My good buddy Andrew Kauz recently became the site's new C Blog Boss, a role that tasks him with keeping an eye out for exceptional posts and offering useful tips and guidance to those in need. Of course, no one would expect just one man (One man!) to shoulder all that responsibility on his own. The rest of the staff is more than happy to offer a few words here and there.
In case you weren't privy to my credentials, I too am a C Blog graduate -- both Andrew and I were promoted to front-page editors at roughly the same time last year. After hearing concerns that the quality of user blogs was diminishing, I decided to compile a super post concerning proper blog style and formatting. Over the course of a few weeks, I continuously added to that post, resulting in the beast now before you.
Some of this information may be criminally obvious to some, but I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible. I've touched upon just about every formatting subject I could think of, from the proper use of BBCode tags to little multimedia tricks. If you find even just one useful nugget amongst my rambling, I will have done my job.
If you have any further questions or amendments, let me know in the comments below. You can also contact me via email at megastryke AT gmail DOT com or tony AT destructoid DOT com.
Every so often, someone complains because their newly published post is nowhere to be found. Upon closer inspection, it's either halfway down the list or on a subsequent page. Why does this happen? Our blogging software is a bit backwards -- instead of setting a timestamp when you publish a blog, it sets a timestamp the moment you start a new one. If you start writing at 12 PM and finish at 6, you better hope it's been a slow day.
The smart thing to do is to compose your piece in a separate editor. For the longest time, I would type up everything in a Notepad file, but you can also use Google Docs, Word, or any word processor of choice. Once you've proofread your work a couple of times, copy and paste it into the Dtoid editor.
Though convenient, this method doesn't allow you to check how your post would appear live in various states of completion. You'll want to know every so often whether your BBCode is broken or an image doesn't appear correctly, not at the very end when all your errors appear at once. For short-form blogs, the extra work may be manageable, but for long-form pieces...
I propose another method! Start up a new blog and type something like "FOR DRAFTS ONLY!!!" as the title. You are going to keep this blog in private view mode as your test center for all future blogs. Type out everything as you normally would, then add images, video, the works. Once you are 100% confident that your piece is ready for the public, start another new blog and copy everything over. You may need to re-upload photos and re-embed videos, but your post-editing work will still be greatly reduced. When it's time to bake a fresh post, return to the test blog, clear it, and start from scratch.
It's prudent to discuss spelling and grammar very briefly before moving on. This isn't English class -- no one is going to get all up in your grill for having a few too many typos as long as the overall blog is legible. At the same time, lax standards is no excuse for avoiding the most basic of writing rules.
1. Consult a dictionary
If you want to use a word and are unaware of either its context or proper spelling, don't guess. Reach for a dictionary and look it up. It doesn't take more than a few seconds, and there are so many available resources. If you don't have Merriam-Webster bookmarked, you can use Google's built-in dictionary. Right in the search bar, type "define:" followed by the word. As long as your spelling is close enough, you should hit the appropriate entry. For Firefox and Chrome users, there are various add-ons to help you look up definitions in-line while browsing through articles for research.
2. Use proper capitalization
I don't care how lazy you claim to be, hitting the SHIFT key with your pinky is not some Herculean Labor. The first word of every new sentence should be capitalized, proper nouns should be capitalized, the word "I" should be capitalized... you get the picture. It's not a writer's quirk to pick and choose when to follow capitalization conventions. It's just plain ugly.
3. Mind your punctuation marks
You ought to know how periods and commas work, so exercise that knowledge. However, it's not a bad idea to pepper a some of the more uncommon punctuation marks now and then. It gives your work a little pizzazz! Use ellipses (...) to show trailing thoughts, semicolons (;) in place of a conjunction to join sentences, and so on. Just don't go overboard! Use 'em sparingly, and research their functions if you have doubts. Don't feel like you need to use extra punctuation. Sometimes less is more.
You could be the greatest wordsmith of the modern age, but if you clump all your text together into one giant wall, you'll scare all your potential readers away. Don't be afraid to punch that ENTER key.
In school, we're taught that paragraphs ought to be at least four sentences long, consisting of a topic, a body, and a conclusion. That's well and dandy for academic papers, but it's bullshit in the real world. In the world of journalism (and for the sake of this lesson, I'm treating game bloggers as journalists), you have a bit more freedom with the construction of your paragraphs. Sure, it's still true that a paragraph ideally should follow a singular thought, but it's not rare to see two- or even single-sentence paragraphs.
