Tag Archives: blogging

Road-Tested (and Robin-Tested) WordPress Plugins

As a blogger on dialup, I don’t have a lot of connection speed to test plugin after plugin. Instead, I spend a good bit of my time researching good plugins on WordPress help sites, and asking other WP bloggers what they personally use. Once I know the general community’s opinions and issues, as well as the opinions of closer blogging friends, I can then know whether the plugin is right for my own WP setup and needs.

In the process of all that research, vetting, and questioning, I have found 6 plugins that really help Crooked Glasses be all it can be, in the midst of all the other plugins available. I highly recommend each of these, as they have all made my blogging life much easier.

Akismet: Worth Its Weight in Data

Akismet, to be fair, came already installed when I loaded WP on my own server. But I have been so pleased with how it targets spam that I recommend everyone who hasn’t signed up for an Akismet API key to do so. (This is a completely unpaid statement on my part–I just really like the plugin because it works.)

Akismet plugin download page

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP): Reaching Into My Archives For Me

Despite being named “Yet Another” related posts plugin, YARPP is the only one of the three “related posts” plugins I tested that worked for me. Not sure if it was operator error, faulty installation, or non-working programs on the other two, but YARPP came through with flying colors.

At the end of each single post, now, I have links displayed to other posts similar enough in content, without ever having to lift a finger. THAT is such a help, much more than I ever imagined. Now I don’t have to do huge, link-laden Glassics posts unless I just want to!

YARPP plugin download page

Wordbooker: A Way to Connect My Blog with Friends and Family

Thanks to Wordbooker, which automatically posts newest blogs to my Facebook, my close friends and family can now read my blogs with ease. This actually means a lot to me, to know that real-life people are reading my works and they can comment on Facebook about them.

(Wordbooker’s plugin updates do tend to unhook the link between my FB and Crooked Glasses, but all you have to do is go into the plugin’s settings and re-connect with Facebook, which takes about 5 minutes even over dialup.)

Wordbooker plugin download page

AddThis: Making Tweeting/Liking/Sharing SO Much Easier

AddThis, like many of the sharing plugins, has a tweet button and a like button–but it’s also infinitely customizable by adding other specific-site share buttons to your lineup as well (like Foursquare and Pinterest).

I also like that it tells you how “viral” your links have gone through being shared (via your Dashboard)–though Crooked Glasses hasn’t gone all that viral yet, I know that the potential is there and I’ll be able to track its progress.

AddThis plugin download page

Tweet Old Post: Tweeting from the Depths of My Archives

This wonderful little plugin digs back into my archives and auto-tweets older posts about every 3 or 4 hours, even when I can’t be online due to having to keep the phone line clear (or when I’m feeling sick/headachy, which is often these days). Thanks to this plugin, my older posts have a chance to get some Twitter love, and my blog’s Twitter presence stays fresh and updated.

This plugin and the aptly and funnily-named plugin below are likely the ones I have to thank for my Twitter following…just saying.

Tweet Old Post plugin download page

(Special Honors) Just Tweet That S**t: It Does What It Says!

Like Wordbooker does for Facebook, this plugin auto-tweets links to my newest blogs. It helps so much to have this automated, since I can’t always be online and logged into Twitter when my blogs go live.

The reason this plugin gets a special honor? Because I tried several auto-tweet plugins before this and none of them would authenticate correctly with Twitter. I was about to tear my hair out trying to find an auto-tweet plugin, and NONE of them would do it…but this one did!

Just Tweet That S**t plugin download page

Summary

If you run a WordPress blog and are looking for plugins to help your spam problem, link to older posts, auto-post to social media, or make sharing easier, I would highly encourage you to install these 6. I have found them to be reputable, without spam and without hassle. Amazing how a single plugin can change your blogging life!

Wahhh, We Want Comments!

A blog is a difficult thing to write for every week, as many bloggers can tell you. Oh, sure, it’s much easier to write when you’re all het up about something and you know you’re going to get a lot of feedback. But sometimes, it feels like you’re writing on a wall that nobody even looks at.

