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About Page 201: The Meat Grinder

Your About page is the perfect opportunity to introduce what you’re doing with your blog — and why it matters…

About Page 201

Your About page is the perfect opportunity to introduce what you’re doing with your blog — and why it matters — to your audience. In About Page 101: Making Them Care, we looked at getting the basics right in terms of knowing what you’re trying to do, telling a compelling story, keeping things brief, and writing in a style that doesn’t come off as more stilted than your Uncle Joe’s wedding party dance moves. Now we’re going to take all of the hard work you did there, all of the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into making your About page rock, and put them through the meat grinder. Because good enough isn’t good enough for us. Ready? Ready.

1. Slash it in half. And in half again. 95% of first paragraphs are a complete waste of everyone’s time (source: the institute of questionable statistics). Often we’re just getting our writing mojo on in those first tentative lines, but by paragraph two we’re working those words like a champ. The same’s often true for endings. You’ve reached a rollicking finale. Everything’s beautiful. And then you add one more paragraph to “wrap things up,” killing the effect of what should have been your last line by smothering it in more needless word-calories than a deep-fried Elvis burger. It hurts to kill your darlings, especially when you’ve spent so long making them beautiful, but more often than not it makes for a more powerful piece of writing.

Action time! Experiment with killing your first and last paragraphs and see if it makes your About page a senseless mess or a leaner, meaner About page machine. In the case of the former, see if you can’t slice and dice a paragraph or two from the midsection to cut out the flab and keep things focused and fancy free.

2. Bite-sized morsels. So, you’ve topped and tailed your About page masterwork. Now it’s time to rescue your readers from the horror that is infinitely long chunks of uninterrupted text. When confronted with more than two or three sentences on the interweb, the human brain has evolved to explode or prevent explosion by switching off. You don’t want that to happen.

When we’re reading a book, we’ll happily shuffle on through scads of text. Web reading is a different experience, and leads people to scan for information. The easier you make it for them to do that, the more chance you have of sparing their screens from a spontaneous headsplosion mishap.

Action time! Try carving your About page up into discrete, bite-sized paragraphs with a little whitespace between them. For bonus points take a leaf from the newspapers and add some subheadings for the sections of your About page, giving people a chance to rapidly identify what’s to come in the next paragraph as they flit through your content at breakneck pace. Examples might include “Where I’m From” and “Where You’ll Find Me”. Alternatively, you could try phrasing them as questions, like “Where are you from?”

3. Signpost your Sunday best. If you’re interested in your readers sticking around or coming back for more, your About page is a great place to point a large flashing neon sign at the posts you’re proudest of on your blog. Failing a large flashing neon sign, you could add some links to them instead. This gives people an easy way to discover your best content and carry on getting to know you and your work, rather than reading your About page, nodding their head silently, and clicking over to that other browser tab with animated kittens dancing, never to return.

Action Time! Quickly jot down the posts you’ve written that you’re proudest of, or that offer the best picture of your interests and passions as outlined in your About page. Now, see if you can’t scatter a handful of those choice links in among the storytelling action to keep ‘em reading.

4. Picture this. Chunking your About page into juicy bite-sized morsels certainly makes scanning the content easier, and gives a reader’s eyes respite from the horror of reading gigantic paragraphs on a screen. But what if you were to give your page one or more little visual hooks for their eyes to get snared on? Ok, that’s a nauseating image, but you get the idea.

Adding some images to your About page not only helps to illustrate your ideas, it also gives the eye somewhere to settle when it first lands on the page, and when it starts to scan downward, providing visual cues for the content within. You don’t need to be Picasso to find suitable images. Use photos of yourself or the things you’re writing about, or tap into the huge array of free, remixable images available under the Creative Commons.

Action Time! Scan through your bite-sized morcels of About pageness and brainstorm one or more images you could strategically drop in to catch the eye and illustrate your ideas. It could be as simple as a head shot of yourself, or as abstract as the snowflake that represents your magical uniqueness as a human being.

5. End with some action. In About Page 101 we started off by identifying a purpose for our About pages. You might be trying to convince people to “friend” you on a social media service; to buy your book; to recognize your genius; or simply to introduce yourself to others out there who share your interests. As you bring your About page to a close, bring it back to that purpose and thing about the action you’d like them to take once they’ve finished. If you’re feel particularly ambitious, rather than merely ending your About page with a call to action, weave action in among the whole darned thing, one paragraph at a time.

Action Time! Remind yourself of the purpose you set out to serve with your About page, and see how you can intorduce some calls to action into the end, or throughout your post. It could be that you’re linking to your own or someone else’s content; pointing them in the direction of your Twitter or Facebook presence; asking them to leave a comment or get in touch. The action’s up to you, but you’ll have a lot more chance of someone taking it if you’re explicit about what it actually is.

That’s it, you should now have a lean, mean, fighting keen, erm, About page. It’s taken us some work to get here, but hopefully it’s all been worthwhile. Like all rules, the ten we’ve walked through here are meant to be broken, the more creatively the better.

Let’s see what you’ve got. Link up your About pages or those that have inspired you down in the comments.

