Read a Lot
Excellent writing typically does not occur in a vacuum. Most often, excellent writing is a conversation with someone else. This does not mean that you have to flat out agree or disagree with something that you read. You might be expanding upon someone else’s point, applying it to a new situation, or looking at it from a different angle. But, to do that, something needs to have sparked an idea. Often that idea comes from reading widely. My own discussion posts do not only come from reading other blogs. They also come from reading literary criticism, perusing a magazine, or reading the newspaper. They might even stem from conversations I have with other readers. Inspiration is everywhere, if you know where to look.
This approach can also help you to be timely. For instance, when discussion posts picked up years ago, people started noticing that they have a tendency to get more traffic than reviews and some considered dropping reviews altogether. This raised the question of whether it was feasible to run a book blog without book reviews. And every now and then discussions of plagiarism rock the book community. So we’ve written several posts clarifying where the boundaries are.
Identify a Need
By reading widely, you might also notice a need that no one is directly speaking about. For instance, Briana noticed that bloggers were feeling stressed by the increased number of things they are expected to do (not just blogging anymore–also social media, web design, graphic design, etc.). This allowed her to write a post about the possibility of cutting down your workload by co-blogging.
On the other hand, I noticed something because people weren’t talking about it. Realizing that the book blog community focuses primarily on YA, I wrote posts discussing the joys of reading other types of books such as middle grade and picture books.
Bring Something New
Discussion posts that really catch my attention are ones that bring something new to the table. If everyone is talking about Topic X, once I’ve read two posts on it, sadly, I’m pretty much done clicking on any other post addressing it–unless there’s a spin. If everyone is talking about why they hate X, I’d like to see someone write why they love X. Or, if everyone is talking about how they hate X for the same five reasons, I’d like to see a post about why someone hates X for five different reasons.
Doing research is one way that enables you to bring something new to a conversation. For instance, I still see bloggers worrying that YA isn’t a respected genre. And yet, its incredible popularity, its inclusion in college courses, its presence in academic journals and panels, all suggested to me that literary establishments have accepted YA. (What your aunt or BFF says to you personally is a different story.) So I did some research and I concluded that the debate over YA is over. Generally speaking, not many people are arguing adults should not read YA–actually, few people ever did! I still have not seen another blogger write about this, suggesting to me that doing the research really did bring something fresh to the conversation.
Write about Literature
I don’t often see discussion posts about the actual content of books, just about the reading or buying of books. However, I would enjoy seeing more literary analyses. We’ve done some here in the past, such as this post about whether Eowyn is a feminist character and this one on whether Cath is an unlikable protagonist in Heartless. We also ran Classic Remarks for a time, encouraging people to discuss a literary question each week (and people are still joining in the conversation!). Adding more literary analysis would be to do something radically different–and different is often engaging.
What are your tips for writing engaging discussion posts?
18 thoughts on “How to Write an Engaging Discussion Post”
I’ll admit that I have noticed the lack of discussion posts about the contents of books. I’ve thought about writing them, but something holds me back from it (it might be as simple as not taking enough notes). I like reading these types of posts, and I don’t see enough of them. Some of them have made me want to read a book that I haven’t read yet.
These are all great ideas for discussion posts, and they cover a lot of bases. I can think of a few things that might also help with generating discussion topics.
1. One other idea is to write about something you’ve been dying to talk about but haven’t had the outlet for. If it’s been percolating for a while, you might have a lot to say about it, which will engage people.
2. Try talking about something you’re nervous about writing about.
3. Update an old post by posting new content. Once upon a time, I liked to compare ebooks to physical books. In 2012, I wrote about pros and cons to ebooks. Then in 2014, I updated that post with a new one to bring up things I had discovered since owning an ereader, which I hadn’t in 2012.
True! Writing a strong literary analysis means you have to go back and find all your evidence. Plenty of times I’ve found myself rifling through a book muttering, “I know it’s in here somewhere.” But, without notes, it’s often difficult to find what I want again! 😀
Ooh! I like all your ideas, especially the one about updating! Sometimes our ideas change or we find new evidence. Or maybe just the reading landscape has changed! It can be interesting to look back and see how things have changed.
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I find thinking up discussion post is much harder than writing the post! So far my discussions have done well but as the writer I feel there’s much lacking in it. I want to start writing literary analyses for the contemporary books I read rather than for my classics book challenge as I feel that one has been done many times!