Though I enjoy my own blogging experience here on Crooked Glasses, I have found myself feeling the same way about the blog as of late. Is my writing that uninteresting, that I get maybe a comment a week (if I’m lucky)? Am I not writing about things that others want to read about or know more about? When no readers give feedback on your blog, sometimes you begin to wonder if these proverbial “readers” are even out there, or whether you’re just the falling tree in the forest, with no one around to hear you.

I know that I’m not the only blogger to feel this way. I’ve spoken to several people in real life and online who have similar issues with their own blogs, never sure whether they’re really informing and entertaining, or whether they’re just wasting time, money, and megabytes of storage space. It’s not completely an egotistical need for attention, though I admit there is some truth to that. But for me, it’s more a need for validation: Am I doing something worthwhile, or should I be spending these 6 to 10 blogging hours a week doing something else?

This article, therefore, is written to help other bloggers like me figure out how to inspire reader feedback, as well as to push us all toward writing more for the readers rather than just ourselves.

How can bloggers inspire readers to give feedback?

So, with this concern of reader feedback high on many bloggers’ minds, we wonder how to help others respond to what we write. I began to brainstorm, and realized I needed to answer this question: “What makes ME want to post a comment about something someone’s blogged about?”

Ask thought-provoking questions

Insightful blog posts always get me, right in the cerebral cortex. (That’s one reason I strive to include both philosophy and commentary in my Tuesday on the Soapbox posts…I like being able to give insights if I come up with something that sounds halfway decent.) I like commenting on the insight and thoughts that the blogger has had, especially if it makes me see an issue in a new light–I like letting them know I was touched or moved by their writing.

State an opinion and ask for rebuttals/other perspectives

When someone asks directly for my opinion, I usually give it. (If you couldn’t tell already, I tend to have strong opinions. 😛 ) So, when I see a blog post that has a very strong or well-stated opinion (either aligned with what I believe or not), I tend to respond. There’s no need to be incendiary here; just writing your opinion with evidence to back up why you believe what you believe can be enough to start a (polite) debate or discussion.

Write something so personal/beautiful that others can’t help but reply

When a blogger writes openly and honestly about something in their real-life experience, especially a struggle with illness, family trouble, depression, regret, or anything else troubling, I want to give them words of courage. Also, if the blogger writes about getting better or taking it one day at a time, I want to leave words of encouragement. Either way, I’m clicking that comment button for all it’s worth.

What’s Your Opinion?

What makes you, as a reader, leave comments on a blogger’s writings? [/shameless appeal for comments] 🙂

Professional Web Writing

Drawing on my experience as an English major in college as well as my short time in Language Arts education, I have written the following article about sharpening and improving your writing for a businesslike Web environment.

Writing for a Business? Make It Look and Sound Like It!

Many online writers, including myself on a fair number of occasions, write in a more conversational style, much more casual and open. This is great for a personal blog or website, and is much more relatable for an anecdotal site.

However, if you’re writing for business, writing for advertising, or anything else that involves the need for clear and quick communication, you want to be as concise and correct as possible. Users who visit a business site are there to get info as quickly as possible, and you need to make that info-gathering process easy.

The three main issues I see with many amateur business communications are that there are too many misspellings and grammar mistakes, too many texting and Internet abbreviations, and lack of attention to phrasing and sentence construction.

Misspellings and Grammar Mistakes

Reading a well-written text is a delight to the eyes and the brain–the content enters your brain easily and quickly, and you feel like you’re truly learning something and making progress.

Trying to read a horribly-misspelled text with grammar mistakes all over it, on the other hand, is a mess; every sentence, or even every word, has to be paused over to decipher its meaning. It’s as if you’re not fluent in the language anymore.

Just as no one would go to a job interview without dressing, smelling, and speaking their best, no one should present a professional communication of any sort that has misspellings and grammar errors. Every error is like a tear in your suit jacket, a stain on your pants–it detracts from the text’s meaning, and others not only won’t be able to make sense of what you’ve written, but they’ll also have a lower opinion of you for writing that way.

If you are unsure of how to spell a word, here are several ways you can get help:

  • Search online for proper spelling and word usage, using sites like Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com.
  • Craft your writing in a word processor so you can catch common spelling errors. OpenOffice.org is a good, free word processing software option, as well as Google Docs. Remember, though, these programs don’t catch everything!
  • Lastly, proofread and read your work aloud to get rid of sound-alike/spelled-different problems, like their/they’re/there and your/you’re. You wouldn’t believe how much reading your words aloud helps you find problems in your writing!

