekend. So the post is timely in two ways — it’s apple season, and the weekend is approaching. The post was written on Monday, but we waited until today to feature it, just for that reason.

Instead of just slapping up a recipe, and nothing else, the blog’s author has taken the time to include photos – so anyone who wants to give this recipe a shot has an idea of what the finished product should look like, *and* the author explains why they wanted to try this recipe. They were tired of fake-tasting, toxic-green “apple-tinis” that somehow neither really taste nor smell like fresh apples. So they made their own unique recipe. Awesome! It’s easy to use someone else’s recipe and blog about it, but it takes true passion to invent a new recipe too. Kudos to Shallot’s Web and keep creating — you’ve got our attention.

Cocktail Hour: Apples to Apples I admit that I’ve tried a few “apple-tinis.” You know, those unnaturally green cocktails made with artificially flavored sour apple schnapps and vodka, garnished with a maraschino cherry?  Any time I’ve tried one, I’ve always thought, “why am I not just eating a sour apple Jolly Rancher candy instead?”  I didn’t set out to make a better, more natural version of this cocktail, but I think I ended up doing so. When the weather turns chilly in late … Read More

via Shallots Web

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Twitter Tips for Journalists (And Bloggers!)

I came across this great slideshow detailing some key tips for using Twitter if you’re a journalist. The same tips apply for bloggers, or anyone who likes to publish content online.

The main message here is: Be professional. While some people think of Twitter as casual and fleeting, the truth is, any Tweet can come back to haunt you, at any time. And while slang may make your Tweets shorter, they also make them hard to read. Spell correctly, write cleanly, and communicate fairly.

Twitter Tips for Journalists (hat tip to Journalism Professor and excellent Twitter user @andybechtel)

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The Art of the Nut Graf: Don’t Just Get New Visitors, Keep Them

Mixed nuts

Image via Wikipedia

Writing rockin’ blog post titles is a great way to attract new visitors to your blog. But it’s just as important that your posts have strong introductions that will engage readers and motivate them to actually read — and not just scan — your writing. Plus, you probably want to encourage them to stay on your blog and read your other entries, too.

Think about it: do you read every word of every blog post that looks remotely appealing? Of course not! You probably scan the first few sentences to determine if a post is of interest to you, and if it doesn’t immediately grab your attention, you skedaddle.

Keep that in mind when you’re writing the introductions of your own posts.

“What Graf?”

Traditional news stories begin by summarizing the who, what, when, where, why, and how. This is called the lead. Feature stories, on the other hand, take a more narrative approach and often include the opinion of the writer (like most blog posts). The nut graf is the lead of a feature story. It summarizes the essence of the article.

The nut graf essentially tells readers, “Here is what this piece is about, and this is why you should care.” You might be able to sum up the nut graf in a single sentence, or you might want to dedicate a whole paragraph to it. Though it’s usually best to place the nut graf as early as possible in the story, you may find that for some posts, it fits best in the second or third paragraph.

For example, here are some nut grafs (highlighted in bold) from two of last week’s Freshly Pressed posts:

Here’s an excerpt from I am not Hmong; And I don’t speak Spanish!
with a delayed, three-paragraph nut graf:

A few of years ago, my husband’s niece exclaimed, “Auntie, I know how to say door in Spanish.”

“Dora, the Explorer” was one of her favorite children’s television shows at that time.  I wondered if she had learned that from “Dora.”

“How?” I asked.

“Qhob rooj!”

I gasped in surprise,  “Athena, that’s not Spanish!  That’s Hmong.  And the correct way to pronounce it is ‘qhov rooj.’”

Two years ago, the same Athena got offended when I told her that she is Hmong.

“I’m not Hmong.  I’m American and I speak American,” she stated.

She does have a point; she is American.  She was born here.  She lives here.  She goes to an American school.   She learns about the American culture, history, and language at school.  But she can’t deny the fact that no matter how American she wants to be, she will always be Hmong.  Even if she labels herself as “American”, others are going to label her as either “Asian (Asian American)” or “Hmong.”

