How to comment on blogs…

…without making a fool of yourself

Another subversive comment

Subversive comments also welcome

Following the popularity of my post on How to read academic articles…and stay sane, I thought I would try to explore the subject of commenting on blogs. Obviously, I want you to comment on my blog, but this is advice that could relate to any blog or on-line discussion. I’ve come across quite a few guides on the technical aspects of commenting but none that help you with what to put in your comments. This is my attempt to fill that gap. The tips I give could also be applied to making contributions in meetings or other similarly intimidating activities.

Why don’t you comment?

My stats tell me that at least 500 people a week read this blog, but only a few comment. I really value all the people who do comment regularly or just once, but I would like to find out what stops those of you who don’t.

Why you should comment

  • To make the blogger happy. It’s exciting when someone bothers to comment on something you have written. I don’t do this for financial gain (but if you were to be feeling generous…), so feedback encourages me through the uncertainty, the dark periods of writer’s block and the pain of delving into academic research. It makes it all worthwhile.
  • To increase your understanding. If you read a blog post with the intention of commenting from the start, it makes you engage more thoroughly with the subject matter. You are likely to get more from it and remember it longer. Rather than wandering into your brain and leaving again soon afterwards, the ideas will settle down and start having families.
  • To increase my understanding. Just because I write about stuff doesn’t always mean that I fully grasp it. Writing is part of my learning process. You may be able to share an insight that helps me to understand things even better.
  • To share your wisdom / sense of humour / critical analysis / etc. with me and the other people who read the blog. Come on. Other people can benefit from what you have inside you. Don’t be shy. Don’t be selfish.
  • To get a bit more out of the blogger. Not all of the interesting ideas and useful facts that uncover in my background research  make it into the final post. I try to keep things concise. By making a comment you might entice me to reveal a bit more.

Actively look for an opportunity

  • Make a commitment. Before you start reading, make a mental commitment to look out for opportunities to comment. If you read something actively rather than passively, you will find it easier to think of things to say.
  • Note your own reactions. As you read, be aware of your own thoughts and emotional responses. Does what the blogger is talking about chime with what you believe? How does it make you feel? Excited? Confused? Uncertain? Challenged? Inspired? Bored? Intrigued? Angry?

Ask yourself some questions

Every passage you read, pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I understand this?
  • Is there a message?
  • Do I agree with this?
  • What is the point of this?
  • Can I apply this to my situation?
  • Can I think of an illustrative example?
  • Does this remind me of anything I know about?

Choose your comment type

There are quite a few different things you can do in a comment.

  • Ask questions. Here’s a question that will always work: ‘Could you tell me a bit more about X? You could also try: ‘Do you know of any other resources on this subject?‘ Another good one is: ‘Do you have any further thoughts about how this might be applied in practice?
  • Describe. Tell me how the post made you feel. ‘This post has made me question what I do during action planning.‘ or ‘I found myself getting annoyed at what you were saying, but I’m not sure why. I might need to think about it and get back to you.‘ It’s nice to know that I’ve produced a reaction, even if it’s not favourable.
  • Agree. You may not have any earth-shattering contributions or staggering insights, but if you liked the post and you concur with the ideas, say so. It’s really encouraging when people agree with you. Comments like: ‘I really enjoyed this post. I hadn’t thought about this issue before.‘ May sound trite to you, but I lap them up.
  • Disagree. Obviously, the opposite also applies. In this case, you may feel more pressure to explain yourself. Actually, you don’t have be contentious or even to put together a structured argument. A good technique to use is Tentative Disagreement + Question. For example, ‘I’m not sure I agree with the point you made about X, could you expand on that please?
  • Share examples. Whether you agree or disagree, one thing you can do is contribute examples and anecdotes from your own experience. If you are worried you can always preface your example with ‘I’m not sure if this is completely relevant but your post reminded me of…‘ or ‘I’m not sure that this is necessarily true, what about this example…‘ I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I will always respond positively to such comments.
  • Suggest topics. If you would like to set me to work writing about something else — go ahead. Perhaps there is some theory you’ve never got your head around or some bit of research you’ve heard about and have been wondering if it’s relevant. ‘I was wondering if you had any plans to write about X‘ or ‘I came across this article/blog, do you think it has any relevance to careers work?
  • Answer questions. On most of my post I try to ask a few thought-provoking questions. I don’t do this for the sake of it; I really want to hear your answers.
  • Highlight resources. If you do happen to know something about the topic, please feel free to draw attention to other useful resources. My time for research is limited and I may not have encountered everything relevant. Don’t feel as if it has to be an academic reference. Other blogs, newspaper articles, YouTube and TED videos, books, television and radio programmes — they’re all good.

Finally, here’s a question:

  • Is there anything I could do to make it easier for you to comment?