Sound-Alike/Spelled-Different Examples
Incorrect: I’m sitting over their. (you’re sitting over their what? Whoever you’re talking about might not appreciate you sitting over their possessions.)

Correct: I’m sitting over there. (“there” as opposed to “here”…a location. Remember that there and here both end in “-re”, if nothing else reminds you of which form to use.)

Incorrect: There going to the store. (There are no people mentioned in this sentence at all. “There” references a location, or perhaps a pointed-out object.)

Correct: They’re going to the store. (“They are going to the store.” Whoever “they” are, they are going as a group to the store.)

Incorrect: You’re hair looks good today. (literally translated, “You are hair looks good today.” Is that really what you meant to say?)

Correct: Your hair looks good today. (Just like the word “their”, “your” ends in an “r”–both words indicate possession of the noun following it. At last, you finally possess the complimented hair follicles in question!)

Texting Abbreviations and Emoticons

Using texting/Internet abbreviations and emoticons is fine for personal communications or blogs, but for business websites or other professional sites, these two writing features give your work an adolescent, too-casual feel.

Examples
Txtspeak: Oh, lol, this sounds so stupid, but…
Real English: I feel silly saying this, but…

Txtspeak: So I completely failed at that, too, xD
Real English: Yet another hilarious failure on my part

Txtspeak: omg, this gets on my nerves
Real English: This annoys me greatly/This bothers me too much to be silent

Txtspeak: do u undrstnd wht i’m tryin 2 tell u?
Real English: Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?

If you want your communication to be taken seriously, you have to omit the textspeak. Not only will this make your writing look and sound more mature, it will also make it clearer for all users to understand.

Bad Phrasing/Sentence Construction

If every sentence. On your blog. Is broken up into. Parts like this. With lots of unnecessary punctuation…it makes it very hard to follow what’s being said.

On the other hand if your blog contains absolutely no punctuation whatsoever and you have lots of “and”s and “but”s and “or”s everywhere you have no periods to show where one thought ends and the next begins…it’s also very hard to follow what you just said.

Good sentence/paragraph construction not only makes a better story, but it makes for a clearer read, too. And clearer reads mean that more users will read what you have written, because it’s easier.

Using punctuation like verbal pauses is the best way to remember how to use them. Commas are for small pauses, just grabbing a breath before you continue on with your thought. Periods are for big pauses, where you’re about to transition to another thought. And semicolons are great for joining two small (but complete) thoughts together into a bigger sentence; usually, the two little sentences need to be at least related for the semicolon to work, though.

Directly related to sentence structure is paragraph structure. If you build your paragraphs so that your first sentence introduces your topic, the middle sentences expound on the topic, and the last sentence sums up and transitions into the next paragraph, your audience can better understand. Not only is this a good way to write for school, but it also helps fully explain your topic for business site purposes, too.

Lastly: PLEASE don’t type everything in one huge paragraph. “Walls of text” are not attractive to users who are looking for information quickly; a huge paragraph puts them right off of reading. (Preaching to myself here…I’m infamous for unintentional walls of text!) A good rule of thumb is to break for a new paragraph when you either get to a new topic you want to discuss, or when your paragraph is at least five typed lines long on your page.

This structure is beneficial for memory, because we generally remember information in “chunks.” When you’re writing for information purposes, you group like information together in the same paragraph, and you break up large portions of information into small, “bite-size” pieces so that people can take it in better.

Summary

Making your writing as professional as possible for the Web is like dressing your writing in its best for an interview–you want to make your writing give off the most sparkling first impression it can. Watching your spelling, grammar, Internet abbreviations, and writing structure is key!

Research: The Dreaded “R” Word

research_rword
Don’t glare at your screen like that! Research is necessary for any good web content, whether it be photos, videos, sound clips, and especially written articles. If you don’t want to just rehash ideas that someone else has already presented, you must research and then come up with new ideas that are exciting and interesting to read.

