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WordPress – categories and menus

I’ve restructured my blog in response to assessor feedback on EYV that they found it tricky to navigate. It remains a single blog for all courses, but now reads as if it were a single blog for C&N. A few notes on how this is done for future reference:

  • The WP database is structured around the categories – set up a separate category structure/hierarchy for each course and post every blog entry against the relevant category. Posts can then be extracted and displayed on a blog, using the categories as filters.
  • Set the blog home page as a fixed page (eg an introduction to the blog) – otherwise it defaults to blog posts (all of them that you’ve ever created) – under ‘appearance/customise’.
  • Create a menu structure for the blog using the categories, under ‘appearance/menus’ (see screen dump).  The menu ‘navigation labels’ can be changed from the category labels that they take on initially to something more understandable. WordPress allows multiple menus to be saved using different names – so for subsequent courses, just create fresh menus based around the categories for those courses.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 18.53.11

  • An archives menu and sub-menus can also be created to view posts from previous courses, without distracting the assessors.
  • It is likely the a subsequent course will be started before the current course is assessed. The menu for the subsequent course can be put in a separate tab (like the archive) and then moved to the fore once assessment is over.

Finding Your Way in WordPress

WordPress is a fantastic blogging platform, but taking the first steps in setting up a site is not a walk in the park for many. Having blogged in the past and then needed to relearn/remember WordPress when setting up this site, I’ve decided to record some of the lessons learned along the way for my future reference. There will be no mention of behind the scenes coding or customisation of sites, just how to use basic tools and add-ins to get up and running and have some control over the site design.

In this first post, I describe basic navigation around the WordPress dashboard – where to find stuff.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 12.49.32

I start from the point at which you’ve fired up a site (plenty of help on www and in WordPress on this) and are faced with your view as administrator of your own site. Here’s where you find the most important stuff in the dashboard:

– The circled W provides access to online WordPress documentation and help forums. WordPress is open-source and there is an active community of helpful users as well as the well-written WordPress documentation. A great starting point for answers to ‘how-to’ questions.

Home is the ‘home’ screen for your dashboard, it summarises how many posts you have and the activity on your site. If you’ve added WordPress’ free Jetpack, you can also view site stats on number of visitors etc from here.

Updates provide you with warnings of themes or plug-ins that need updating. Always keep these up-to-date to avoid compatibility or security issues, remembering to backup before updating.

– Jetpack is a free optional plugin that provides various useful widgets and tools. If you’ve not installed it, you won’t see this. I’ll describe this in a future post.  In the meantime, you can add it to your site using the plugins section.

– Posts provide access to all posts on your blog, including the ability to add, edit and delete. It is important to understand the concept of posts as distinct from pages. Posts are not the same as webpages in that they do not become fixed places on your blog, but flow into a page and shift down the page as further posts are added. By default your new WordPress site is a single page that contains your posts. However, it is relatively simple to change to multiple pages and select a specific page to accommodate the flow of your posts, much like I’ve done on this website.

– Media provides access to all media on your blog including the ability to add, edit and delete. You can either add media direct from a new post (and it is then stored in media) or bulk-up load in the media section and add to a post as you write. I find the latter a more efficient workflow.

– Pages provides access to all pages on your blog including the ability to add, edit and deleteLooking at other people’s blogs, I notice that many do not use separate pages as it is perhaps not clear how to set up a site to work with pages. In brief, if you want a static front page (like the image on this blog), first create a new page and then go to appearance/customise/static front page and select the page to be used as the static page and the page to be used to showcase your blog posts. The same menu is also accessible through settings/reading.

Appearance deserves a separate post of its own, but in brief it is where you choose your site theme (or upload and experiment with alternatives), add in widgets, alter customisation options for your particular theme, create and maintain menus, change your site’s header information and image, and add a background image (if you want one). Incidentally, I chose to remove the header image to stop it appearing on every page and shouting, ‘I’m a WordPress template’ – instead I’ve chosen a fixed first page, where I will periodically change the image.