As an example of someone who really knows how to insert breaks, here's fellow editor Chad Concelmo. You may think that his paragraph blocks are a tad on the slender side, but I think that it helps to give his articles a nice flow. You never feel overwhelmed since all the text is divided into easily digestible chunks.
Of course, it's not as simple as devoting a single line to every sentence. If the tone of your article is more serious, you may want to group a few more sentences than normal to properly flesh out an idea. Don't go crazy with a fifteen-sentence nightmare that takes up half the screen, though.
This is the blogger's toolbox. Proper use of BBCode will give your writing pep. It's useful for making simple subject headers, stressing certain words and phrases, and more. Unfortunately, even bloggers who have been around for a while can lose their grip on the finer workings. BBCode can be a finicky mistress sometimes, seemingly choosing not to work as intended.
When you are using the built-in editor to write a new post, you'll notice a little cheat guide in the bottom-right hand corner entitled "BBcode help." It is not a comprehensive list of BBCode tags in existence, but it'll serve you satisfactorily here.
The bold and italic tags are self explanatory -- just insert a word or phrase between the open and close tags and you'll get nyaa and nyaa nyaa respectively.
Speaking of italic type, you ought to use it whenever discussing a movie, book, game, or any other media title. It's what the pros do. For example, when talking about Total War: Shogun 2, render it as Total War: Shogun 2. Aside from being proper, it'll grab the attention of readers who are scanning an article or blog for mention of a particular game that catches their fancy.
The URL tag can be used to linkify either a URL address or string of text. By just dropping an address between the open and close tags, you'll get:
Usually, you'll want to direct your readers to some interesting off-site gem via a text flag as opposed to a lengthy address. In that case, insert an equal sign after the "url" in the open flag, then drop the address right next to that (no quotation marks necessary). The address becomes part of the open tag, and whatever you insert between the open and close tags will then lead you to that address, like so:
There are other BBCode tags in existence, but for the most part they don't work with our blogging software. Some do, however. I personally have used the size and color tags in the past:
[size=<numerical value here>]TEXT[/size]
[color=#<hexidecimal color value here>]TEXT[/color]
The size tag changes your font size so that you can have mammoth or miniscule text. The default value is 12, so adjust accordingly. Be reasonable and don't use extreme values, although it's sometimes fun to hammer out a hidden message in size 1 font and force readers to copy and paste it into the search bar in order to view it.
Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.
The color tag changes font color, natch. A few colors like red or blue can be written out in English following the equal sign and without the number symbol, but for most you'll need the proper hexadecimal value. For instance, the value E18B6D gives you a nice salmon hue, while 00FFFF gives you Mega Man cyan. A quick Google search will yield a variety of useful color value tables, but make sure the color you pick stands out well on Dtoid's standard white backdrop.
You can even nest tags, one inside another. The following line makes uses of the URL, color, size, italic, and bold tags:
There might be a limit to how many tags you can cram together, but I doubt anyone is gonna to hit it. Five tags is already pushing the boundaries of sensibility, but if you want to prepare a BBCode turducken, the option is available to you.
With all these tags flying around, it's very easy to omit a close tag or to use the wrong tag pair from time to time. That's why you should frequently slam the "Save to drafts and preview" button below the editing window and preview your blog by clicking the link near the top of the page. Make sure everything is sorted out before publishing your piece. Having broken BBCode all over the place is disgusting and a sign that you were in a rush. Broken BBCode can also indicate that someone has copied and pasted an article written on another blog -- since different sites use different blogging software, it's rarely going to be one size fits all.
Sometimes, it may look like your code should function perfectly but doesn't. Say you want to bold the section heading and this happens:
Making Mayonnaise Work for You
BBCode hates newline characters, the most common being the space you create when you hit the ENTER key. Essentially, the code will only work if the open and close tags are in the same block of text. Going back and merging my two lines together will give me:
Making Mayonnaise Work for You
Other times, the code won't work even if everybody is hanging out on the same line. There is a trouble-maker somewhere. Maybe the newline character is masquerading as whitespace character (which can sometimes happen when copying and pasting quotes from other articles) or there is excess whitespace in either the open or close tags. Save yourself a massive headache by deleting the entire line and re-typing it manually. That usually solves everything.
You may have noticed that I held off discussing one other BBCode tag. That's because I'm giving it its own special section below.
A smattering of pictures can make your dull blog spectacular! Some people like tossing up non sequitur images, but typically you'll want to have pics that directly relate to your topic. Also, make a habit of including a header image in each blog. It's more welcoming than a straight-up block of text.