Athena is not the only one.  I have witnessed too many small Hmong children who are ignorant about their culture.   Too many Hmong children don’t speak their native tongue and don’t even recognize the Hmong language when they hear it.  Too many Hmong children don’t know what the essence of being “Hmong” is about nor do they have pride that they are Hmong.

Who is to blame for ignorant Hmong children who believe their grandparents speak Spanish?  Who is to blame for Hmong children refusing to claim their heritage?   The parents.

Growing up, I didn’t have cable TV or watch American movies like my peers.  My mom bought Hmong movies and Asian movies dubbed in Hmong for my siblings and me.  If it weren’t for those Hmong movies, I believe I would’ve lost my ability to speak Hmong a long time ago.

Here’s an excerpt from The Truth About Flying, which begins with a two-sentence nut graf:

Many moons ago, when the Gutenberg was just a twinkle in Johannes’ eye, I thought travel was exciting, exotic and glamourous.

Now that I fly roughly every few weeks and have survived Paris CDG on more than one occasion, with my hair intact (though perhaps less so my sanity), I have realised that it is the height of tedium.

Or, as Orson Welles so succinctly put it, “There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.”

In addition to communicating the value of the post and hooking readers, an effective nut graph will help you to focus and organize your writing.

Tips for Writing Compelling Introductions

Be specific
Paint a detailed picture for your reader.

Get to the point
Say what you want to say in as few words as possible. You’re writing for the web, remember?

Have an opinion
That’s the beauty of personal blogs!

Emphasize controversy
As the old journalism saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” But you don’t have to blog about violence (or other contentious topics) to raise eyebrows. If you’re challenging conventional wisdom or saying what no one else is brave enough to say, you can use that to hook readers.

Be honest
Don’t overhype your post. Get visitors excited about your content, but be careful not to set them up for disappointment.

Nut Grafs in a Nutshell

So whether you’re writing a long-winded rant about politics or simply recapping last weekend’s shenanigans, be sure to tell visitors why they should keep reading.

Chances are, if someone’s already clicked on your post they’re probably interested in what you have to say. But most of us have pretty short attention spans when it comes to browsing content on the web, so do your best to hook readers as quickly as you can.

Posted in Blogging Tips, Want More Readers? | 6 Comments

Freshly Pressed Now on Twitter, Too!

Image representing WordPress.com as depicted i...

To make reading the top daily posts from WordPress.com even more fun and flexible, we’ve created a Twitter account that tweets all the latest picks! Follow us at http://twitter.com/freshly_pressed

For those of you who prefer RSS feeds, Freshly Pressed also has a feed: http://freshlypressed.wordpress.com/feed/

To see the latest news and announcements from WordPress.com, be sure to follow http://twitter.com/wordpressdotcom, which is, of course, also available as a feed at: http://en.blog.wordpress.com/feed/

Also, if you’d like to add social media buttons to your blog posts — so your friends can share your posts on Twitter, Facebook and more — be sure to read “More ways to share” to set this feature up on your blog.

And to subscribe to any blog on WordPress.com, all you have to do is hit “Subscribe” in your admin bar.

Posted in Freshly Pressed, RSS Feeds | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Quick Tip: Avoid Center-Aligned Text

As mentioned in Poor Design Speaks Louder Than Words: A Lesson in Personal Branding, ineffective and unattractive design elements can send your visitors running for the browser back button. Using center-aligned body copy is another way to put readers off.

Why It’s Bad

Centered text can be difficult to read because each line starts in a different place. This can be irritating to some readers since it actually slows down the speed of reading.

Here’s an example. See how it takes more effort to read a block of text that’s center aligned?
That’s because your eyes have to keep searching for the beginning of the next line. Sometimes it’s to the left of the prior line, sometimes it’s to the right of it.
Center-aligned text is especially problematic when it’s used for long paragraphs or posts. So do your readers a favor and left-justify your text! (It’ll look nicer, too!)

