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Top tips for recipe bloggers

Want to improve the quality of your recipe writing?

by: Jane-Anne Hobbs | 02 Aug 2011

Jane-Anne Hobbs is a freelance journalist, writer and book editor who has worked from a home office for the last 20 years.

Her award-winning blog, Scrumptious South Africa, pioneered food and cookery blogging in South Africa four years ago, and since then has grown into a comprehensive archive of over 300 original, tried-and-tested recipes. Jane-Anne has a passion for creative, innovative home cooking: 'All I want from a plate of food is that it tastes really good, feels lovely on your tongue and fills your stomach with joy.'

She has a particular interest in recipe development and writing: 'I believe anyone can learn how to create and accurately record excellent, original recipes,' she says. 'What's most important is painstaking attention to detail. And, of course, a great love of eating!'

Writing interesting, inspiring, lively blog posts and accurate recipes takes time and effort, but your careful editing will be much appreciated by the readers of your blog. Here are some simple tips that you can use to improve the quality and readability of your posts.  These are basic guidelines that I use when I write on my own blog, and they are certainly not set in stone. There's no 'correct' way to write about food, and every blogger needs to develop their own style and 'voice'.  Still, I hope you find these suggestions useful.

The basics

1. Title

- Choose an interesting, descriptive, informative, original and (most important!) mouthwatering title for your recipe. Avoid vague, generic, boastful or unappetising titles.
- If you can, give your blog post the same title as the name of the recipe. This will make it easier for search engines and recipe indexing sites to find your recipe.

Examples of poor recipe titles:

> The best brownies ever
> Wait until you taste this curry
> My mom’s soup
> Stunning beef stir-fry
> Family spag bol
> Perfect pasta that I made last week
> Fried brains with spinach

Examples of good recipe titles:

> Dutch Apple Cake with Clotted Cream
> Sour Cherry Shots with Almond Biscotti
> Old-Fashioned Beef and Guinness Hotpot
> Grandma’s Creamy Chicken and Leek Soup
> Aunt Pearl’s Featherlight Coconut Biscuits
> Fennel Salad with Caramelised Pears, Walnuts and Blue Cheese
> Warm Grilled Aubergines with Chilli and Pesto

2. Opening line

- Create a punchy, interesting opening line, preferably one that describes the dish. This opening line will show up on search engine results.
- Your opening line should hook your reader and reel him/her into the blog post.
- Mention a few of the ingredients in the opening line, if you can (but don’t needlessly repeat ingredients that are in the title of the recipe/blog post).

Examples of good opening lines:

> Delicately spiced with cumin and coriander, this creamy fish curry is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.
> Here’s a thistledown mousse flavoured with fresh limes and a poke of gin.
> Have you ever tasted smoked jellied eel? More important, would you ever want to taste such a thing? 
> A delicious one-pot autumn meal: meltingly tender lamb shanks cooked with sliced potatoes, sweet cherry tomatoes, rosemary and garlic.

Examples of poor opening lines:

> Omigosh, I’ve had such a hectic week, what with my husband being in hospital, so I made him this special chicken dish.
> This is the best lemon pie ever, you can ask my friends.
> I hate blueberries so much I wouldn’t dream of eating them, but this is quite a good recipe.
> Here is Nigella’s recipe for raspberry mousse.

3. Opening paragraphs

- Take your time over writing the introduction to your blog post. Remember: easy writing makes for difficult reading.
- Use one idea per sentence, and link sentences so they follow on from one another in a logical way.
- One paragraph should flow smoothly into the next. Place a line break between each paragraph.
- Write from the heart.
- Paint a picture with words.
- Research your ingredients. Add some new, interesting or useful information to the internet.
- Write appealingly about your ingredients.
- Tell a story. Place the recipe in context: historical, cultural, personal.
- Entertain your reader.
- Keep your writing simple. Avoid flowery language, slang and 'cheffy' jargon.
- Use adjectives sparingly and, where you do use them, make sure they're lively words that convey the taste and character of the dish or ingredient: a fragrant curry, a zippy dressing, a soul-warming stew, and so on. 
- Avoid obvious, overused adjectives: a delicious dressing, a tasty sauce, a yummy cake. If they’re not delicious or tasty, they don’t deserve a place on your blog!
- Be reassuring and enthusiastic, authoritative and confident. But avoid boastfulness.
- Check your facts.
- Be truthful. Your readers, if they are not accomplished cooks, will be encouraged to hear about your experiments, your failures and your triumphs.
- If you make reference to a book, website, unusual ingredient or utensil, add a hyperlink so your readers can follow up.
- If you’ve adapted someone else’s recipe, or been inspired by someone else’s idea, always say so. If you don’t know where the recipe comes from, say so. Don't steal recipes from other cooks.
- Use a spell checker!
- Read, re-read, edit and check. Give your blog post to a friend to read before you hit the 'publish' button.


1. Ingredients

- Always (and this is a golden rule) list your ingredients in order of use.
- Supply alternative names for ingredients. This isn’t essential, but overseas readers of your blog will appreciate it. For example: baby marrow (zucchini); granadilla (passionfruit); cornflour (cornstarch).
- Align your list of ingredients to the left of the page.
- If you’re using an unusual ingredient, tell your readers where you bought it.
- If it’s a long and/or complicated recipe, break down the list of ingredients into stages, under mini headings written in bold or italic text. For example:

For the biscuit crust:
One packet (200 g) Tennis biscuits
100 g unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:
200 g white chocolate
20 ml (4 tsp) tepid water
2 tsp (10 ml) gelatine powder
one 250-gram tub crème fraîche 
½ cup (125 ml) fresh granadilla pulp
½ cup (125 ml) condensed milk
20 ml (4 tsp) fresh lemon juice
1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream

To top:
Fresh granadilla pulp

- Whether you place the preparation instructions for each ingredient in the list of ingredients itself, or in the method, is up to you. Use your common sense. 