– Plugins is where you can add-in various tools to help better manage your site (eg backups or pdf creation) or present information differently (eg tag clouds or social sharing buttons).  Many of these are free and depend on voluntary contributions, if you value a particular plug-in.  The positioning of the plug-ins is then managed through the Widgets menu, where you can decide where to place them (headers, footers, sidebars). Worth checking out some of the more popular plugins on WordPress.com. I’ll post separately on some useful ones I’ve found, but see this post for pdf creation (eg to send to your tutor for assignments).

–  Tools is where you will find some of the settings / controls for some plugins, once installed.  Also import and export options.

Settings contain various useful configuration options for how your site is viewed, displays (including media standard sizes), and many others, depending on which plug-ins you’ve added (eg could include backup settings).  One useful setting is the reading setting which allows you to specify how many blog posts appear on a single page, therefore preventing the mile-long page scenario. I’ve set mine to 3 posts for a sensible page length and then WordPress then automatically creates separate pages for historical posts.

If you’ve found this post useful, please subscribe to my blog to enable pdf downloads of posts and receive email notifications of future posts.

Blog to Pdf conversion

My tutor asked for a pdf of my blog to help her work with review off-line (a fair request) and suggested BlogBooker or something similar.  I tried BlogBooker, which did a job but took away all control of output and the output it produced wasn’t well formatted.  This encouraged me to look further and I also learned some valuable lessons in the process of converting my blog to pdf.

One of the most useful online posts I found on the subject was – http://www.designwall.com/blog/create-pdf-epub-ebooks-wordpress-posts-pages/ (accessed 13.3.15) – useful because it wasn’t just a thinly veiled way of selling a particular product. I dismissed the commercial services for my current purposes and settled on trying two WordPress add-ins: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-post-to-pdf-enhanced/ and https://wordpress.org/plugins/kalins-pdf-creation-station/ that both seemed to offer a degree of control over the pdf output.

‘WP Post to Pdf’ I soon found was not suitable for creating a single pdf from multiple blog posts.  It is more aimed at encouraging registrations to blogs with the carrot of allowing pdf creation and download. However, ‘Kalin’s pdf creation station’ turned out to work extremely well for me – with a bit of familiarisation, I was able to customise the front page and the page headers (including blog hyper-links) to generate a result that is of a good standard. Not excellent, because it sometimes doesn’t correctly render the WP formatting, but this is a minor irritation for my purposes, rather than a show-stopper. I will be making a donation to Kalin!

Now for the unexpected lessons from the conversion process:

  1. Most of us find it difficult to edit accurately on web-pages (we are so conditioned to skim-reading them) – by reading the pdf, it was much easier to spot typos and formatting errors in the blog.
  2. Image sizes – my blog theme offers different sizing for uploaded images. On viewing the pdf, I realised that different choices were needed depending of the type of image. Single images were best suited to ‘medium’, while contact sheets need to be ‘large’ to be big enough to view in a pdf.
  3. Categorisation – I hadn’t considered deeply the purpose of categories in the blog, other to have postings appear under relevant menu headings. So, I might post some entries to more than one category. However, I realised that approach this would prevent efficient filtering of content for creation of future pdfs (for example all course work). I also reflected that there is no need to post to more than one category – it is the job of search functions to find stuff. So, I’ve re-categorised my entries so each falls only under one top-level category. I have a feeling this could make life much simpler in the future.

Blog up and running!

A rusty start to WordPress – after having recovered passwords from my web hosting service (used a longtime ago for the kids’ website), purchasing a new domain name (not an imaginative name I know), directing DNS servers to the hosting service and uploading WordPress software.  Sounds complex, but like most things it is simple when you know (or in this case, remember) how. Also, a much cheaper option than using WordPress’ own hosting service if you are running a few blogs / websites!

I remembered how to customise the blog once I started tinkering, but I can imagine for anyone new to WordPress this is quite a learning curve. Good luck to anyone starting out with this.

Now looking forward to making a start on my first assignment and making some new photo-friends!