  1. #1 by Vinny on 28 May 2010 - 12:31

    Have just googled this subject a bit and a couple of things struck me.

    1. Are you too clever?
    If your blog post comes up with a very insightful answer to something you have thought long and hard about, then it is hard for others to comment without feeling that they are dumbing down the blog.

    2. Do you provide both the question and the answer?
    By providing a complete argument you may leave only a few limited options for responses.

    The answer to both of these is to leave a lot more uncertainty. You are very good at responding to posts both quickly and personally, so any insightful answers you had would probably come out anyway in the comments or your responses.

    It might be worth looking at your previous posts and see which ones have had comments from the most amount of people. Are these the ones where there is more ambiguity and less insight?

  2. #3 by John king on 2 June 2010 - 01:33

    My top tip is to make sure you don’t accidentally click ‘Publish’ before comp

  3. #4 by Liz Wilkinson on 2 June 2010 - 15:26

    I wonder whether it’s partly a time issue. I do my blog surfing monthly rather than daily/weekly (works best with the pattern of the day job)so often assume that I’ve missed the time to comment. Is that a misconception?

    • #5 by David Winter on 2 June 2010 - 17:28

      Even if you go back to a really old post and comment on it, your remarks will come up in the list of recent comments on the right-hand side. I will read it and reply if appropriate. So, don’t assume you have missed the boat.

  4. #6 by Vinny on 3 June 2010 - 09:59

    I’ve looked at the posts with the most comments and can’t really see much of a pattern. So maybe, in theory, you are doing all the right things to encourage comments, but it just isn’t working as well in practice.
    Could that be another idea for a post: “when things in theory don’t work in practice”

    It would fit nicely with my favorite quote of the moment
    “I want to move to theory. Everything works in theory.” (John Cash)

  5. #7 by Helen Pownall (Careers Service) on 9 June 2010 - 16:13

    Maybe it’s worth looking at ratios of readers to commenters too. I’ve seen figures ranging from about 0.5% to about 5% (very rare). So if you are getting about 1 comment for every 200 views of any given blog post, you’re doing OK! 🙂

    Also, while it’s definitely nice to get comments, I think sometimes it’s easy to obsess about comments (we’re social creatures and we like communication to be two-way!), without questioning what our aim is in hankering after more comments. Are we assuming that if we get more comments more people are reading/enjoying/engaging with our blog? At Manchester we did some research recently with students and we were trying to find out why they were less active in engaging with us on our blogs and on Twitter. The strong message we got from the focus group was “We obtain useful information from the blogs and Twitter, but why do we have to comment?” Here in Careers we tend to be hung up on two-way engagement, but our clients seem happy to be passive consumers… On that note, it will be interesting to see the results of your poll.

    • #8 by David Winter on 9 June 2010 - 23:14

      Thanks Helen
      You’re absolutely right on both counts. I do obsess about comments for quite selfish reasons. This blog is part of my learning process. The first part is having to think about the topics in order to write something. But the next bit of being made to think even more by other people’s comments is just as much fun when it happens. I shouldn’t expect everyone to enjoy that discussion process in the same way I do, but it’s hard to stop.

    • #9 by helencurry on 21 June 2010 - 13:06

      I second that – in a (fairly) related example, on The Careers Group Facebook page on Graduate Entry to Medicine, a pattern began where students posed questions and we answered them. It was only when there was a break in our answering that students started to comment on and respond to each others’ posts. Seems to fit exactly with that response Helen mentions – if they receive useful information from us, why do more?

  6. #10 by David Winter on 21 June 2010 - 06:46

    For completeness here is a list (in descending order) of the most visited posts, which is not identical to the list of most commented on posts.

    Do I still like MBTI? (Part 1)
    Will you read this post? Think about it.
    The decisive moment
    RIASEC hats
    Does self awareness make for quicker decisions?
    The danger of goals and power
    Decision makers want information…or do they?
    What happened to my mid-life crisis?
    Do I still like MBTI? (Part 2)
    Classics – Gottfredson

  7. #11 by Duncan on 18 September 2010 - 01:04

    Well — I’d just like to say that I think this post was great! I’ve become aware that I’m largely passive in my information consumption. It’s a habit I’m trying to break, and I think this post has some really good suggestions on simple actions one can take or attitudes to hold while reading anything to help foster an “active reading” mentality. So: thanks!

    I’ve only just stumbled across your blog, through a web search for career / job search resources. I’ve just finished a PhD (computational neuroscience), have just moved to the UK from Australia, and am just starting to look for work (and the possibility of making a large career change in the process… still working on that…). It looks like your blog has lots of interesting food for thought, so hopefully this will be the first of many comments from me!

    • #12 by David Winter on 21 September 2010 - 20:54

      Thank you for the comment.

      Good luck with the career change. Let us know how you get on.

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