Image credit: Based on Hello, my name is… by Carolien Dekeersmaeker, CC-BY-2.0

113 Comments

    1. I think you need to decide what you want to say. Where you grew up (better) or what you want to write about (usually too vague – that isn’t about you, or rather not what people want to read).
      Who are you? What do you do? What are your interests? It’s back of the postcard/envelope stuff.

  1. I’ve always kind of failed at the “about” section, whether on my website where I have all the space in the world or something as tiny as Twitter’s limited character blurb. I find it’s hard to strike a balance between giving the facts and being interesting. (And, honestly, it always seems when I’m writing these kinds of things I suddenly can’t think of one interesting thing about myself!)

    I’ve had a sort of FAQ-style about page now for awhile and it’s served pretty well. Actually in many ways it fits a lot of the criteria mentioned in this post.

  2. Mine isn’t exactly conventional but it is one of my most popular pages:

    http://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com/me-you-want-to-know-about-me-2/

    Incidentally, adding subheads/crossheads or more than one pic would suggest it is too long in the first place.

    A byline? On an about page? Don’t be silly. An ‘about me’ page, by ‘Me’? Who else is writing it?

    Unless I missed it, you also forgot to point out that an about page written in the third person reeks of pretension eg

    ‘Roughseas is a journalist who writes about her life in Gib and Spain. She is opinionated and doesn’t intend to tell you her life history..’ etc etc

    The one point I would always ask people to add is where they live/come from. It is a pain to have to wade through a load of posts to discover whether someone is from Kansas, Jo’berg, Tokyo or Sydney.

    I’ve probably written a post on it somewhere, if I find it, I’ll add it.

    1. i very much agree with the ‘where you’re from’ piece of info. that’s the main reason i go to someone’s about page, so it’s helpful to actually learn something about them.

      1. Absolutely, I don’t really want to know how old they are, their school, university, number of kids, grandkids, what motivates them to write – just – where are you in this world?!!

    2. That’s Jo’burg, of course (usually the mountains are ‘berg and the towns are ‘burg)–just thought I’d mention, you being a journo and all.
      I agree with the third-person stuff. I used to get CVs and covering letters in the third person. They always sounded like his Mommy was writing on his behalf.

      1. LOL! Thanks Ian. I guess I was going phonetically, combination of internet and too much spanish speaking. I picked a few places at random that I hadn’t visited around the world (OK, I have actually been to Sydney – and we have a 27 year old commitment to get to SA one day and visit a few friends there).

        Ha! to the CVs, I never got any like that, although I did get some extremely poor ones. Maybe mum could have written better. But grammatically, if you have a page that says ‘About Me,’ then your write about yourself, not in some fanciful distanced prose. hardly difficult.

    3. Great feedback, Roughseasinthemed. Good points about brevity vs. subheads, and well caught on the “byline” note. I must have been in a caffeine slump at that point. I’ve edited accordingly.

  3. I somehow ended up with TWO About pages. I know, I know…crazy. I’m gonna fix it, promise….one day, just as soon as I can. But thanks for this. It’s good to be reminded of what good writing should be doing.

  4. I’am so happy I switch my site to wordpress I have learned so much from you all. That, when I can afford it won’t mind paying for a upgrade.

  5. The daily post email hit my post box just as I was finishing work round about 5.30 this evening. I thought – I’ll spend a few minutes tinkering with it before getting on with other stuff. I just pushed the ‘Update’ button and it is quarter to nine.

    I basically followed the above suggestions. Subheadings, pictures and lots of links.

    I would love your comments. http://kerrydwyer.net/

    1. Seriously, I don’t think lots of pix and links do it for an about page. [I like to disagree with teh DP] Theory and practice aren’t always the same. One pic, a bit of info, where they are/have been, and a few snippets is enough. Less is more. I mean one par is not enough, but complicated stuff is not easy on the eye.

      Those are my comments.

      1. Thank you for your comments. I am too tired to rethink it all tonight and it is nearly wine o’clock. I will have another look at it in the morning. I think it looks a little busy but I quite like a lot of colour. Looking at your blog, I see you know what you are talking about so I will definitely take note.

      2. I think there’s something to be said for either approach. Brevity is always a good thing given the nature of web browsing, but captivating writing (About page or otherwise) will always win out. If the first sentence gets you to the second, and so on, anything goes. By chunking information and providing subheads or a strategically placed image or two, readers are given the choice to read everything at once, or flit about to the different sections, potentially giving them a greater chance to get “sucked in” by something they connect with at any point along the way.

        In the first post in the series, we talked about the benefits of an elevator pitch, which can give you the best of both worlds. The brevity of a sentence or paragraph, along with multiple engagement points for the would-be reader to focus on. It doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario, and the content should definitely dictate the form over and above any suggestions here.

        Kerry – I enjoyed reading your About page. I think perhaps the two column (or floated left/right images) layout in league with the profusion of beautiful images may make for a slight overload, where they might work as ways to separate out full-width paragraphs. Possibly snipping one or two to give the writing a little more space to breathe would help here, but I liked the short burst paragraphs and the way you bring things back full circle.

