Happycat's Tips for Usable Baking Blogs
Blogs are my favourite part of The Fresh Loaf. I'm delighted to participate in a community of knowledgeable bakers who inspire me. However, writing blogs is challenging because I need to think about "usability" from the readers' perspective. "Usability" means how easily an intended audience can process information to achieve their desired purpose. That purpose might be entertainment, education, or completing a procedure such as a recipe. We run into usability issues all the time when we're confused, lost, or frustrated by writing (or interfaces, or diagrams, etc.). For the interest of our bloggers, I've provided a few brief tips I've learned about to improve usability by tweaking content, style and formatting.
Four Content Tips
When you're thinking about your bakes, you rely on your own knowledge, experience, nose, tastebuds, and eyes. However, your readers have only your words and images. Consider providing more information to help readers catch up to you and follow along with your baking adventure.
- Provide a brief intro. A brief statement of your inspiration, challenge, problem, etc. helps situate the reader immediately and hooks them into the purpose of your post.
- Define terms and sources. Don't assume your readers understand the terms or concepts you are relying on. Define key terms and short forms (ADY, IDY, YW, CY etc.) and link to your sources and inspirations the first time you refer to them so we can quickly get up to speed.
- Provide key images. A final result image helps the reader quickly see the point of your post. In the baking world, final result includes the outside and a cross-section of the inside.
- Describe aroma, taste and texture. If you're baking, you're making food. Help your readers experience that food virtually by providing a few notes for each of the senses.
Three Style Tips
Some disciplines encourage the use of a passive, disembodied "God Voice" to provide the illusion of authoritative and objective prose. However, you can improve the clarity and liveliness of writing by using small paragraphs written in a more active, targetted style.
- Try small paragraphs. Small paragraphs are less intimidating and easier to skim, and help your readers using a tablet or phone with a small screen. Generally speaking, use a brief paragraph for each idea.
- Try "active voice." Brief statements in the active voice make it clear who is doing the action, and provide a more energetic prose. For instance "I folded the dough" is clear and active, compared to "the dough was folded," which is more vague and passive.
- Try to choose perspective based on your goals. Perspective means the viewpoint of the writing, which may be yourself (first person), your reader (second person), or some other party (third person). For instance, "I folded the dough" is first person and makes sense when you are describing anything that you did. "Fold the dough" is second person, and makes sense when you are telling your reader what to do, such as steps in a recipe. "The dough was folded" is third person and it's not clear who is doing it or whether you are providing instructions.
Three Formatting Tips
The blog interface includes a tool bar at the top of the text entry window. Consider using some of the formatting functions to produce more usable text, particularly for small, mobile devices. Ask yourself how easily a reader could follow your recipe when they're tired and under pressure in the kitchen.
- Try bolded headings. Headings help you organize your work more logically. Headings orient readers to the point of each paragraph, and allow readers to come back later and find the point they want to see again.
- Try bullets. Bullets make lists (such as ingredients) more skimmable and usable in the moment -- for instance when someone is trying to use your recipe. Provide only one point per bullet so readers don't miss anything.
- Try numbered lists. Numbered lists make following a procedure (such as a recipe) much easier. Provide only one step per numbered item. Many recipes fail to do that-- which makes it more likely that readers will miss or misinterpret one of the steps clumped together.