Categories

At Amy Scott’s recommendation, I took a look at Abraham Piper’s post on 22 very simple ways for a new blogger to improve. I didn’t expect much, having been disappointed many times in the past by the vacuousness of most such posts, but this one was pretty good. It included one suggestion I’d learned on my own (use informative titles), one that I had just adopted after reading an article by Jakob Nielsen (create an informative About page), a few that I’d never thought of before, and one that I have just been thinking about recently (categorize your posts accurately and specifically).

You might notice that a common theme among the three suggestions I list above is that they all make a weblog more useful to a reader. For awhile now the goal for my posts on this weblog is that they be useful to the reader, as opposed to entertaining or provocative or manipulative or argumentative or exhortative. And lately I have been thinking about expanding the scope of this weblog, turning it into something that more comprehensively explores the various things that matter to folks who are just getting started on homesteading or who want to explore what it means to go in that direction.

So it’s been much on my mind that, even though the individual posts on this weblog might be useful in themselves, the weblog itself is getting increasingly difficult to use as posts are added because they aren’t really organized in any significant way. A few months ago I added a Useful Posts page, gathering the posts I’ve made that I thought were most likely to be helpful to people. But even that in its current form (post titles gathered into a few groups) is still pretty feeble, leaving it mostly a mystery to the reader what any particular post might discuss. So I am currently rewriting that page, adding brief summaries that I hope will help the reader decide whether a post might contain what they are looking for.

I’ve know about categories for awhile, but wasn’t persuaded that they were worth the effort. Now that I’m worried about usefulness, though, I think I need to give them a try and see if they turn out to be helpful. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt me to spend some time thinking about what I’ve just written and figuring out what if any interesting topics are addressed therein. I’ve abandoned more than one post after writing it, just because I’ve decided that it wasn’t worth my readers’ time. Assigning posts to categories may help me filter out more of those.

As time permits, I will also go back and assign categories to existing posts, at least the ones I think are worth searching out.

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6 thoughts on “Categories

  1. I hope you’ll reconsider what you think is useful. Granted, the internet is overloaded with “useful” things.

    Dave Barry, so far as I can tell, hasn’t said anything worth remembering, but I know that his work is good for the culture. He’s never said, “Don’t take yourself so seriously,” but in the end, there’s that takeaway value.

    In the same way, I enjoy your writing just for the rhythm of it, and I think it’s useful in that way, even if the content isn’t useful to me in every instance.

  2. Amy,

    I enjoy your writing just for the rhythm of it, and I think it’s useful in that way, even if the content isn’t useful to me in every instance.

    Thanks for the kind assessment. But if my writing has improved over the years (and I think it has), it is because I’ve learned to employ it as a means to some other goal, rather than for its own sake. I can think of more than one person who has been literally destroyed as a writer after becoming entranced by the sound of his own voice, after deciding that the way he was saying things (or, even worse, the fact that he rather than someone else was saying them) is what made his writing valuable.

    There are lots of goals one can select, and I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with setting out to entertain, or provoke, or argue, or exhort. (I do think there’s something wrong with setting out to manipulate.) But none of those goals narrow down the subject matter, and having all of creation as a potential subject makes it tempting to approach a wide range of topics superficially, to substitute novelty for depth and accuracy.

    When I decided to set usefulness as the goal for my posts, it narrowed down the range of potential subjects tremendously—since there’s not all that many subjects I know well enough to say something useful about them. It keeps me operating in a manageably small arena, and it encourages me to delve much deeper into the few subjects I do write about.

    That goal also helps me evaluate a particular post once it’s written; it’s hard for me to be self-critical enough to decide whether a post is really funny, but it’s pretty easy to decide if it clearly conveys helpful information. And the goal helps me fight against what is probably my biggest weakness as a writer: wordiness. However far short I fall, I’m always trying to streamline my writing so as to avoid obscuring my point, and it’s just gravy that the streamlining tends to yield better writing.

  3. I’ll file that article away so I can refer to it when I really have time to invest in becoming a better writer and more time to blog. For now, I’m focusing on trying to read the book you recommended which recently arrived. Like Amy, I enjoy your writing on subjects that I might not be useful to me at this point in time, but they still make me think, and also help me examine where I may want to be in the future and what small steps I can be taking to get there. I appreciate your willingness to write about your experiences in music and am planning to go back through those writings now that you have them categorized; though those posts might not be ‘useful’ to a large amount of your readers, they are to some.

  4. Lisa,

    I appreciate your willingness to write about your experiences in music and am planning to go back through those writings now that you have them categorized.

    Well, they aren’t categorized yet. But the fact that you want them categorized encourages me to get the job done. Really, it’s not that hard, just tedious; maybe I’ll spend part of the day tomorrow working my way through them.

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