Making good comments

Blogs can be used for a range of different things but their nature as web-based publications is that they are always part of a larger web ecology. Linking to others is a key practice of good blogging.

One way to build connections – link your blog to other blogs doing similar things – is to leave good quality comments with on other blogger’s posts. We will sometimes be doing this as part of class activities but it is also a very valuable thing to do as part of your own blogging practice.

Grammar Girl who is a wealth of information and tips on so many things, has a a great set of tips about how to make your comments count. As she says: “comments are a new art form” and increasingly from Facebook, to blogging, to YouTube commenting and interacting with quick responsive thoughts is a key skill we need to practice.

I think her two most valuable insights are “Provide Context” and “Make a point”. And they are related.

Comments should be short (another of GG’s points) so don’t analyse the whole post cut to the chase about something where you can really provide insight and add value. Become part of the value adding set of connections the web creates.

Which is why adding context to your comment is important – say what you are commenting on – is it a point in post, is it a point made by a fellow commenter. If it is a tangential point briefly explain your connecting thought process. We know that people scan when they read web copy, – i.e. run through thinks quickly picking out bits –  so make it easy for people coming to your comments to make sense of how they fit into the flow.

Read the whole article (both pages!) it’s a good resource.



The importance and versatility of hyperlinks

Creating in-text hyperlinks

Linking to other blogs, media reports, videos, images and references is at the heart of what blogging is all about.

Blogging is at a fundamental level hyperlinking.

Creating a link in WordPress is easy – in the post window, highlight the text that you want to represent the link then click on the little chain link icon in the toolbar as shown above. This will bring up a pop-up window. Paste the “url,” the web address copied from your browser, of the destination link into the field marked “Url” leave the “Title” field blank and click “add link”. WordPress creates the necessary code without you having to worry. If you make a mistake and want to remove the link: highlight the linked text and click on the broken chain link icon next to the icon circled in the image above.

Always use this way of embedding a link in a phrase of the text NEVER put a URL in your blog post as unformatted text.

The main rule about creating a good link is that the linked text should be a brief (usually 2-3 words – never more than five) phrase that can be read and understood independently from the rest of the text and that conveys something about the information at the other end of the text.

This is because research shows that users scan web pages rather than read them thoroughly so key elements that stand out – like coloured or underlined linked text – should convey as much as possible independent of adjoining text.

So for example in the above text I have linked to a report by web usability expert Jacob Nielson on how people read on the web – I have linked to the phrase which indicates the take home message of that page, rather than to the generic phrase “research shows”.

For example if I was linking to this post from somewhere else I would write:

Marcus O’Donnell has some useful tips about creating effective hyperlinks in your blog posts.


Marcus O’Donnell has some useful tips about creating effective hyperlinks in your blog posts.

This link text effectively tells the reader what information they will get when they click on the link but it is too long therefore it is distracting and can’t be scanned and comprehended quickly by the reader.


Marcus O’Donnell has some useful tips about creating effective hyperlinks in your blog posts. Click here to read more

This is a classic mistake. It gives no information when it is read alone and cannot be scanned by a quick reader.


Marcus O’Donnell has some useful tips about creating effective hyperlinks in your blog posts.

Again the information in the link text is none specific when read in isolation. Useful tips about what?


Marcus O’Donnell has some useful tips ( about creating effective hyperlinks in your blog posts.

This is just messy and does not utilise the capacity of hyperlinking code.

Be careful of the text you choose as the link text. There are no absolute hard and fast rules about this but there are some good general principles:

  • Links text should be between one and four words;
  • Your link text should should tell the reader something about where they are going so don’t use generic “click here” commands;
  • Try to make the link text as specific as possible;
  • Always link to the original if you are including a quote or making a comment about an online article or blog post;
  • Don’t over link: ask what links will really help your reader understand your post;
  • Don’t link to the obvious, or the non-specific such as the home page of a mainstream media website – link directly to the article concerned.

Did you hear about Adrienne Rich?

I first heard about the death of feminist poet Adrienne Rich on twitter through the feed of cultural aggregation site Flavorwire:

The way that Rich’s death broke tells us some interesting things about the way news circulates in the new online news ecology.

The Flavorpill tweet took me to a brief in their books blog which sourced the news to a brief in the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy. The purpose of both these posts was as an initial marker of the story. The LA Times report was a short, straight, summary report of her significant achievements with a note about some of the controversial elements such as her refusal of President Clinton’s offer of a major award. It noted that a full appreciation would follow in the La Times obit section. Flavorpill also provided a short summary of her life but significantly they added one other element:

Since the news broke, fans have been tweeting her poem “For the Dead,” which seems as fitting a way to remember this remarkable and iconoclastic writer as any.

Here Flavorfill both noted the reaction in the social media world as well as linked to an online version of one of Rich’s poems. When I first read the reports I tweeted a very simple announcement:

I then used part of her poem “For the dead” to tweet again, a more emotional response to her passing

This tweet was picked up by one of my followers and retweeted to her followers:

Both Flavorwire and Jacket Copy produced short reports to ensure that they quickly posted the significant news of Rich’s death and both publications followed up later with more extensive appreciations. Their follow-up articles reflect their relative purposes and styles. The La Times official obituary is one of the most detailed pieces on the her death and is written in the traditional obituary style which seeks to respectfully sum up a life. Flavorfill is a blog about culture which seeks to link to interesting events and tends on the web, they produced a guide to “The essential Adrienne Rich” which provided short introductions to six of her most significant books.

