Recently I’ve received an increasing number of requests to guest-post on my site, which makes me ecstatic, but it also sets me in a difficult position to evaluate what is interesting. Of the millions of food blogs out there, what makes yours interesting? It’s you. Your voice, your emotions and your own experience with the food can set your post miles above a recipe that I can find just 0.2 seconds after I google its name. I’m no professional blogger, but I’ve read a fair share of food blogs, and from the ones that I keep returning to, I’ve learned and formed my own set of guidelines on how to write a post (which I try to follow, sometimes more successful than others).
In general, recipe posts have more room for personal stories, and they also comprise the most common type of food blogs (small sample: of the top 50 food blogs on Delish, 43 are recipes), so these guidelines are more geared toward recipe blogging than reviews. I’m gonna skip the photos, although they’re important, they’re the varnish and the writing is the wood.
1. Write statements with specific details, geographically and historically. Let’s say you want to write about grilled catfish. You need an opening sentence. Your first thought is “When it comes to catfish, there are many American dishes. They are mouthwatering and delicious.” These two sentences sound choppy and unimpressive, so you can remodel them into “Our American cuisine has no shortage of mouth-watering dishes with catfish, such as Catfish Tuscany and Catfish Gumbo.” Then you give more background details to it: in which regions in America are these dishes most common, who usually like them; or give a more personal touch: do you have a childhood story related to one of these catfish dishes, how did you come to like catfish or fish in general, etc.
2. Be confident with your opinions, but respect your readers. You’re not trying to give a lecture, you’re just telling a story. Sometimes a confident statement may sound a little bit too direct and confrontational. For example, “you should eat catfish because it is healthy” sounds like an order, but softening it to “my mother always tells me to eat catfish because it is healthy” offers not only consideration but also a personal story and a third opinion (your mom’s), which gently boosts the credibility of your statement. The use of “you” should be minimal, unless you want to make it sound like a conversation, which you should.
3. Give reasons. Why is catfish good for health? Include scientific facts if possible. Include your grandmother’s experience is even better: 1. It’s personal; 2. It’s most likely universal, somehow all grandmothers think the same; 3. It’s proven with time.
4. Tell a story. How did you come up with this recipe? How is your recipe different from other recipes of grilled catfish? Basically, what makes your recipe unique? What have you discovered while making this recipe, using this product, or eating this dish? James Boo and his co-writers on The Eaten Path tell some of the best stories.
5. How flexible is your recipe? Can I use brown rice instead of basmati rice, pork bone instead of beef bone, or blueberries instead of raisins? For a review, how adaptable is the dish or the product? Can it be eaten any time of the day, any season of the year? What kind of beverage would it go well with? What changes can/should be made if I want to make it for my grandmother’s cousin who has dentures and is fond of duck tongue?
6. Tell us about the result. What do you think about your recipe after you eat it? Is it perfect? Did it give you a split second of enlightenment? Is there anything you should have done differently or is there anything you would like to experiment next time you make it? Will you make it again? Did your best invention give you the worst stomachache the following day? Did anyone beside you eat it, if so, what did they think? The answers to these questions add personality to your post and complete your story.
7. Google is your best friend. And like with your best human friend, you should prepare to spend a lot of time with Google. There are already a lot of information out there, simply reciting the first link you find is not going to make your post any better than that link. What the reader needs is all of that information in one place, so that they can quickly go back and look up for it as needed. I spent 2 days browsing through 50 pages of articles on the ash sticky rice dumpling (bánh ú tro), most are copies of one another, to get enough information for my post. The more inclusive your post is, the more useful it is for the reader. Your reader is spending their valuable time to read your post, so you have to invest your time to research before you write.
Also make sure to cite your sources. Citation doesn’t take away your expertise, it proves it.
8. Be funny. This point is always mentioned in every blogging to-do list, and it’s the hardest point to follow. How can you be funny? I try, but I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded because nobody has ever told me that I’m funny. But here’s a trick I’ve learned from noodlepie: you can be funny by referencing funny things. Use the built-in links to your advantage. Those who bother to click on them, get the hidden jokes.
9. Be open about yourself. Be personal. If you don’t want the world to know about you, maybe you should set your blog private, or blog in your head. Besides, the world is not out to get you, unless you’re a serial killer on Interpol‘s wanted list who also enjoys seeking out the most authentic pad thai in the States, in which case you probably shouldn’t blog about where you just had lunch… (or maybe you should?)
To sum it up, a good blogging tone is confident, respectful and open. Content-wise, be informative. Ask yourself while writing: have I learned something new? If you don’t learn anything new while writing your post, that means you haven’t done enough research and your post is useless. Even if you think of the entire post all by yourself in one go, there are always numbers and statistics that you can add to bolster your arguments, or fun facts to make your baked potato not so trivial, or new words that you procure from thesaurus.com to avoid repeating yourself. If you learn something new while writing your post, chances are your readers will learn something new from your post, and that newly acquired knowledge will prompt them to think of your blog as a valuable source, and they will come back.
This post was written after an allnighter. Now the author has learned what her third alarm, which she always sleeps through, sounds like.