Best practices: writing a long-form post for the upper blogosphere
In economics, the upper blogosphere consists of sites such as marginalrevolution.com and econbrowser.com. These sites are distinguished from the lower blogosphere by their high quality and lack of political name-calling. The upper blogosphere amounts to a new form of scholarship, more serious than a news article but less involved than a research paper. The long-form upper blogosphere post provides a model for research writing for undergraduate economics majors. You can learn a lot more from writing several such posts than you can from writing the traditional economics term paper. In the process, you can learn about web strategy and content.
Some tips about writing for the upper blogosphere in economics:
- The first rule is that there are no rules. This is a new form and it is evolving fast. But, as in most human endeavors, hard work and honesty are rewarded.
- You want your post to be sound and engaging. It is sound when it is based on a serious research effort. It is engaging when it provides a fresh perspective or something the reader did not previously know.
- Your posts will be better if you read two good upper blogosphere sites every day (your choice of sites, but it’s best if you read at least one site a day that will not back up your existing policy preferences. That is, read something you expect to disagree with).
- Because this is the “upper” blogosphere, your sources need to be more credible than simple news articles and lower blogosphere items. The best posts will have research papers and journal articles as sources. The very best posts will do original statistical work, on the order of simple correlation and regression analysis. The worst posts will use only the superficial analyses of political reporting. Use Wikipedia sparingly, preferably only for matters of popular culture.
- A long-form post for the upper blogosphere may run anywhere from 400 to 1500 words. Because of this length, you should insert “Continue Reading” (or “more”)* so that only the first paragraph appears on the home page. It’s a little less convenient for the reader, but remember also that you want the home page to remain lively and interesting – and it helps if several different stories can appear. That won’t happen if you hog the homepage with your post.
- To keep readers engaged, you need to work on telling your story well. If you’re only recounting the definition of an economic term, you are probably not telling your story well. Act as if your intended reader is saying: “Tell me something I don’t know.”
- Be kind to those with viewpoints opposite your own. (This is one feature that distinguishes the upper blogosphere from the lower blogosphere, where meanness is all too common.) Engage the arguments of those who oppose you with grace and class. Do not misrepresent others’ views to make yours seem stronger and do not use terminology to describe your opponents that they would not use to describe themselves.
Here’s an example of a mean statement: “The proponents of trickle-down economics never met a tax cut they didn’t like.” Notice that no one self-identifies as a “proponent of trickle-down economics” – that’s just name-calling. And if the statement refers to adherents of supply-side economics: They have met many tax cuts they don’t like, such as tax cuts that favor special interests without achieving broad-based reductions in marginal tax rates. So, to make the point of that mean statement in a suitable form: “Proponents of supply-side economics are biased in favor of cutting taxes.”Here’s an example from the other side of the political spectrum: “The open-borders crowd wants to see poor Americans get poorer from a flood of immigrants.” Look at the problem closely: Most advocates of immigration reform do not identify as favoring “open borders,” and these advocates see general-equilibrium and complementarity effects neutralizing the effects of greater immigration on the American poor. The better statement for the upper blogosphere would look something like that: “Advocates of greater immigration are willing to risk cutting the incomes of poor Americans if their hopes for better labor markets do not pan out.” You’re still zinging your opponents, but in a much classier way.
- Grammar counts. On the best websites of the upper blogosphere you will see good construction of sentences and paragraphs – even when the writers are under the time pressure of writing quickly. Good grammar is like a secret code, proclaiming that you are a serious analyst. Bad grammar delivers the opposite message. Here are a few common grammar errors that mark the writer as a lightweight:
Sloppy use of “they” as a singular pronoun. “They” is plural and therefore cannot properly refer to a singular organization such as the Federal Reserve. Do not write
The Fed thinks they can keep inflation under control.
The Fed is an “it,” but even better than the simple substitution of “it” for “they” is to be more precise about who thinks that. If it’s Fed chair Janet Yellen, say so. If it’s the Fed’s Board of Governors, say so.
Comma splice, with or without “however.” You can’t just splice two sentences together with a comma. You can use a semicolon but it’s usually better to make two sentences. So do not write:
Crude oil prices are rising, gasoline prices are falling.
Crude oil prices are rising, however gasoline prices are falling.
Here’s a better construction:
Crude oil prices are rising, and yet gasoline prices are falling.
Misuse of “discrepancy” to refer to any difference. The definition of discrepancy is “a difference, especially between things that should be the same.” When C + I + G + (X – M) does not add up to reported GDP, that’s a discrepancy. When the M1 money supply is unequal to M2, that’s not a discrepancy. They’re not intended to be the same.
Incorrect abbreviation of United States. It’s U.S., not US.
Use of “where” for something other than geographic location. It’s correct to say “Washington, D.C. is where they met.” It is not correct to say “HARP is a government program where you can refinance your home loan.”
Starting sentences with “This is because.” Most alternative constructions will be superior. Apart from the technical problem, “This” in the statement is often ill-defined.
You could work very hard and still not eliminate all grammar errors, but do try to avoid the big ones. Here’s a good art
icle on some common problems. (Also, here’s a rule you can count on: When you write about grammar there will be at least one grammatical error in what you write. I’m sure that’s correct for this post.)
The big problem with most grammar errors is not that you failed to follow some old code about writing. The problem instead is that bad grammar reflects sloppy thinking. When you “write around” common grammar problems you are often strengthening your point.
In the upper blogosphere, authors are careful about citing their sources, but without using conventional footnotes. Instead they provide inline references with links. See, there’s an example! These links take the interested reader directly to the source. Here are a few guidelines to the best current practices:
For aesthetic reasons, do not use the words “click here” and do not show the actual URL, such as http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2011/09/09-jobs-winship. Put that URL as a link behind words that make sense in the flow of the sentence, like this: Scott Winship argues that the U.S. economy had unhealthy labor markets even before the recession.
Do not ever take someone else’s words as your own. Instead, quote that other author using “quotation marks” and a link. This is important!
Compose and edit in your favorite word processor; save multiple copies; email a copy to yourself; and find out how to get your content to places such as WordPress and Canvas. When you’re working fast, you may find it preferable to compose in WordPress’s native editor.
Here’s one more point: The whole world considers information obvious today if it appears in the first page of Google search results based on a reasonable query. It is considered lazy if you ask someone about obvious information.
*Example: It is considered lazy to ask someone how to continue a WordPress post with a “read more” link, because there are multiple answer on the first page if you search for
how do i use wordpress to insert read more