Interestingly the New York Times arts blog, Culture Beat, also took this approach, they were a bit later than the LA Times blog, but they produced a more detailed set of links to the Times reviews of some of Rich’s significant works. This points to the different ways that blogs are used in tandem with traditional articles by mainstream media organisations. While the LA Times used it’s blog to quickly bookmark a significant event, the New York Time’s used its blog as a window into its archive of stories on Rich’s life and career. Both followed up with long, detailed, traditional obits.

Rich was a beloved figure in the feminist movement and so it is not surprising that many women have blogged about her death and this shows how news circulates in specific ways within subcultures on the web. One of the first blog posts I read showed up in a general google news search I did as soon as I read of her passing:

Like many women of my generation I read Of Woman Born in college. Though having children was the last thing on my mind back in the 1990s, I was oddly relieved to find a feminist writing about motherhood. This was not a hot topic in the feminism of my youth. Motherhood was almost too messy and complicated to deal with. Mostly it just wasn’t brought up. We could take back the night. We could break the glass ceiling but how could we possibly talk about making babies in a positive way? Weren’t we trying to escape this role? Flee our wretched biology? Not be defined by our wombs? Or tits and asses? Our parts?

I will always be grateful to Adrienne Rich for going into that messy topic and making me feel and understand things I needed to feel and understand about my body and my . “Not biology,” she once wrote, “but ignorance of ourselves, has been the key to our powerlessness.”

This post by “Ceridwen” (a blogger I had never read before) is on a blog devoted to Pregnancy and brings a personal reflective tone to the appreciations of Rich’s life and influence. Ceridwen is not constrained by the conventions of traditional news reporting and simply ends her post with a series of some of her favourite Rich quotes.

The women’s blogging community BlogHer also quickly covered Rich’s death with a post from their executive editor Julie Ros Godar. Godar’s post links to the LA Times initial blog report and therefore does not repeat much basic information about Rich. This is for two reasons, Godar might assume that her community of women readers might already know the basic Rich story and if not she assume’s they can follow the link.  This embodies Jeff Jarvis’s basic motto of web writing “Do what you do bets and link to the rest”. What Godar does supply, that is missing in other reports, are links to YouTube videos of Rich reading her own poems and this shows blogging’s propensity to use multimedia content. The voice of a poet is incredibly important and this is an excellent use of the YouTube archive and I am surprised more sites did not do this.


Note how in this post I have tackled a very specific subject: the way different media – particular social media and blogs – covered Rich’s death and the way this influenced the circulation of this news. This is a very different and much more analytic post to my initial example (note here how I link back to my own previous post) which merely linked to a few different reports. The only significant comment of my own in the initial report was noting the way the non-US Irish Times report was more forthright in naming Rich’s “socialist” politics. Both these styles are OK in the mix of posts on an academic blog but this more analytic post is a more significant contribution because it has an originally developed argument.  It is also a good example of using multiple different media in a post from embedded tweets to video. See this post on how to embed tweets into your posts.

Adrienne Rich and the fierce politics of poetry

"I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair streams black"....Adrienne Rich in 1987 Image: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The tributes are pouring in for Adrienne Rich who died today aged 82. The New York Times called her a ” a poet of towering reputation and towering rage ” and notes that she was triply marginalised as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew. This did not stop her:

Ms. Rich was far too seasoned a campaigner to think that verse alone could change entrenched social institutions. “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy,” she said in an acceptance speech to the National Book Foundation in 2006, on receiving its medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. “Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard.”

But at the same time, as she made resoundingly clear in interviews, in public lectures and in her work, Ms. Rich saw poetry as a keen-edged beacon by which women’s lives — and women’s consciousness — could be illuminated.

All the obituaries highlight her politics and the fact that she refused to accept the National Medal of Arts in 1997 saying that she was dismayed that  the government had chosen to honor “a few token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

Unlike the American obits the Irish Times makes her politics explicit noting that she considered herself a socialist:

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed that art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value – the dignity and human rights of all citizens,” she said in 2005. “That is, the resources of a society should be shared and the wealth redistributed as widely as possible.”

“She was very courageous and very outspoken and very clear,” said her long-time friend, WS Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet. “She was a real original, and whatever she said came straight out of herself.”

The New York Times Arts beat blog has collected a series links to of reviews of her books. Margaret Atwood’s review of her prize winning 1973 collection is telling:

In 1973, reviewing Adrienne Rich’s seventh book of poems, “Diving Into the Wreck,” Margaret Atwood called it “one of those rare books that forces you to decide not just what you think about it; but what you think about yourself. It is a book that takes risks, and it forces the reader to take them also.”

The LA Times were one of the first to report her death in their book blog Jacket copy and now have one of the most detailed appreciations in their obits section.

This is an example of a comparative post pulling together several linked articles from a series of different sources and highlighting their differences and similarities. Note the use of links followed by short indented quotes.

To understand the differences in posting styles see my more analytic post on Rich’s death and the way different media responded and the follow-up post on the contribution of radio. 

Note: the para above was added after the original post was completed after I completed the next two posts – sometimes it is a good idea to revisit earlier posts and add in links to updates if you follow up this topic in future posts. This is because readers will “land” in your blogs in all sorts of ways from all sorts of searches and links and you need to create a circulation system that navigates them back and forth through your work.

Blogs and the ethic of the link

All blog posts should include links. In the video above NYU professor and media critic Jay Rosen explains why linking is at the heart of web based publication: ”

It’s building out the potential of the web to link people…so when we link we are expressing the ethic of the web which is to connect people and knowledge.

Linking is very simple in wordpress: highlight the text that you want to create a link from and then click on the link tool in the tool bar at the top of the post windows (see below) when a pop up window opens paste in the url of the site you want to link to. Press insert.