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14 tips to make sure your Peace Corps blog is amazing

Blog It Home blogging tips

Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) around the globe are using blogs to chronicle their experience and share it with family, friends and, increasingly, growing groups of other followers and fans. 

Never again will PCVs have such captive audiences as during service, so blogging is an opportunity for Volunteers to take others on a journey as the understanding of his or her country evolves and expands.

It’s also a third of any PCV’s job to expand Americans’ understanding of your host country. When first goal work in country gets difficult or leaves PCVs less-than-satisfied, Third Goal blogging is a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Peace Corps’ annual Blog It Home competition recognizes the best Peace Corps bloggers. Take a look at last year's Blog It Home winners' list of 14 tips for any PCV looking to become a better writer and raise their blog’s profile:

  1. Always be brainstorming. Carry a notebook and camera to collect ideas when away from the computer. Check out other blogs for blog post/series ideas. Be a collaborative blogger by linking to posts from other Volunteers who are blogging and get some fresh ideas from them
  2. Post consistently and frequently. Your audience will know what to expect so that they can get in the habit of checking back. Even if you’ve got a ton of ideas, don’t exhaust your audience with one long post or overwhelm them with multiple posts all on the same day. Separate your thoughts into multiple posts, then use the schedule function on your blog to publish them in the future at appropriate intervals.
  3. Use themes to organize your thoughts and your content. Themes keep your posts focused and help you connect your individual experiences to a larger context. Consider keeping a “story bank” of ideas that come to you throughout your daily activities. Look in the bank later for specific stories when writing posts. You can also create a thematic series of posts, for example, “photo Fridays” where you post a favorite picture and explanation each week.
  4. Use headings and tags to make posts scannable and searchable. Readers scan content before deciding “if” they want to read and/or “what” they want to read. Make it easy for readers to find the content that interests them by writing concise headings and robustly tagging each post. Tags also make it easier for search engines to find your blog. Bullet points, lists and bolded/highlighted text also help to make your text scannable.
  5. Visuals, visuals, visuals. Readers are drawn to visual content and pictures help them visualize all the new concepts and places you’re writing about. Remember to ask permission before you post photos or videos of people publicly. If slow Internet is an issue, reduce the size of your photos before posting. Or if the photo or video already exists online, just link to them instead of uploading them.
  6. Always proofread. Remember that your writing is your reader’s first impression of you, so take time to proofread and correct mistakes. Readers will quickly move on if they don’t see you putting effort into providing quality writing. Also, make sure hyperlinks work and lead to the intended location.
  7. Make it easy for people to follow your blog. Add a “subscribe” option on your homepage so people can receive email updates whenever you share new posts. Promote your blog via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  8. Write what you’re passionate about and tell a good story. If you care about what you’re writing, it shows. It's more compelling for your audience, and it’s easier for you to write. Tell a good story by drawing your reader in with a hook and ensuring a fundamental change takes place; it’s not really a story unless something changes, often internally, like a shift in perspective. Be specific and use a lot of detail, including snippets of conversations and sensory characteristic such as sounds, textures, scents and tastes. Create tension and raise the stakes. And have closure: Don’t introduce ideas or events that don’t get addressed at the end.
  9. Blog effectively, even with limited Internet access. Before uploading photos, reduce the size of the photos to make uploading faster. Save your blog posts in a word document and then upload multiple posts when you have Internet access. Schedule posts so that your blog is updated at the desired frequency.
  10. Remember, Peace Corps bloggers serve as unofficial ambassadors between the United States and their host countries. Therefore, consider how different readers – friends, family, your Peace Corps community, agency staff, etc. – might view your posts. When blogging, ask yourself: Would I be embarrassed if my community at site read this? What would my parents, grandparents or a future employer think of this? Your blog should reflect a balanced view of your country and culture – every place has its good and bad – but when you really just need to vent, it’s best to do that through private communication channels.
  11. Inform your post that you’re blogging. Your post will inform you of any necessary blogging safety policies for your country.
  12. Tell the Third Goal office about your blog. If you feel your blog is more about cross-cultural understanding than solely a place to process your experience, be sure to let the Peace Corps’ Third Goal office know at [email protected]. They love to see what PCVs are doing on the Third Goal front.
  13. Post the Peace Corps disclaimer. It’s important for everyone to be clear that you’re speaking for you, so post the following disclaimer prominently: “The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the [insert host country name] Government.”
  14. Protect your content and monitor site traffic. Use your blog’s privacy settings to control the accessibility of your blog. It’s your decision whether you want only friends and family to see your blog or if you want to share it with the general public. You can avoid problems of trolls and spam by setting up your account so that reader comments only post once you approve them.

These blogging tips were developed and compiled by Blog It Home 2013 winners Jedd and Michelle Chang (Jamaica) Joshua Cook and Jennifer Klein (Ethiopia), Sara Kline (Thailand) and Jessica Lavash (Mexico).