    1. I love the green car and the very short paragraph. It makes me want to go in and find out more. I found the awards distracting here. I think they would be better in the side bar or footer. There is my pennies worth.

  6. I am Daniel Angel from Cornwall

    My page is a true
    It’s About a journey,
    To re-discover
    Love that’s lost,
    Embrace,
    Love that’s given,
    Bring to Justice
    The Corrupted
    And the building of a future.

    http://daniel-brown.org/

  7. Wow … Thanks for the advice .. But i suspect mine is as its title says … A rather long account … http://the-serenity-space.com/bio/ … Yet one I am working on now thankyou :) …but then what does one do when the site is both blog and business related and life is extremely full and ever changing and i am to all intents rather verbose :)

    1. You may love your kids but the blunt truth is, no-one else does. My dad always replied to any questions about me with ‘she’s fine thanks’. End of conversation. No-one is ever interested in someone else’s children. A nature blog isn’t a kid blog. Make your choice.

      1. @Roughseasinthemed: I don’t agree with you here. People are naturally curious about how other folks live, and parents (for instance) are often very interested in other families, from a lifestyle, parenting or just curious perspective. A subject that doesn’t interest one person (be it fishing, journalism, the stock market, kittens, parenting, quilting, life in the country) may very well be just what another is looking for.

        @Curly Bug: I think you did a nice job here detailing the interests and concerns of your blog, and the picture and links nicely underline what you’re about. As city dwellers with a young son and an eye on a more natural, less urban lifestyle I found some of your photos and posts inspiring.

      2. I don’t write to be agreed with. I write to express my opinion which, is occasionally still allowed.

        My point about this blogger’s about post was that it appeared to be primarily a nature blog. And all I see is kids rolling around. That is not nature, that is children.

        If people want to read about someone else’s children fine, I don’t. I separate my blogs for that exact reason. I know some readers don’t want to read about my dog/s or my Land Rover/s or look at my photos or whatever.

        I don’t agree that people are curious about how other people live. Well, I’m not interested. And perhaps it would be better if less of us stopped being curious.

        There is a difference between topics, whatever, and just blasting the world with gorgeous toddler pix. One looks just like another. Parenting on its own is a valid topic. Putting children on a nature blog is not reasonable as that is not what people want to look at.

        I am sorry if I did not make that point clear before.

      3. Of course we’re both free to disagree with one another.

        However, the tagline of Curly Bug’s blog is “Stories. Photos. Nature. Boys. Messy. Life.” rather than “Nature”, and I think the contents live up to the promise of that, as does the About page. To say that nobody is interested in this combination of subjects feels (to me, this is just an opinion) demoralising, judgemental, and like a blanket statement that conflates your own interests with those of “people” at large. For any single topic that might appeal to some, there are likely to be intersecting topics that appeal to others (craft and weddings, design and interior decor, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.)

        Granted, as a magazine, or single-topic focused industry blog with an eye on building an advertiser base or specific demographic, this could pose a problem (unless you factor in the $290 Billion LOHAS market.) But as a self-identified personal blog expressing a range of interests and experiences that dovetail together around common (personal) themes, Curly Bug’s About page ticks all the right boxes by expressing purpose, letting us know what we’ll find within, and giving us a clear picture of who she is. The rest is for us to decide as individuals if we’d like to read more or move along.

      4. Wow! Friend or foe, fair or foul . . . . I did not expect that issues regarding or relating to the “About” page would generate so much “heated” discussion.

        An avid blogger who nominated one of my blogs for the Super Sweet Blogging Award revealed to me that she would not even consider awarding a blog if it does not have an “About” page.

      1. thankx for the comments – have touched it up a little more – i don’t know about ‘converting heathens’ so much as inviting people to seek to gain the most out of all aspects of life and so hopefully that is portrayed there… while still letting people know that is who i am… and what i’m about.

  8. Some very good suggestions here! No. 1 & 2 are good, but could be boiled down to: edit your work, edit your work more, proof read your work, repeat. If you could get someone else (someone with a critical eye) to edit your work, that would be even better.

    No. 3 is so obvious, and it’s the one I forgot to do. Of course, link to your own best work! I’ve seen many bloggers do this effectively. I also appreciate being pointed to good work as a reader. It’s on my list of things to do. Soon.

    No. 4 is important, and my page falls short here. Art is always a good addition to words.

    It’s all too true that we’re cutting our attention span off at the knees. Walmart’s “About” page would be: “We sell for less.”

    Short and sweet can’t be beat. Then again, sometimes you have a nuanced message that requires more words.

    1. No. 1 & 2 are good, but could be boiled down to: edit your work, edit your work more, proof read your work, repeat. If you could get someone else (someone with a critical eye) to edit your work, that would be even better.

      Great advice, and considerably less time consuming than my own. Thanks, John.

      Short and sweet can’t be beat. Then again, sometimes you have a nuanced message that requires more words.

      I agree completely, and while brevity is one route to captivating a reader, great writing will always break any rules we’d care to use as guidelines. The wildly different sentence structure of Kafka and Hemingway doesn’t make either any less powerful as storytellers, and I think that holds true beyond the sentence. Likewise, telegraph style news bulletins and gonzo journalism both have their place in the world.

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