On the Internet, it can feel like everything that could be said about your chosen topic has already been said…but that’s not the case. Doing searches about your chosen topic will show you what’s been said, and then you can add your own unique viewpoint to it, making the “old” topic new again. You can also compare/contrast others’ opinions and beliefs with your own, creating a much richer and deeper article. Like serving last night’s roast chicken as today’s chicken salad sandwich, this is the best way to make fresh content.

Three Styles of Blog Research

Internet Search: What Are People Saying Now?

Do an Internet search on your selected topic, and browse through some of the most recent and most reputable (read: objectively-written) articles about it. Are there any articles that bolster your opinion? Are there any that challenge your stance? How about any articles or websites that further inform readers about your topic?

Like different recipes for the same basic dish, varying articles and websites can expose you to different perspectives on your topic. (Just like chicken salad can be made with celery or grapes, and both types are still called chicken salad–though why you’d ever want to eat grapes, chicken, and mayonnaise all mushed together, I’ll never know. #pickyeaterproblems)

Copy/paste the URLs of any articles you find enlightening or challenging, so that you can point your readers to them later (and also so you can refer to them while composing your own, individual blog article).

Library Search: What Have People Said in the Past?

I know, it sounds weird to do a search at the library in these days of finding everything online. But whether you’re searching an online library or a brick-and-mortar one, be sure to find older books and newsjournal articles about your topic, just to inform yourself about what has been said 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago.

You might find, in the middle of your Internet searching, that there was a book published 40 years ago specifically about your topic; in that case, you could look that book up at your local library and read it for more information. Like adding different spices to your chicken salad, doing historical research on your topic gives your viewpoint more impact and depth.

Like with the Internet search, keep a list of the titles and authors of books or journal articles you find particularly useful, so you can point your readers to them when you do write your own article.

Anecdotal Research: What Do Your Friends and Family Say?

Especially if you’re writing about a hot-button topic, get some opinions from friends and family to further inform yourself on how a variety of people think about the topic. Anecdotal information like this can give your blog article more personality and more immediacy than just dry research, kind of like adding mayonnaise to dry chicken to make it into chicken salad.

You won’t necessarily have to cite Granny or Cousin Fred in your article sources, of course, but referencing them in the course of the article makes it more story-like and reader-friendly. (Change names or use only first names/initials as you see fit–sometimes it might be prudent to obscure identities.)

After Research, Stir It Up and Add Your Secret Ingredient

After you’re finished with research on what others have said, it’s time to write your own opinions about it. Some of the research you’ve done may have changed your opinion or refined it; make a note of that and talk about that to your readers. Other research you’ve done might have led you to debunk opinions or declare them unfounded. Just like refining a recipe in the kitchen, writing a well-thought-out blog article takes some time, some trial and error, and some mental stirring, but it’s worth it.

Your readers will be more engaged with an article which is both informed and full of your own writing style–your own blog’s “flavor,” if you will. Your “secret ingredient,” of course, is your own opinion, which is probably why you’re writing a blog in the first place. 😉

Summary

Research may not seem exciting, but if you do it and do it well, you may find yourself more enthusiastic about your topic than ever, and your readers will get a much better article because of it. (Also, I really shouldn’t write blog posts when I’m hungry. I come up with all kind of strange analogies. XD)

Why I Chose to Write a Multi-Topic Blog

multitopicblog
When you think of “blogs” you generally think of personal writings, such as the writing about somebody’s day-to-day life, such as Jenn.nu and GeekyPosh.com. And if it’s not a blog about day-to-day life, then perhaps it’s a blogging-platform-driven website based on a topic, turning it into a one-topic blog, such as The Simple Dollar or WPCandy.com.

My blog, therefore, a blog about six different topics, is rather strange in comparison. Why, given these two other (somewhat easier-looking) styles of blogging, would I choose to create a blog this diverse?

Reason #1: Tried Personal Blogs and One-Topic Blogs Before–and Failed

Yes, you read that right. I actually have failed at doing blogs several times before Crooked Glasses came to be. And I have tried both types of blogging styles that I outlined above.

After trying to run a WindowsLive Space, a LiveJournal, and a personal site, I discovered that my personal life was just not interesting enough to warrant writing a post about every day. Some days, I literally thought, “If I post today, it’s going to have the same content as the post yesterday.” Seriously, nobody needs to read a whole week (or month) of posts along the lines of “Today I woke up. I ate something. Then I watched TV before going to meet my boyfriend and hang out. Then I came home and wrote this blog post, then went to bed.”