For example:
A large onion, peeled and finely chopped (or, in the method: Peel and finely chop the onion)

- However, be considerate! 

For example:
250 g butter, softened (not, in the method, ‘Now add the butter – oh I forgot to say it has to be soft butter').

2. Measuring: (For further information about measurements, see my Style Sheet for Food Bloggers

- Measure everything accurately. Buy an accurate set of cup and teaspoon measures, and an electronic scale.
- Write down the measurements for each ingredient as you use that ingredient. If you try and remember them later, chances are you’ll make a mistake!
- If you’re not sure how much of one ingredient you’re going to use, add a little at a time until the mixture tastes right. Make notes!
- Use cup/teaspoon measurements wherever possible. Many more people have measuring cups and spoons than have scales.
- Always give alternative measurements. For example, 1 cup (250 ml) sugar; 2 tsp (10 ml) sugar; 1 cup (250 ml/250g) butter.
- Use metric measurements, and round them off sensibly. No home cook can measure out 37.5 ml flour or 73 g butter.
- Double-check all your measurements, and make sure you haven’t left out any ingredients.
- If your measurements are a little ambiguous, add a short explanation in brackets.

For example:
> A handful of chopped fresh parsley (about half a cup)
> 250 ml grated cheese (one cup, loosely packed)
> 1 cup lemon juice (you’ll need about four lemons) 

- Be consistent in the way you write down measurements and quantities. If you use ‘tsp’ as an abbreviation for teaspoons in one recipe, don’t use ‘t’ for teaspoons in the next.

- Create your own editorial style sheet for future reference (see my Style Sheet for Food Bloggers)  

- When you’re writing down a string of numerals, use both words and numbers to make the measurement clear.

 For example:
> One 250 g tub cream cheese not ‘1 250g tub cream cheese’
> One litre of milk not ‘1 l milk’

- Spell French and other foreign cooking and ingredient terms correctly. Google them! 
- Use the correct characters for fractions and symbols. Copy them off the Internet and paste them into your blog post, or use keyboard shortcuts.  

3. Method

- Remember to tell your readers to heat the oven in advance! Most ovens take 12-15 minutes to come up to temperature.

- When writing a recipe that involves a liquid mixture that is to be baked, always specify the size of the tin, tart case or baking dish.

For example:
> Butter a 23-cm loose-bottom cake tin.
> Place the mixture in a deep ceramic baking dish about 20 cm in diameter.

- Always give alternative indicators of cooking times. This is vital because no oven or hob is the same. First give the recommended cooking time, then supply a visual (or taste) test the cook can use to judge the readiness of the dish.    

For example:
> Bake at 180º C for an hour, or until puffed and golden, but still a little wobbly in the centre.
> Fry the onions for four to five minutes, or until softened and golden brown.

- Aim for clarity and precision, but don’t patronise your reader. Imagine that you are standing at your reader’s elbow, guiding her through the dish.

- Think carefully about the various steps in the recipe, and make sure not to omit any small, vital step. For example, tell your reader to sponge and melt the gelatine before she starts mixing up the cheesecake filling; tell her to heat the oil for deep-frying before you tell her to drop the fritters in the pan.

- However, take care not to patronise your reader by stating the obvious.

- Develop your own style of writing recipe methods. There is no ‘right’ way! Some people like to number the steps in their recipe methods, or put them in bullet-point form. Others (me, for example!) prefer blocks of text, written in a chatty style.  The only thing that really matters is that the instructions are clear and that your reader can easily follow them. 

- The more confident you are in your own cooking skills and in your recipe, the better your method-writing will become. It's quite difficult to write authoritative and detailed instructions without bossy or - at the other extreme - vague.  I like to use a ‘gentle’ imperative; in other words, a ‘command’, gently expressed.

For example:
> Place the flour, eggs and salt in a bowl. (Not: You must put the flour in a bowl)
> Whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy (Not: Then I would advise placing the eggs and some of the sugar in a big bowl.)
> Now make the crumb mixture (do this immediately, so the crumbs can dry out a little while the chicken marinates). (Not: By now you should have already made the crumb mixture, oh I forgot to tell you to do this before you marinate the chicken.)

- At the end of the recipe, provide links to other, similar recipes on your blog. You'll be surprised at how many extra page views you'll receive from these internal links.
- Avoid jargon and cheffy terminology: oven-roasted, pan-fried, ‘cook it off’, ‘pass the sauce’ [ie, through a sieve], ‘whack’ it in the pan, and so on. Leave these to the celebrity chefs!
- Recommend the right utensil for the job, where necessary: ‘Using a wire whisk or rotary egg beater, mix the batter until quite smooth’. Or ‘Using the tip of a sharp knife, remove the fibrous core of the pineapple.’
- Include serving sizes at the end (or the beginning, if you prefer) of the recipe. For example: ‘Serves 4 as a main meal; 8 as a starter’; ‘Makes one 23-cm cake’. 
- Add a list of cook’s tips at the end of the recipe, if it’s a complicated or tricky recipe.


- Remember: Your blog is your online portfolio. Make sure that every post is your very best work!
- Align all your text to the left. Recipes and text that are centred or 'justified' are extremely difficult to read and follow.
- Avoid using light text on a black background.  It's very hard on the eyes and these days considered an absolute no-no.
- Put some white space around your photographs, and add an 'alt text' or alternative caption that will show up when a reader hovers her mouse over the picture. If you don’t know how to do this, look it up online.
- Test your recipes properly. If you know in your heart that this is not a good recipe, don’t post it. Rework the recipe and perfect it!

Happy food blogging!

Read more on: blogging  |  recipes

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