Blogging: how to make it work
Blogs, and academic blogging in particular, have been around for a long time. Researchers have used blogs to talk about their interests, the direction of their research, share ideas, build their profile, and highlight news or developments that are particularly pertinent to the area they work in.
Some are very successful, reaching audiences they might not otherwise have access to, whilst others are begun and then quickly die away, through a lack of time, focus, or uptake.
The case for blogging
Blogs can be an outlet for your creativity, somewhere you can write in a completely different style to the one you use for papers or presentations, as well as a chance to explore ideas and link to information that intrigues you. Some academics think blogging has also been a highly effective way of exploring ideas before they teach them, improving their communication skills and the way they present information.
It can also give you the opportunity to give readers a jumping-off point into the research you’ve been working on; somewhere to write that lay summary which leads the average reader into reading your paper on genetics or sociological theory (or any other subject you’re currently working on).
It can also (and very importantly) introduce a researcher from a completely different discipline to your work, someone who may well have been put off by the first few lines of the abstract or the title (a discussion for another day). If you aim your blog at the general public, the same can also be true; giving you the opportunity to lead people towards your ideas, your latest article, or to test a concept or style of presentation.
What it can also do is hone your writing skills, pushing you to write in a more accessible style and to distill a paper or thought process into a brief, readable blog post. Such a skill is highly valuable as researchers strive to ensure their work has as wide a readership as possible, driving tweets, shares, likes, impact, and eventually citations.
The case against
The time (it’s always time…) but also focusing on what you want your blog to do and who you want to reach. Is it researchers in your field? Those from outside your area of specialty? The general public? Policy makers or the media? Then you need to think about how to start and how to keep going.
Before beginning to blog it’s worth sitting down and working out what you want your blog to do and who you are aiming it at. Keeping your audience at the forefront of your mind in every decision and every post you make is essential. If you are bored by your post there’s every likelihood your audience will be too – harsh but true. And remember that people scan information on the web, so keep it brief (if in doubt cut it out).
Once you get going it is surprisingly easy to think of content though; as an academic you’ll constantly be weighing up ideas, working on papers or presentations, or thinking about your next lecture. It is this very process which lends itself to blog writing, and the ability to make this personal and focused is what will help you define your audience and draw readers in.
Making your blog work
There is a host of free blogging tools out there. Just type in “free blogging tools” into your search engine and you’ll come up with a huge number of hits. From WordPress to Blogger and everything in between, there is bound to be something that suits you and the way you work.
To really get the full value out of your blog though, it’s worth ensuring you are linking to your other social media accounts, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other academic networking site. That way you can “push” information to each of these networks every time you create a new post. It enables you to share your updates quickly and easily but also, just as importantly, allows others to share them too. Integrating all of your communications means minimum effort for maximum return, as you send information out to your network, your network share it with theirs, and so on and so on.
You can also share your post on sites such as Reddit. If you think your posts are worth highlighting and bringing to a wider audience, there’s a wealth of ways to share. The only stumbling block might be our very first issue, time. It’s also worth ensuring you link to other blogs that interest you, are in your area of expertise, or just simply something you like and enjoy reading. This will encourage others to link to you (reciprocal linking), increasing the visibility of your writing and the people that you’re reaching. This is most often called that most hideous of phrases, a “blog roll.”
Why do academics blog?
Gain inspiration from “Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges” by Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson (2013), Studies in Higher Education.
We’d love to hear about your experiences of blogging, and the academic blogs you think work well. Already blogging? Then send us a link so we can share it. We’re on Twitter @tandfauthorserv or on Facebook tandfauthorservices.
Plus for those ready to move on to the next level, have you considered video blogging or vlogs? It’s not only teenagers on YouTube, you know.