It bored me to tears to think about writing this drivel, so I had to come to the hard conclusion that it would also be boring for people to read. (I also never kept a steady diary during my childhood for the same reason–it bored me to write identical diary entries day after day.)

In between trying to make a personal blog work for me, I also tried a couple of topic blogs that are best left forgotten, basically about my favorite TV shows at the time. What frustrated me about writing one-topic blogs was that I quickly ran out of content–I ran out of things to say about the topic very quickly when I felt pressured to write about it every day. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the topic anymore or that I got tired of it; instead, I struggled week to week to try to find new nuggets of information that my visitors would like to read, and I ended up feeling like all I was writing was retreads of old articles.

Reason #2: Wanted One Site that Covered All My Favorite Things

Like Julie Andrews’ character in The Sound of Music, I have a lot of favorite things; I am interested in webdesign, Internet surfing, and creativity, but also in Biblical study, gaming, and a bit of philosophy and commentary here and there. I didn’t want to have six different blogs, though–I wanted one place, one login and one blogging platform installation, that allowed me to share about all the things I love.

I also wanted my blog to stand out, and I knew that a multi-topic blog would be a lot broader and more interesting to viewers, as well as providing them a window into topics they might have never thought of or heard of before.

Reason #3: Keeps Me Writing and Doesn’t Let Me Get Bored

The last reason I chose a multi-topic blog is because this keeps me writing. Every week, I challenge myself to write six new blog posts, six new examples of fresh and interesting content, and it helps me hone and trim my writing down to its essential basics instead of allowing my words to run amok. It doesn’t let me slack off or procrastinate (as I am so prone to do in other areas of my life)–this is a personal commitment to working on one of my best-loved crafts.

Writing about six different topics also keeps me from being bored or running out of content. I don’t drag myself through writing six posts about the same topic–I am energized by writing one post each about my favorite topics.

Summary

Blogging doesn’t have to be based in your personal life or in just one topic. Indeed, if you’re interested in many different topics, a multi-topic blog might be just the way to make your mark on the blogging community. (I don’t claim that Crooked Glasses is all that popular just yet, but you never know!)

It’s Trendy to Be Illustrated

trendytobeillustrated
Websites have been shifting away from text, going toward images and videos. Why is this?

Well, there are some solid reasons for minimizing the amount of text on your blog:

The Pros of Using More Images

  1. More people (about 70% of the world’s population) are visual learners–they take in information better with pictures rather than words. Thus, charts, graphs, illustrations, and other images are going to be more easily understood by your audience.
  2. Making images is often easier and more fun than writing up blog entries day after day. Images can be more easily designed in creative and colorful ways than text can be.
  3. Website visitors can more easily save images to their hard drive or share it with other people using social media. You can’t do that so easily with text, even with an excerpt of your blog entry.

But Wait a Minute…

While there are benefits to doing more things by illustrations and images, I believe there are drawbacks, too, and they concern me a great deal, both as an English major and a former Language Arts teacher.

The Cons of Going Completely Textless

  1. Images make us lazy readers; we end up not able to focus on long paragraphs because we haven’t practiced this skill often enough. (This is also called “how to make your English teachers cry”)
  2. Images are harder to format than text, since they are a fixed height and width. You’ve pretty much got to design your site around displaying your images properly.
  3. Images are not always mobile-device-friendly. Ever tried looking at an un-resizable image on a mobile browser? It’s usually blown up too big, or it shows up way too small to be any use. Text is a lot friendlier (and easier to load) on mobile data connections.

What Do We Do About This?

Here are a few ways to include more text on your websites without overwhelming your readers:

  • Include enough images to make your content interesting, but also provide descriptive text captions. (This also makes your website friendly to screen readers)
  • Space out your lines of text using the CSS “line-height” property–whatever your body font size is in pixels, set your line-height to be 4-5 pixels taller. (Example: “font-size: 18px; line-height: 22px;”)
  • Use images as highlighters for your text–place them so that they draw attention to the important points.
  • Write and format descriptive, bold subheadings/headings to make your articles easy to scan through for content.

