Blog like a boss

30 Sep

Saturday Night Live just turned 40 and I may or may not have gone down a rabbit hole of Will Ferrell amazingness  and Andy Samberg songs (the video below – NSFW!).  Although Andy probably didn’t have ELT blogging in mind when he composed it, I take inspiration from wherever I can get it, especially living in Dubai.

In any case, after spending far too many hours on an MSc paper on discourse analysis of ELT blogs, I came up with a 6500-word monstrosity (you can email me if you’re a masochistic applied linguist looking for some light holiday reading). If you just want a quick synopsis of the findings though and are curious what luminaries @thornburyscott, @hughdellar, @teflerinha, and @Harmerj have in common, then read on!

The stars of the show

First, a big thank you to Scott, Hugh, Rachael and Jeremy for (unknowingly) providing the texts for my mini-corpus – good ol’ public interwebs. In any case, I only used bloggers with sizable followings, a large number of posts, and who also have published materials in other ELT genres.

It’s a genre I tell you (ok, maybe a sub-genre)

Although much of my academic rambling had to do with specific genre features of ELT blogs, suffice to say that all these blogs have a lot in common in terms of field (context, content, etc.), tenor (discourse community), and mode, as well intertextuality and the inherent structure of blogs.

How to do it

For me, perhaps the most interesting part was the consistency of the communicative ‘moves’ of the different authors. If someone was to ask me how to write an ELT blog (hey, it could happen), this is what I’d tell them:

1) Capture their attention with the title

Whether it’s humour, alliteration, or a question to the audience, make sure the title is catchy. My personal favourite from the corpus was Harmer’s “What the Dickens!” – I’m always going to read that one.


2) Create interest using multi-media

Ok, you’ve got the reader’s attention, now time to seal the deal. No one cares about words these days, so better whack in a picture, cartoon or video to liven up the text! Rachael gets my nod of approval for her pond full of floating rubber ducks.


3) Tell a personal anecdote

Now the reader’s hooked, but you don’t want to scare them off with cold ELT talk. Better warm them up with a little story. A tangentially related personal anecdote seems to be the safest bet, but if you don’t leave your ELT cave very often, then a current event will do in a pinch. The winner for this category is Scott who combines personal travel and current events with this opening line: “As the sign suggests, with the passing of the same-sex marriage bill, it’s been a good time to be gay in New York.”


4) Provide information/opinion on topic of interest to the ELT community

There’s no more delaying it – time to hit them with the heavy stuff. Luckily for you, if you’re writing an ELT blog, there’s not much chance of a non-ELT audience ever coming across your post. Too many good ones to choose a favourite for this move – there’s a reason I read these blogs!


5) Appeal to authority

It may be a personal blog, but a little back up never hurts. References to your own/others’ published work, informal work, and corpora should all do the trick.

6) Prompt or ask a question to finish

This ain’t no stuffy article, this is a blog post godammit. If you want some interaction you need to go out and get it, preferably after you’ve finished pontificating. You can either go for the direct question, What new talks are you working on?” or the not-so-subtle hypothetical, “I’d be very interested to hear any comments…”

7) Link up to the community (this move can occur at any time)

Of course, since the internet lets you link to other ELTers’ output, you should probably crank the connections up to 11. Why not link to #ELTchat, other bloggers’ posts, or even to some new fancy app if you’re that way inclined (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

8) Interact with the ELT community

At this point all your hard work should have paid off and the comments and adulation are rolling in. Now you can just sit back, thank everyone for stopping by, and have a chat with your PLN friends. Good times.

Exception to prove the rule?

Interestingly, to start I had collected texts from Adrian Underhill’s amazing pronunciation blog and had noticed that his posts didn’t typically follow the move sequence. His texts were later cut from the research as he didn’t have enough followers (outrageous!), which brings up the question: is his blog less popular because he doesn’t follow the typical conventions? Ok, so it probably has more to do with his lack of a twitter account, but if I can’t draw dubious conclusions from my own tiny sample size, what’s the point of doing research?