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That sounds like a great idea! 😃
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Brilliant post!! 😀 I do think it’s very much worth having researched pieces. On the other hand, for a lot of things, when it comes to making up my mind on what to do for a discussion piece I predominately talk about things based on what I’ve seen discussed lately (and have some kind of personal response) or what’s been said to me personally- for instance, I recently responded to the question of adults reading YA, based on a number of comments I’d had- I don’t think it’s a massive issue in the media or anything, I think it’s just an interesting personal discussion (sorry tangent!) As I’ve mentioned to you (probably too many times 😉 ) But, I really think more research pieces would be beneficial and would be especially useful on pieces that are not opinion based (like I said, we’ve had this discussion before, but I’m a little cranky about all the appeals to authority I see floating about)
Yeah, I think there’s generally a clear distinction between discussions that are opinion pieces and discussions that probably should be based in some sort of outside research. My recent pet peeve is the statement “I don’t know much about X, but…” To me, that sounds like a clear signal that the discussion post could use some research, so the author isn’t just speculating and potentially making statements that aren’t even correct. I guess an example (that I’m making up–not pointing fingers at anyone in particular) would be a discussion like “I have no idea why ebooks are priced the way they are, but here is my discussion post about why they are too expensive!” That’s actually a topic you could look into, find the stated reasons for the price points, and then explain why you think they’re good reasons or not, instead of simpy saying “I’m just guessing here, but they’re probably expensive because publishers are greedy and mean!”
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Honestly, as soon as I see a disclaimer to the effect of, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m here to give you my opinion,” I’m tempted to leave. The writer has just announced that they have zero credibility, so why should I value their opinion? I could spend my time reading a piece where the writer did research and is knowledgeable.
When I point out to students that writing, “I don’t know why this happens,” undermines their credibility, they sometimes counter with, “But doing research takes too much time.” Precisely. You the writer are doing the research BECAUSE it takes time and skill. That is your value to the reader. If you are not doing it, the reader will turn to someone who is and you will lose your audience.
Yes absolutely agree with you there! I think that’s my second biggest pet peeve- after “the experts say…” and I’m like “which ones?!? Name someone!!” (the worst thing is it usually comes after the “I don’t know much about this, but…” Hahaha yes that would be so irritating! I one hundred percent agree with you!
You don’t know “the experts?” Everyone knows “the experts!” 😉
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hahahhaa 😂😂 I know- what an ignorant numpty I am 😉
Quite true! There are discussion posts that don’t require as much research. Really, I feel like ANY post sort of requires research. Even if I’m saying why I like LotR, after all, I’m going to be writing my opinion based on the book that I read (i.e. “research” of some sort) not just making stuff up without having read LotR. Not every post requires a library visit, but it is good to be basing your opinion on something!
That’s why I too am disheartened by all the, “I don’t know anything about this topic, but I’m writing about it” type posts. Have we learned nothing in school about making strong arguments based on evidence? It’s good for the writer to research because that makes their opinion more valuable to their readers! It’s difficult, for example, to try to effect change in an industry when you begin with, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m demanding that you make these changes I list. Even though you’ve probably thought a lot about your business decisions and hired people to study the effects of them and thus have reasons behind what you do, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong because–I said so.” That’s not going to be a profitable negotiation. Doing research beforehand makes you more effective in every way.
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Oh yes, absolutely agree there 😉 I think even if someone was doing a “reread review”, I’d expect that they’d actually reread it recently rather than just working from long term memory 😉
So agree with you there!! I think it’s especially striking when people argue for changes in the bookish industry (needed or not- not talking about any specifics here) but don’t back up with any particular evidence (preferably citations- because to be honest there are plenty of times when I would actually appreciate the citations so I could follow up what they’re saying and do my own research, instead of trawling for articles that don’t actually exist… which, yes, has happened 😉 )
Same! I like to see what information others are working off. It’s part of your job as a writer to make my research efforts a little easier!
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Yes absolutely agree!!
Great tips! I think we each have a unique perspective that can add to the discussion—sometimes we just need that spark of inspiration!
True! And I think that’s important to remember. Sometimes I hear writers doubt that they have anything valuable to say and that’s when they end up copying others. But that kind of doubt is self-defeating! Sometimes we all need a good pep talk to remind ourselves that we can do it! We have interesting things to say!