Summary

Our sites don’t have to be completely text-free in order to be “modern sites”–instead, we can include images WITH our text. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; in fact, our visitors will benefit greatly from seeing lots of different information formats on our pages!

Scheduling Posts Using WordPress

schedulingposts
One of the things that first drew me to using WordPress is the ability to schedule posts. Since I had horrible 26.4 kbps dial-up internet at home when I started my blog in January 2011, I had to grab Internet time at libraries and coffee shops as I could. Thus, scheduling posts worked beautifully for me, enabling me to write posts at home and upload them for later publishing to keep my blog active. And now, even though I have fast internet at home, scheduling posts still works for me–I can work ahead and still space out my posts across days. Awesome!

How to Schedule Your Posts

When you’re on the Add New Post page of your WordPress Dashboard, look over to the right side of the screen. A module will be on display there (shown at left), with options to save your draft, discard what you’re working on, etc. One of the options reads “Publish immediately.”
You can click the “Edit” option beside the text “Publish immediately” to expand a form with text boxes (shown at left). This will allow you to change the post’s publish date and time.

When you first open the Scheduling option, the current date and time will be in the text boxes. In this screenshot, it was May 4th, close to 2:00 pm (WordPress has a 24-hour clock, so keep that in mind!)

Now, all you have to do is fill in the date and time you want your current post to appear!

I have deliberately highlighted the date and time text boxes to call attention to the changed publish date and time: May 16th, 2011, at 9:01 AM.

Click the white OK button, and the text in the box subtly changes to “Schedule for: May 16th, 2011, at 9:01,” as seen at left. (This is how my blog posts magically appear at the same time every day, whether I’m actually awake/at my computer or not–another great function of scheduling!)

Why Scheduling Posts is Awesome

  1. You can schedule dozens of entries well ahead of time. This is what I’ve done with my Friday link posts–I’ve scheduled them several weeks in advance, since they are easier posts to put together. This means less writing overall for each individual week.
  2. You can get around having limited Internet access or blogging time by scheduling the week’s posts in advance. I generally upload the coming week’s posts on Saturday or Sunday of each week, so I don’t have to worry about it during the week.
  3. You can have posts lined up for publishing even when you’re going on vacation or will otherwise be away from your computer. This is a good option if you want a week or two without having to worry about blogging, but you don’t want your blog to lie un-updated for all those days.
  4. You can post announcements ahead of time, right when they need to be posted (such as a warning an hour before an online contest closes, etc.). Timely updates ensure your visitors that the site is being watched and updated regularly, and is a great interactive tool.

Summary

WordPress makes it easy to do posts in advance, for whatever reason, with its Scheduling option. Try it out sometime–it’s certainly been a lifesaver for me!

Two Problems Tackled, One Remains!

WOOT! I finally (FINALLY) figured out how to make my header image stay visible when navigating to other post pages and other standalone pages. Also, I figured out how to take away the silly “Posted on” and “Category” lines from my standalone pages–they didn’t need it, after all. YAY for victories, however small!

One problem remains: how to make comments work. Currently, I’m tinkering with the comments template, but there’s a lot of things I need to add to the stylesheet in order to make comments look right, as well as function right. Sigh. Coding awaits.

Just wanted to let my viewers know that I’m still working on this theme and trying to make it right. 😀 And at this rate, I hope to be 3 for 3 soon!

Working on Getting Comments Activated

I’m in the process of learning how to build my own WordPress theme–what you’re looking at is my creation, but it’s unfortunately half-formed and parts of it still don’t operate correctly. :/ I apparently don’t have a head for all these technical terms–I feel sometimes like I’m about to understand, and then the concept slips away like an eel, and I’m left in the dark again.

One important part of this blog that I’m trying to get activated is comments. Once I get that rolling, I’ll be a lot more comfortable with the theme overall. Bear with me!

A Blog’s Beginnings

This blog has just begun, so there’s not quite a lot here yet. With posts being added every day regularly except Sundays, however, that will soon change. I hope that there will be some good feedback about this blog; I invite visitors to tell me their thoughts through the comments (don’t tear me to pieces, but good solid feedback is always welcome).

As always, thank you for visiting, and I hope you enjoy what is here already. (And don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see the first post about web design!)