— 2 February 2007 —

How to Write Good Blog Post Disclaimers

First off, welcome to all you new readers from Digg, del.icio.us, and Reddit. Slashdotters… you rock! I know you’re here because statistically speaking, the title of this post will get picked up by those who Digg, those who are del.icio.us, and those who Reddit. And Slashdot people too. Techmeme people wouldn’t be caught dead in a blog like this…

The one stand out in the title is of course the reason for this post: Disclaimers.

A disclaimer is one of those things “Alist,” “widely read,” “professional” bloggers feel they need to do when they think someone could perceive a conflict of interest in what they write. You’ve seen them before:

Disclaimer: I met Bill Moggridge (the author) when he volunteered as a judge, with Brenda Laurel, and Andrew Dillon, in the 2nd Interactionary, a live UI design competition that I ran at CHI.

Designing Interactions is a book of stories. It takes the novel view that the people behind the designs…

From Scott Berkun

Or…

Here are some screenshots from Technorati WTF. I am not sure I really get it. Why not index digg instead of trying to re-create it? (Disclosure: Technorati and Edelman have a partnership that is wrapping up, but I spotted this with my own two eyes and didn’t get advance notice)

From Steve Rubel

What’s That Word?

Above, Rubel uses the term “Disclosure,” properly I might add. And that’s really a good segue (Claimer: that’s pronounced segg-way). When you disclaim something, you are saying it isn’t true. So my first How-to tip for writing good blog post disclaimers is:

  • Do not use the word Disclaimer to note you have a connection with something. Only use Disclaimer if you do not have a connection.

If you do have a connection that you feel the public has a right to know otherwise they will ream you up one side (the fun part) and down the other (not so much) how should you go about telling them?

First, use the proper term of course. As I claimed in my eloquent parenthetical above, Rubel used “Disclosure.” This is a good word to use. (Claimer: Reading Rubel usually makes me feel like my tie is caught in a hot dog warmer at a convenience store, but this time he’s got the right stuff.) I use the word “Claimer.” Mostly because it’s the opposite of “Disclaimer” and we all know that one way to make fun of something is to do the exact opposite. It’s called Comedy people, try to keep up.

Placement

Where do you make your Disclaimer? I mean, Claimer… er. Uh… Thingy.

In the first example, Berkun opened with a disclaimer. This immediately made me feel suspect in what I was going to read. Sure, he’s letting you know he knows the guy who wrote the book, but so what? If you found out a few days later that Berkun knew the guy who wrote a book that you then bought based on his review, would you really care? The Berkun example is rather innocuous, I grant you. The Rubel example, and there are more on his site, is a good one. But again, where do you place the, in this case, disclosure?

  • Make your disclosure part of the story you are telling your readers.

If you start out by stating a connection, or a potential perceived conflict of interest, you are setting a distinct tone to your post. If you end with a statement that reads like an “oh by the by…” you run the risk of leading your readers down a path then slapping them with a Snoek. This will likely make your readers feel even more untrusting of you. Let me give you an example…

I think Matthew Oliphant is one of the greatest people alive. He’s so great that even if he were dead he’d be one of the greatest people alive. This one time, I saw him enter a burning building, likely an orphanage, to save the large plaque that was put there to honour the person who gave money to build said building which was burning at the time I saw it. That’s dedication for you. And it’s dedication that Matthew Oliphant went into that burning building to get the dedication. He’s just so, great. And handsome.

Disclosure: I am Matthew Oliphant.

See how that reads? You get all excited to meet this great person (coming to your town soon if you pay his way) that I am writing about on my blog and all of a sudden it’s Snoek outta nowhere: I reveal to you that I am Matthew Oliphant. I don’t know about you, but that just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and makes me feel distrustful about this “Matthew Oliphant” guy.

Get on with it!

With each post you are telling a story. Leading with a disclosure is like saying, “Here’s the dinner I made. I don’t think I used enough cumin and the beets aren’t cooked long enough, but… I hope you like it.” Ending with a disclosure is like saying, “You know that vegetarian dinner we just finished? It wasn’t tofu, it was Snoek.”

But making your connections known as part of the flow of your story allows you to be honest without disrupting your readers. This way you can later point to the post where you made your claim to have connections with Snoek fishing industry, like I do, without letting such connections, tenuous at best, get in the way of the true point of your post.

In the end, it is a good thing to let your readers know when you have a connection to what you are writing about. For example, if you are doing a ReviewMe (please return my calls!) review, definitely tell. But again, as part of your review.

As a bonus, if you craft it eloquently enough (see above paragraphs for examples of eloquence, but not this one), you can influence your readers to be either for or against Snoek fishers (hint: for).

Your takeaway: Don’t prepend. Don’t slap it on the end. (Patent pending!)

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