Hmm… looking back at this post, it seems I’ve forgotten about move #6, so if anyone has any more ELT blog examples that confirm/refute this move sequence, please let me know below. Cheers.


9 Responses to “Blog like a boss”

  1. Nick Wimshurst September 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    Having read it, I’d recommend it! might even write one of my own one day!

    • Ben Naismith September 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      Cheers Nick, let me know when you do!

  2. Daniel Welsch October 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    I personally can’t get too excited about most ELT blogs because they’re mostly just way too academic for me. So I feel like it definitely is a sub-genre in which ELT bloggers are writing for other ELT bloggers and not for a wider audience. In any case, a lot of the characteristics you mention here could apply to a well-constructed blog in another genre also.

    • Ben Naismith October 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Daniel. Are you trying to imply that comedy about cowbells isn’t academic?

      There’s a lot of ELT blogs I can’t get into either, but I’m the opposite – I don’t mind if they’re academic or not, but if it’s just filled with practical activities then I can’t be bothered (although I completely understand why teachers may prefer these blogs).

      Definitely, the moves mentioned can probably apply to other ‘knowledge log’ blog types as well. It’s when you combine these moves with the specific community, type of lexis, mix of registers, topics, etc. that it becomes a distinct sub-genre (or so it seems to me).

      I’d actually love to know what kind of hit numbers the most popular ELT blogs receive in comparison to other blog types. Like you say, it’s a pretty narrow audience despite how much ELTers like to write about themselves/their field.

  3. Adam October 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Dare I say it, as good as the blogs you analyses are, the reason they get the attention they do is because of who writes them. There’s a relatively old saying about how to become a famous blogger; either be famous and become a blogger, or become a blogger and get famous. The former is much easier if you aim to be a famous blogger. Anyhow, as an ELT blogger whose blog has just notched up half a million hits for 2014, I feel justified to weigh in on this discussion… Indulge me if you will!

    1. If you want a lot of people to read, start each post with a number and then follow with a power adjective such as ‘great’ or ‘effective’ and then a list of points related to you theme with numbered paragraphs.

    2. Choose a really interesting picture and embed it in the post: don’t worry about it being overly relevant, just make it eye catching.

    3. Spot on… Hugh Dellar is the master of this, as anyone who’s seen him speak can attest.

    4. Mix opinion with advice based on personal experience. If all your posts are overly opinionated, you’ll kill off repeat visits very quickly. Only ever have a totally opinion-based blog when you’re as famous as Thornbury or Harmer. Seriously.

    5. Absolutely spot on… If you want to look like you know what you’re talking about, of course! Don’t be shy of referencing yourself and former posts whenever you get the chance.

    6. Again, you’ve nailed it with this one. Unscientific analysis of my blog leads me to conclude that you’ll get double the number of comments if you explicitly ask people to respond to what you’ve written. If you’re following my advice from point one, edit the original post to include quality comments.

    7. Name drop like a maniac: people love to be mentioned in someone’s blog post. I don’t do this enough!

    8. Yes, yes and yes! Again, I don’t do this enough and that’s why I’m only just clocking up 500,000 visits for the year rather than a million.

    Thanks for this post, it’s made me think more deeply about how I blog than I’ve done in a long time.

    • Ben Naismith October 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      Hi Adam, thanks for taking the time to read and comment – great to have an expert opinion (and congratulations on your blog’s success)!

      I’m happy to hear that most of the ‘moves’ seemed to match with your own experiences, and the extra clarification is useful – I now wish I had posted this before submitting the paper.

      I wonder, is it too late to change the post’s title to ‘1001 outrageous ways to blog like a boss’?

      • Adam October 29, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

        Thanks, Ben. Despite my relative success, I’m definitely still learning about blogging, so look forward to more responses to your great post.


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