Begin with your most important point. Use short sentences and clear, non-jargony language. Remember your end goal.

These were among the tips BeyondDC creator and Greater Greater Washington (GGW) blogger Dan Malouff imparted at a recent lunch talk at the Mobility Lab. Malouff discussed how to blog effectively and get published on websites such as GGW.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.




Among his main points:

  • Put the most important information up front, in the first paragraph, with more specific details and supportive facts following. The glut of information and competition demands clarity and incisiveness. “Lead with the takeaway,” Malouff said.
  • Inform before you persuade. The best articles use a piece of news or data as a starting point, and then use it to draw conclusions or make an argument. It’s important to explain the context, as readers are not all experts already.
  • Transportation and city planners (not to mention lawyers) like to use jargony language. Blog readers respond better to simple language. Complicated, wordy prose can make an otherwise compelling article unreadable and/or suspicious. Use the rule that easier-to-read is better.
  • Don’t use the passive voice much if at all. If you can insert “by zombies” after the verb, then you are using it. For example, the sentence “The use of passive voice is discouraged” is easy to identify as passive voice since one could add “by zombies” and the sentence would still make sense. Instead, the sentence could read “Don’t use the passive voice.” (Avoid nominalizations, like “the utilization of this grammatical construction leads to complication of the communication,” too.)
  • Keep articles short. A thousand words is typically too long. The “sweet spot” for web writing is 300 to 600 words.
  • Keep the blog post to one main idea. If you want readers to remember more than one big takeaway, then split the article up into multiple posts.


Here are Malouff’s slides:


Mobility Lab Communications Director Paul Mackie facilitated the lecture. He called blogging an inherently democratizing medium. He said that institutions such as the New York Times are no longer the gatekeepers of information. Anyone with a keyboard now has a voice. Mackie described blogging as a way to “become a thought leader.”

(Author’s note: This article is 374 words long and, therefore, perfect.)

Cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

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Paul Goddin is the urban affairs reporter at Mobility Lab. Paul has lived in the area for 20 years. He holds a degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia. He doesn’t own a car, preferring to get around by biking, walking, or transit. In his spare time, he enjoys exploring new places, watching movies, and taking photos of architecture.