Posted in Quick Tips | 3 Comments

Freshly Pressed Focus – DIY: Bulletin Board Chic

This week, we picked DIY: Bulletin Board Chic, by WordPress user Pradaforbreakfast, for Freshly Pressed. Here’s why:

Reason #1: Strong Headline
“DIY: Bulletin Board Chic” is both informative and catchy. The “DIY” part tells readers that the post provides how-to instructions, while “Bulletin Board Chic” is a creative way of explaining what the project entails.

Reason #2: Effective Design
The author does a great job of breaking up the text with bulleted lists, headings, short paragraphs, and lots of images. This makes the post aesthetically pleasing and easy to scan. The format also helps to highlight what materials are required for the project.

Reason #3: Good, Typo-Free Writing
There are no glaring spelling, grammar, or punctuation issues. Plus, the writing is well organized and the directions are easy to follow (and also supported by images).

Reason #4: Unique Content
It’s not everyday that we see posts about DIY bulletin boards. Thanks for sharing this innovative idea, Pradaforbreakfast!

diy: bulletin board chic Let’s just say I have a certain infatuation with bulletin boards (hence my Twitter background). I absolutely adore anything corkboard — it’s a great way to organize your thoughts, hang up your jewelry, keep in mind quotes that inspire you, etc. The list is practically endless. There is one probably with the typical Staples bulletin board: it’s pretty ugly. And I prefer my corkboard to be aesthetically pleasing. Enter bulletin board makeovers. It … Read More

via Prada For Breakfast

Posted in Freshly Pressed | 5 Comments

6 Strategies for Combating Lazy Blogging Habits

You already know that the greatest blogs are updated frequently and feature lots of original content. But let’s face it: sometimes you wish your blog posts would write themselves.

Here’s a collection of strategies for overcoming some of the top lazy blogging temptations.

Temptation #1: Use the “I don’t have time” excuse.

Solution: Sure you do! If you’re in a pinch, keep it simple with QuickPress. If you’re on the go, use WordPress.com on your mobile phone or create a post by email.

Temptation #2: Give up and take the day off.

Solution: Find inspiration by browsing the most popular tags or searching for your favorite topics, or combat writer’s block by tackling a Plinky prompt.

Temptation #3: Copy and paste (or link to) others’ material without adding original content.

Solution: Add your two cents! Ask yourself:

  • What do I find interesting about this?
  • Do I agree or disagree with the author?
  • Do I have a similar experience to share?
  • What perspectives haven’t been addressed?
  • Does this relate to any current events?

An easy way to do this with WordPress.com posts is to use the Like and Reblog features. You’ll be sent to QuickPress, where you can add your own commentary to a post, then publish it to your own blog.

Temptation #4: Ramble on and on about whatever comes to mind.

Solution: Make a mental outline before you start writing. Even better, write the headings for your post first so that your objective is clear to you and to your audience. This will also help you to organize your ideas in a logical, intuitive manner.

Also keep in mind that the best blogs are focused on one main subject and target a specific audience. If you feel like you’re losing your focus, think about the reason why you started blogging in the first place, and how you define blogging success.

Temptation #5: Write a boring headline.

Solution: Check out Are You Writing Rockin’ Blog Post Titles?

Temptation #6: Rush to hit publish.

Solution: Hold it! Resist the urge to publish a boring, text-only post. Try out Zemanta, a great new feature that provides suggestions for images, links, and tags that you can add with a single click. It looks like this:

Adding photos, related articles, and tags is a surefire way to grab readers’ attention, break up content for enhanced readability, and make your post easier for others to find.

If you prefer to find your own photos, be sure to obey copyright laws and give credit when you’re using others’ material (all the images suggested by Zemanta are copyright cleared, and automatically add the photo credit for you).

Lastly, proofread your post. Nothing spells lazy blogging like t-y-p-o!

Posted in Blogging Tips | 1 Comment