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Blockquote Blogging (Thoughts on using blockquotes in your writing)

To the extent that you can summarize key points rather than blockquote, you are adding the value and time-savings that readers crave. As you’ll frequently see, most bloggers intuitively realize this fact as they will frequently bolden the major quotes within the blockquote, [which is really a means of highlighting the key points and telling your readers to skip the rest!].

— Below is an email I sent to a fellow blogger regarding the use of blockquoted material in blog posts. The self-referenced links were added after the fact. Any feedback on my critique is welcome! —

Hey! I’ve been reading and observing your blog posts and your commentary continues to be spot-on and both well-written and fun to read. Having said that and fully realizing that what I’m about to tell you is more a guideline than any kind of bright line rule, I suggest you work on reducing the blockquot-iness (made word that up) of your posts whenever possible. There are multiple reasons for this suggestion.

For one, blog readers have a tendency to gloss over large swathes of blockquoted material. From a big picture perspective, readers [come] to your site to read what you have to say about something. To the extent that you can summarize key points rather than blockquote, you are adding the value and time-savings that readers crave. As you’ll frequently see, most bloggers intuitively realize this fact as they will frequently bolden the major quotes within the blockquote, [which is really a means of highlighting the key points and telling your readers to skip the rest!].

Of course, blockquotes are a way to give credit and save time for the blogger as they usually include enough source material to cover key points — no reason to reinvent the wheel. But assuming you are giving proper source credit, I’d suggest making a conscious effort to nail the important points early on in a post, reduce blockquotes generally, and potentially push blockquotes to the bottom of posts whenever possible. A basic structure of such a post might be:

  1. Introduction
  2. Key points
  3. Conclusion
  4. Source material (blockquote)

Obviously the above structure can’t always be put into play.

A further reason to reduce blockquotes is that they act as subtle visual queues that tell a reader that the real meat of your post is actually somewhere else, as indicated by the blockquotes. Blockquotes can function to reduce your perceived authority.

Finally, one logistical problem of abundant blockquotes is that they can severely break up the flow of your writing. This is because blockquotes necessarily contain multiple sentences written by someone else in a different style than your own. The worst offender of this practice of “blockquote blogging” is Michael “Mish” Shedlock. I went hunting for an example and needed look no further than his latest post: “In Search of Common Sense” — this is Mish’s style and maybe some people really like it. I find it frustrating to read even as I often immensely enjoy Mish’s commentary. My reaction when I see stuff like that is basic: my eyes glaze [over] and I just don’t read it, or best case, I skim for the conclusion and then determine if I need to backtrack into the quoted material.

All of the above advice is based on having both blogged and kept up with blogs now for nearly five years — the last two of which have required spending hours a day reading and managing blog content. From this experience I’ve drawn a number of conclusions about best-practices of blogging, the purpose blogging serves, and what makes a compelling blog work.

Some of my conclusions are unavoidably a biased effect of keeping up with nearly 70 websites daily (via Google Reader). I have to filter through this content to discern the best, most original, and insightful material from a large pool of commentary and news. Heavily blockquoted blog posts routinely get skimmed or skipped in my feed aggregator. More importantly, it is my experience that the best blogs out there speak from authority and minimize blockquotes to the extent possible.

As I said, this is general advice and my own style of blogging is assuredly faulty in any number of ways. I’d be eager to hear your thoughts and feedback, and since it’s your blog, you have the right to reject all of the above as nonsense and carry on doing things your way!

3 replies on “Blockquote Blogging (Thoughts on using blockquotes in your writing)”

I enjoy your insight. As a freshman blogger, I find it helpful to read your thoughts on the craft. After years of schooling where citing source material is the rule and direct quotes of a reliable source as seen as beneficial, I’ll have to re-think and re-train to benefit my readers. I’m anxious to see what others think.

@Seth,

It’s funny you ask this because I am currently drafting a post on why I blog, which gets at this question from a number of different angles. I think blogging serves many purposes for that matter, but I think your comment is dead-on. Surely one of the fundamental reasons to blog is to have the freedom to write whatever you want without fear of rejection from readers.

@MVC,

I don’t mean to imply that blockquotes should be entirely avoided. My linked down blog is heavily dominated by blockquoted material. I think using blockquotes is a way to echo good content of others, and if someone said it better than you can write it, why flub it up with your own words?

On the flipside, I’ve seen blockquoting heavily misused, which can be detrimental to a blogger’s intended goal of informing their audience about a particular subject.

So there’s an element here of “how do I properly reference good material while not damaging my own writing?” There’s a balance to be struck, and I’m far from an expert at hitting that balance — at the same time, it’s fairly easy to see when someone could be using blockquotes more effectively (or *not* using them in certain instances).

As with most ways to improve writing, some practice and reflection (and self-editorializing) is probably the best way to go.

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