I still see a lot of you guys using third-party hosting sites like Photobucket and Imageshack, and if you're comfortable doing that, go ahead. I'd like to direct you toward an alternative. On the right side of your editing window, you'll notice a box labeled "Upload photos." You can add your photos and have them stored right here on Dtoid's servers.
There are a few benefits to using local image hosting. Most importantly, off-site images are at the mercy of the respective terms of service. What's appropriate for Destructoid may not be appropriate over there. Also, server failings may cause photos to spontaneously vanish into the ether, leaving a lovely "image not found" macro in your blog. By using Dtoid as your host, you are guaranteed the safety of your images for as long as this site remains active. We monitor our servers like a hawk and promise to recover any lost images in the event of a catastrophe almost without fail.
The standard column width of a Dtoid blog is 620px. If you use third-party hosting, make sure your images are scaled accordingly. It's not a problem if your picture is skinnier than the column, but if it's fatter, everything beyond the boundaries will be cropped off. If you upload your pics to Dtoid, they will automatically be scaled up or down to fit neatly in the column.
The following two images were uploaded to TinyPic:
The first image fits in the column with plenty of room to spare. The whole image is visible, but all the excess space is rather unappealing. With the second image, a reader who wanted to view the whole thing would have to right-click it and select "View Image Info." That's a hassle.
Now, here are those same images hosted locally:
Isn't that a lot cleaner?
When you upload images here, all the photos you attach will appear at the bottom of your post as thumbnails. Clicking any one of them will open a slide show gallery in which you can view the photos in their native resolution. If you want to post a PAX photo gallery, upload all the photos but don't actually insert any image into the body of the blog. That way, you can lead with a short introduction and have your readers pick and choose which photos to view in the gallery.
Uploading an image to a particular blog doesn't exclude you from reposting that same image multiple times in future blogs. With that in mind, you can create a new private blog to host all of your pics, then insert them into various blogs as needed. This also prevents a thumbnail gallery from generating, if you consider them too distracting.
The above photo was uploaded to one of my previous blogs. As you may notice, it doesn't appear in the gallery at the end of this post.
Sometimes, you'll want to post a small image without it being automatically resized. The O-face pic above has this address:
Now, if I insert this new address into the image tag, I get:
With this particular image, we have the same issue as previously -- too much excess space. However, really tiny images roughly the size of a user's avatar could fit right on a line adjacent to a block of text. Possibilities, people.
One other little "hack" deals with centering an image that doesn't fill up the column width. To the best of my knowledge, there's no way to do that with the site's implementation of BBCode. However, we can cheat a bit by adding a buffer to each side of an image, resulting in an 620px-wide image. Taking the O-face pic once again, I just open up Photoshop, add a bit of whitespace, and ta-da:
The buffer on each side of the main image is colored white, so it blends in with the page background, thus granting the illusion of a centered image.
Giving your audience a short break from reading to enjoy an entertaining YouTube clip is always a nice treat. Instead of directing them off-site via a link, embed the clip right in the body of your blog. Embedding video is only slightly more complicated than uploading images, but it causes more problems for users than any other function I've already discussed.
Go to YouTube and find a clip that you'd like to share. Below the video player, there should be a button labeled "Embed." Click that and copy the HTML code that appears (sometimes, you'll get a notice that embedding had been disabled, so beware). Below the image uploader on your editing window, you'll notice a box labeled "Embed videos." Paste your code right in there and upload. The HTML will be converted into BBCode which can be easily added to your post as such:
Wait! You're not finished! This embed suffers the same problem as an off-site hosted image. Many web videos are 640px wide and must be resized to avoid cropping. Here's the original embed code for the Panty & Stocking clip above:
<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="640" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nEpy0znKHWs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
We need to change the width and height values. I like all my videos to be 620 x 378 because it'll display widescreen video accurately and 4:3 video with black bars on the side as on a TV. So I alter the numbers:
<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="620" height="378" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nEpy0znKHWs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
When I upload the new code, I get this:
Compare this to the previous embed. It's a subtle but clear difference.
Can you embed video from sites other than YouTube? As long as the video in question has HTML embed code, of course you can! Here's a video from GameTrailers:
The embed code from some sites can be quite long. Your quest is to find every height and width value and change them accordingly. Missing a single value may or may not screw up your embed, but as mama always said, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Can you embed media other than video, like a music player? Hell yes, you can! The Zero Cool cats do it all the time! As long as the associated media has embed code, you are in the clear: