Thanks for blogging on Peanut Butter & Grace! This little guide has three parts: how to post an article (practical steps); style notes; and how to write well for the Peanut Butter & Grace website.
Posting your article
Here are the practical steps involved in posting your article.
Setting up your profile
Before you begin, set up your personal profile. You should have received an e-mail from me with your username and a computer-generated password. You will be prompted to change the password once you sign in the first time.
Once you’re in, go to the Users tab (circled in red above) and click on Your Profile.
On that page, do the following:
- Proofreading. Select the options you want; WordPress will alert you to issues with your writing if you check this option. Leave unchecked if you find it annoying.
- Name. If this section isn’t already filled out, complete it. Choose a nickname that you want displayed in association with your posts.
- Contact info. Include your website if you have one; this will appear in your profile information at the end of each post.
- About yourself. Include something about yourself under “Biographical info.” You might include a line, or something more involved. Again, this will appear at the bottom of your posts.
- Profile picture. Upload a profile picture. It doesn’t have to be of you, exactly, but a head shot is more professional than, say, your cat.
- Extra profile information. Include any social networks people might follow you on; this will appear in the author profile box at the end of each post.
Writing the article
To write an article, click on Posts > Add New.
You’ll be presented with a post editor with controls similar to what you might find with MS Word. Here’s what you need to know about those controls:
- Enter your title here. Once you have entered the title of your post and clicked out, the title will become part of the address for the post. However, you can change the address to something simpler by clicking the “edit” button after the post address that appears under the title.
- Click on the “Toolbar Toggle” button to make the second row of controls appear. You want that second row.
- You might want to write your post in a word processor. If you do, you might want to click this button (Paste as Text) in order to paste your article without any funny formatting.
- You can use the eraser to erase the special formatting on any selected text.
- This dropdown menu controls your styles. Most of what you write will be in the paragraph style, but you can add headers here by clicking the drop-down menu and selecting Heading 2.
- Use the symbol menu to insert special characters, including the em dash, which is the long dash (—) we use instead of two hyphens (–).
- This is the block quote button. Use it to format long quotes from other sources as a block quote (indented, stylized).
- Use the Add Media button to add pictures to your post…more on that below.
Finishing up: Sidebars, categories, tags, saving as pending
When you’re finished writing your post, scroll to the section under the post editor and:
- Choose sidebar. Select the sidebar that goes with all of your writing (it will be named for you). This will ensure that your sidebar appears next to your post.
- Under Author info, select Display author info.
Next, go to the sidebar:
- WordPress automatically saves your work every so often, but if you need to leave your work and come back later, press Save Draft.
- You can Preview what your article will look like once it is published by clicking the Preview button. Hold the CTRL button as you click to open the Preview in a new browser tab.
- Once you are all done with your article, change its status from Draft to Pending. This will alert me that it is ready for me to look at.
- This is the sacred Publish button. DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON. It makes your work display to the website, and sends an e-mail alert to anyone who has subscribed to our feed. What if you accidentally press it anyway? Oh well. You can unpublish by changing the status from Published to Draft (see #3).
- Check the categories appropriate to your article. Unless you are publishing a how-to article, you will want to click on Storytellers. I will check any additional categories for you.
- Tags. Feel free to tag your article. But let’s avoid tag bloat: Choose one, two, or at most three words or phrases that best describe what the article is about. Tags should indicate what the article is substantially about. Don’t tag your article with incidental topics, or topics too general to be meaningful. Finally, check to see whether the tag already exists by clicking on Choose from the most used tags. Also, you can type a word in the tag box, then wait a few seconds to see what existing tags match what you’ve typed.
- If you have uploaded an image (or two) to your post, click here to set it as the featured image (the one that will appear in thumbnails on the home page and lists of articles).
Uploading and editing photos
To upload and edit photos, first click the Add Media button above the post editor. You get this dialog box:
Drag your photos from your desktop or folder into the photo tray, or click the Select Files button. Note that if you have photo editing software, it is ideal to compress your photo for faster web viewing. If you are able to do this, you want to get the photo down under 1000 pixels on the longest side, and under 72 dots per inch (dpi).
Check the display settings. For photos at the top of the post, choose CENTER and LARGE.
For photos inside the post (embedded in the article text), usually you want to choose RIGHT and MEDIUM.
To crop or resize a photo that is too large, click the EDIT ORIGINAL button.
In the EDIT IMAGE dialog box, drag the cursor across the photo to make the crop box (1). To crop, click the crop button (2). To resize a huge photo (to make it smaller than 1000 pixels on the longest side, and therefore quicker to load), go to the scale image dialog (3). When finished, press the SAVE button.
Finding photos for your post
The web being what it is, we need some kind of image to go with each post. If you don’t have the time, I will find an image for your post. If you have the time, you can supply your own photos or you can find photos online that can be used with attribution.
The simplest way to find photos with reuse licenses is to go to search Google Images. Click on the SEARCH TOOLS button, then select USAGE RIGHTS > LABELED FOR REUSE.
If you use a photo labeled for reuse from another site, please indicate the source in this way in the photo caption:
- Photo credit: Amy V. via Flickr
- Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons
Here at Peanut Butter & Grace, we follow the Chicago Manual of Style for our books, and the Catholic News Service style manual for online articles (very similar to AP style, but with more to say about Catholic usage).
Given the nature of writing for the web (e.g., it doesn’t exactly pay), we’re not going to worry too much about following the rules of these style manuals. However, if you have a question about proper usage, feel free to consult one of these sources.
Another resource that you might find helpful is the Catechism of the Catholic Church…especially if you are wondering about whether a word is capped or not. For example, the Catechism does not capitalize pronouns referring to God or Jesus (he/his, not He/His).
Here are a few random style issues that I find myself frequently fixing:
- If you can review your post once for spelling, typos, and other obvious errors, that would help me out a lot.
- One space after terminal punctuation, please.
- Punctuation almost always goes inside the quote marks: We called him “the stinky cheese man.” Not: We called him “the stinky cheese man”.
- All subheads should be formatting in the Heading 2 style. (See the dropdown menu above the post editor.)
More to come as I come across them.
What we write (read the guidelines!)
If you’ve read our submission guidelines, you know our mission:
The mission of Peanut Butter & Grace is to help Catholic parents raise children who know and love Christ and his Church. We do this by providing digital and print resources that assist parents in forming their children in the faith within the daily life of their family.
There’s more, but you can read it at the submission guidelines page. But the bottom line is that when you set out to write something for Peanut Butter & Grace, you can use this as a guiding question: Does my piece help Catholic parents raise their kids in the faith? How?
Write content people will read
Your work will appear on Peanut Butter & Grace’s website and Facebook page. These are digital environments, and the way people read words in a digital environment is very different than the way they read print media (a book, academic paper, or magazine article, for instance).
For one thing, the digital environment is very competitive and highly distracting. If people pick up your article in “Catholic Geekdom” magazine, yours is just one of maybe a dozen articles to choose from. Publishing online is like publishing in a magazine with several thousand reading options.
For another thing, people tend to read online in snatches, in between other things they’re doing. If getting their attention was hard in the first place, keeping it is just as hard. Most people read online content on their mobile devices, but even those reading on a desktop computer are likely “taking a break” from something else.
Online content does have one advantage over print, though: Boy can we track and analyze the heck out of reader behavior. And people have (you have no idea how much reader behavior has been parsed)…which means that we know a few things about what readers want from their online content.
With all of that in mind, here are a handful of tips for writing articles that people will read in an online environment:
- Offer something of value. People need a reason to choose to spend time with your words rather than the dancing dog in the next post on their news feed. You need to offer something of value. On Peanut Butter & Grace, this either means that people are going to walk away with ideas for what to do with their own family, or they’re going to be told a story that inspires them and/or gives them new insight into their own parenting experience. Examples: 7 Ways to Say Morning Prayers with Your Kids, Go to your war room! How I got my kids to battle it out with God.
- Strong headline. Work that headline! Make sure it conveys more than just the general topic (e.g., “Advent craft ideas”). Make sure it conveys the “value” or “take away” that the reader can expect. For example, How to Start a Catholic Kids Book Club tells me that I’m going to find out how to start a book club for my kids. Our accidental 10-minute family rosary is intriguing: How can a rosary be “accidental”? Surely there’s an interesting story there. Plus, how do they do a 10 minute family rosary?
- What’s your point? Remember how your college papers had to have a thesis statement? Same thing goes for online writing. You should be able to say what the point of your piece is in one sentence. This might be easy for a how-to article (“The point is you’re going to get seven different strategies for saying morning prayers with your kids”); for an essay, it might be more difficult, but look for the main insight (“Our parenting journey is not unlike that papal pilgrimage: the journey is as much the point as the destination.”)
- Speak from the heart. Unless you are writing a bare-bones how-to article (a “recipe” for doing a faith practice with kids), strive to make a personal connection with readers. Use your own voice—the voice you’ use with your friends. Avoid hiding behind a passive voice or an “expert” persona. Be vulnerable (as far as that feels safe); people appreciate making a personal, intimate connection.
- Be a poet. In other words, make every word count, and cut every word that doesn’t add to your story. This is basic writing advice, but it is even more critical in an online environment where the next interesting thing is just a swipe away. Your writing ought to be tight. When you read over your first draft, ask yourself: How could I say this in fewer words? Try cutting your article by 20-30 percent from the first draft. Almost always, the end result will be stronger.
- Break it up. Because people are more apt to scan in an online environment, you want to keep giving them a reason to keep reading. Keep your paragraphs short—3-5 sentences or so. Offer subheads every 3-4 paragraphs;. (Use the Heading 2 style in the dropdown menu.) If your reader scrolls down and sees nothing but text, she’s more apt to leave than if she scrolls down and notices an intriguing subhead or two.
- List it out. If you are writing a “how to” article (how to pray the rosary with kids, etc.), consider breaking information up into a list. People love lists when they’re looking for a quick read, because lists are scannable (see above), they are usually practical, and they promise a concrete take-away (7 ways to wipe your toddler’s runny nose).
A final word: Our goal here is minister to parents, and that needs to be our focus, not the number of Facebook likes or shares. That essay on raising a child with autism or that how-to on how to pray a novena may not reach a lot of readers, but it may be really important for the few readers it does reach. Do what you need to do to stay true!